In the midst of economic uncertainty, with technologies like smart phones, texting, and social media threatening to isolate us even further, comes Secretariat, a movie that director Randall Wallace prays will inspire and entertain the entire family.
Known for his work as an Oscar and Golden Globe nominated writer (Braveheart), as well as producer/director (The Man in the Iron Mask, We Were Soldiers, Pearl Harbor), Randall reflected in a recent interview with me on the potential for movies to reflect God’s redemptive qualities. “That is an aspect of this movie that was really important to me – other stories have shown the power of sacrifice and sometimes suffering. This is one of my first movies where, without compromise, we see the heroes experience the glory and the victory that comes from faith and courage,” he shared.
“I’ve been asked why I make war movies and I always say that I don’t make war movies- I make love stories. I want to know what you love enough to sacrifice for,” explained Wallace. “In Secretariat, the sacrifice and the risks taken result in a lot of joy and a lot of glory. This is the kind of movie that people from both genders and all ages can attend together in a personal experience of joy and excitement.”
Based on the true story of the 1973 Triple Crown winner and his owner, Penny Chenery Tweedy, Secretariat transcends the boundaries of just another horse race as it fulfills Randall’s commitment to portray authentic and transformational themes. “I’m always looking for a story that inspires me because I realized that I can’t inspire an audience unless I am first moved and inspired. I’m always looking for a story that affirms that love works, courage matters, and that faith is crucial to any kind of victory in life,”he added.
Although he began writing stories at the age of seven, Randall’s initial career goals were to be in Life . He attended Duke University as a seminary student, but struggled with what he terms the lack of a “call”, stating, “I felt guilty because I had friends who were going to comfort the dying, feed the sick and love the rejected in life. I admired them so much for doing it, but I didn’t feel it.”
“My family’s pastor asked me once if I felt that (the Life ) was my future. I told him that I knew that it was the greatest call anyone could have, but that I hadn’t felt it. He told me, ‘You’re wrong. It’s not the greatest call unless it’s your call. The greatest calling is whatever you were called to do,'” stated Wallace.
Freed from the pressure of pursuing Life for its own sake, Randall set out to define God’s genuine will. “My fellow students and professors encouraged me to follow the lamp of my hopes and aspirations. Ego and pride can be terrible things, but a competitive spirit is also a gift. I eventually went to Nashville to be a song writer and then on to LA trying to do the same thing,” Wallace explained. “It was in LA that I encountered scripts. I loved the format and the creative context of screenplays. That became a natural form for me and it led me to writing and ultimately directing movies. I really see my calling as being a story teller.”
Despite his many successes and accolades, as well as his certainty that this is God’s career path for him, Randall is very clear that it is not without its challenges. “I wish that I was in control of the creative process. What I have to confront continually is the shocking and unpleasant News that I am not God and I cannot control the times of inspiration. They come as a gift and they come as they come. When I hear people say that their talent is a gift from God, it can be taken a number of ways – the most dangerous and unappetizing is when it is said out of someone’s ego in order to elevate their own reputation and talent,” shares Wallace. “I always have to confront the idea that I don’t control the inspiration or what happens. My responsibility is to take whatever my hands find to do and to do it with all my might and to see each opportunity as a gift. Being human, I walk through the uncertainty and the darkness, but it is in that darkness that I believe I am supposed to find the stories and to tell those stories in a way that is authentic.”
With the success of movies like The Blind Side, Fireproof and What If prompting many to try to determine a category for every movie, Randall cautions against making quick or shallow assessments, stating, “I think the labels that we attach to movies as to whether they are ‘spiritual’ or ‘Christian’ is treading on dangerous ground. Obviously, we have to be wise and to exercise sound judgment but we can miss the real question, ‘Do we love being alive?’ and ‘Do we love each other?’ It is the mandate of all that I know about religion and faith. Jesus said that this is how people will know that we are His disciples – do we love one other? I fail at that, but I try it.”
“After seminary, I was a youth pastor for a summer. In one of the senior pastor’s sermons, he said that we have good days and we have bad days, but we seldom know at the time which is which. All we can ever do is our best – but so often we can’t know the results of our efforts. I felt that was part of the story of Secretariat. It wasn’t an issue ultimately of a horse that had to win the race – cross the finish line first, but there was a greater issue. What did it matter to the horse and to the people who loved him? What was the real race? That question came from my background sitting in tent revivals and hearing the scripture read that asks, ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but to lose his soul?’ These are the kinds of questions that become the timeless ones. That’s what I wanted this movie to be about- the timeless questions.”
Starring Diane Lane as Penny Chenery Tweedy and John Malkovich as veteran trainer Lucien Laurin, Secretariat has received some great initial reviews, but Randall has his own way of gauging the movie’s success sharing. “Two incidents that pleased me more than any other occurred when we tested the movie in front of a randomly recruited audience. When the movie ended, they cheered which is virtually unheard of for an unfinished film,” he explained.
“We had used the hymn, ‘Oh Happy Day’ from the ’70’s and I was concerned that the feeling be inclusive and not exclusionary. Sitting next to me (at the screening) was a friend from the studio. She turned to me and said, ‘You know I’m Jewish but I want them to sing ‘Oh Happy Day’ at my funeral.’ That made me feel wonderful. Then I walked into the men’s room and there was a gang member singing ‘Oh Happy Day’ at the top of his lungs. Those two things said to me that we had done something right,” adds Wallace.