Preparing for the Festival at a Movie Studio

June 3, 2022

3 min read

This weekend, the Jewish people will celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, known in Hebrew as Shavuot. Ordinarily, I would spend the time preparing for Shavuot by reviewing the Book of Ruth which we read on the holiday. This year, however, I found myself far away from home in Israel, where I learned more about the true nature of the holiday, than I could ever have imagined.


I flew round trip from Tel Aviv to Cape Town, South Africa for a very short visit, essentially spending about twenty-four hours in the air and a shorter amount on the ground! I went to meet with a new friend, Phil Cunningham, a Christian movie producer who was halfway into a several year animation feature film he was making about King David. The boundlessly energetic and passionately creative Phil picked me up from the airport and shared with me his incredible vision twenty years in the making, to make a Disney level production about the warrior, poet, shepherd king.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz with Phil and Jacqui Cunnignham
Rabbi Tuly Weisz with Phil and Jacqui Cunnignham

The $55 million ambitious undertaking of bringing King David to the big screen promises to be the most entertaining, inspiring and authentic adaptation of the Bible ever made. 


Phil and his super talented crew walked me carefully through the script, the colorful characters and the rigorous attention to historical detail that they were painstakingly recreating from four trips to Israel.  No minute detail was too small for the professionals at Sunrise Studios, who were fully aware that since they were depicting the Word of God, they must constantly strive to go above and beyond.


Phil told me that it was his and his wife Jacqui’s dream to honor God with the highest quality storytelling possible, and they gave up everything they had to dedicate themselves to this holy mission. With great dedication, the Cunninghams made many sacrifices to walk their faith. Despite challenges and setbacks, they persevered because they trusted in God and were committed to honoring Him in the most grandiose way imaginable. That faithfulness is paying off, as major industry leaders are now partnering with Sunrise to bring their vision forward.


Recently, the crowdfunding company, Angel Studios introduced the concept for David to their community of family friendly film aficionados, more than 7,000 of whom chose to invest in David in just a few weeks! Another Christian streaming service, Minno has commissioned Sunrise to create a series of David short films. And Israel365 has come on board to serve as the Jewish and Israel advisors to ensure that David is as authentic as possible from a Jewish perspective and well received in the Jewish community. 


The diverse enthusiasm for the David film by Jews and Christians is truly unprecedented. This project is already growing in excitement amongst an entire generation of families from around the world whose love for the Word of God will be shaped by this movie of Biblical proportions.


After a whirlwind day at the studio, what really blew me away was what Phil told me on the way back to the airport. “Everything we are trying so hard to accomplish here is a gift to the Jewish People. After centuries of anti-Semitism when many so-called Christians acted against the Jewish people, I wanted to do something to bless Israel.” Phil explained that it was vital that David would be as authentic as possible, thus honoring the King of Israel beloved to both Jews and Christians.


Not only was my short time at the Sunrise Studio exciting in seeing just how much goes into making an animated movie, but it was a powerful preparation for the holiday of Shavuot.


On the Festival we read about Ruth, whose heroic actions led her to become the matriarch to King David. What made Ruth so special that she was blessed with such progeny?


Known for her kindness and compassion, Ruth went above and beyond for her poor, widowed mother in law. Throughout the Book, Ruth could often have taken the easy path forward, but when it came to doing what was right, she set the highest standards. Furthermore, Ruth teaches about the importance of showing faithfulness to God. Even when the path forward is not clear, Ruth never wavers in her faith. Finally, Ruth articulates the greatest statement of love to the Jewish People, “Where you go, I will go, Your people are my people, and your God is my God.” Even after thousands of years, the eternal values of commitment, faithfulness and love for Israel that Ruth passed on to David are alive and well. 


As a Jew heading into the holiday of Shavuot, I am so grateful for Christians like Phil and Jacqui, and everyone at Sunrise, who are bringing the lessons of King David to our generation and reminding us all that the ancient God of Israel is still performing miracles for His people.

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