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1 1 nnpr fh O CI 111 ?BRUNSWlCIC&fACON D .Sports, Pages 9-11
LI I 1UCI LI IV oU I 1 ?O mFishing Report 12
The Judas Proj
...A 13-Year Dream Comes To The Screen For Holden Beach Man
BY LYNN CARLSON
James Barden is a different kind of movie mogul.
Oh, he can talk the talk, but it's not the "love-your
latesl, my-people-will-call-your-people" kind. Bar
sounds more like a Billy Graham than a Cecil B.
DeMille, but there's a little of both kinds of vision be
hind his drcain-comc-tnie.
That dream, 13 years in the making, is "The Judas
Project," of which Barden is writer, director, executive
producer, and soundtrack composer/performer. The 97
minute, PG-13-rated film, which opened in Wilmington
and Fayetteville last week is, at a cost of $7 million, is
"the largest budgeted independent film ever made on the
life of Christ," Barden says proudly. He adds that it
passed the million-dollar-gross mark last week, all the
while continuing to elicit praise from Christian periodi
cals and pastors who have accepted invitations to ad
"The Judas Project" was partly written at Holden
Beach, where Barden and wife Emi have put down
roots, though Jim's lies to the South Brunswick Islands
?which he calls "my little piece of heaven"?go back
as -far as he does. He is the son of longtime Holden
Beach property owners Lib and the late J. Hunter Bar
den of Fayetteville.
The movie's premise: "What would happen if Jesus
Christ were to appear for the first time today instead of
2,000 years ago?" Its poster shows a long-haired man
wearing Levis and a crown of thorns being spotlighted
by Black Hawk helicopters against a background of sky
scrapers and lightning bolts.
A press kit describes the story this way:
"The Judas Project' takes place in present-day
America and recounts the exact same series of events
that surrounded the last three years in the life of
Jesse, the hero of the film, battles corrupt politi
cians, intellectual leaders and pseudo-religious fig
ures in a fight to save the world from an increasingly
violent and decaying society. World leaders try to
manipulate and control him and, finally, through the
betrayal of his own disciple, Jude, they destroy him.
The story culminates in one of the most mesmerizing
crucifixion scenes every filmed.
How did a nice boy from Fayetteville get into the pic
ture business? Nothing less than divine intervention,
Barden would say, beginning with a near-death experi
ence in his teenage years.
At 17, young Jim Barden was hospitalized with a
lethal blood disorder and had developed staphylococcus
pneumonia in the center lobe of both lungs. He'd al
ready made medical history, having been born with four
spleens. He was being treated at Duke University
Hospital by a leading hematologist when the pneumonia
developed. His family was given no hope for his recov
"I had been given last rites. I said a prayer and closed
my eyes, never expecting to open them again." But open
them he did, soon to fully recover? with an unex
plained newfound aptitude for music. "I'd never even
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STAFF PHOTO BY LYNN CAJttSON
" When there's a barrier, it's not Satan trying to punch your lights
out. It's God trying to get your attention."
?Jim Barden, pictured with wife Emi
played ihe piano, but I was writing concertos. God
healed me and let me live for music."
That musical talent led him to Los Angeles and the
record industry. He recorded for RCA records and as a
music publisher was responsible for recordings by per
formers such as Rod Stewart, Glen Campbell, Cher and
He stayed in California 15 years and "made several
hundred million dollars for three companies." He bought
an L.A. home once owned by Greta Garbo.
But life at the top of the material heap didn't last. He
and Emi at one point lived in what he described as a
"shack with no heat," but he chooses not to explain that
radical lifestyle change other than to say, "I spent every
thing 1 had trying to force a vision."
"By 1973-74,1 had met every goal I had set for my
self and lost interest. I met Pat Robertson in Atlanta, and
on Dec. 3, 1976,1 was bom again." He became a direc
tor of the Virginia-based Christian Broadcasting Net
work and was a force behind the development of the
musical genre known as Contemporary Christian.
Since 1980, Barden has dedicated "100 percent of my
time" to 'The Judas Project" Much of that time was de
voted to The Big Challenge?raising enough money to
make a movie. And "not a grade-Z movie," as Barden
says, but a slick professional production with seasoned
professional actors, respected musicians and expensive
high-tech special effects. The "best people in the indus
try," as Barden calls them, don't work cheap.
His faith was tested at many turns, he said, especially
when he approached multi-millionaire Christians "who
said they could not see anything in this project to invest
in, not even 55,000 to tell the Word of God." By that
point he'd already had plenty of Hollywood doors
slammed on his toes by powerful people with no interest
in his kind of vision?but it was different being rejected
by Christians he had fully expected to have firmly in his
Little by little, the money came together, as did the
script and the locations and the music. "It was a struggle
to get it done this way," he said. "It was the first time I'd
directed actors or written a scrccnplay or scored a film. I
wanted to quit a thousand times."
But Emi?a native of the former Yugoslavia, "where
God is dead"?wouldn't let him. "If it wasn't for Emi,
I'd never have done it. She never said slop, no matter
how much rejection or how hard times got."
Emi helped him learn to have "a childlike faith in
God," and that "when there's a barrier, it's not Satan try
ing to punch your lights out. It's God trying to get your
attention." But Emi, as giggling and playful with her
husband as if they were adolescents in puppy-love, sim
ply says, "He did everything."
The result of all that trial and error, searing tribulation
and sweet success, is a movie Bardcn says "looks like it
cost S22 million, which is what it would have cost if I'd
made it in Hollywood." Instead, he took the long way
home, raising the money over time, doing what he could
afford as he could afford it, filming on location?mostly
at Tybee Island, Ga.?and keeping the faith.
And even though Barden is adamant that he didn't do
any of it for money or fame, there's a good chance that
"The Judas Project" will return buckets of both. It's "the
only movie in the world" for which the production owns
the rights of every kind. Believers and curious non-be
lievers are filling theaters in the Southeast and making
"The Judas Project" surpass big-bucks, superstar
Hollywood pictures in markets where they compete.
But what makes Barden proudest is that he made a
movie which let him "show God I could give his son a
heart on film for the first lime, and show his humanity.
He was just like us. I wanted to show how Jesus would
have thrown His arms around people in a bear hug, or
squeezed their shoulder or given them a pat on the
The film's PG-13 rating was assigned because of the
realistic crucifixion scene, accomplished using a
$148,000 replica of the actor's body which breathes and
has visible veins. "It's the first time the crucifixion has
been graphically depicted on the screen," Barden says,
and insists that it was necessary for viewers to "see the
spikes go in and the blood come out." Otherwise,
"There's more violence in Saturday cartoons than in this
movie," he adds.
His next project? "All I'll tell you is that it'll have a
$60 million budget and be a 354-hour epic. I've got four
film crews ready when I get the money together."
He expects all his future projects to be "Biblically
based," as well as "real adventure films, love stories,
first-class, positive, dealing with the heart, highly enter
taining and involving the best talent?people who are
fed up with the kind of garbage you usually have to do
to make a living in this business."
But for now, it's off to Tulsa, Enid, Santa Fe,
Albuquerque and other points west. There are pastor
screenings to be conducted, media interviews to endure
and bookings to be made, as "The Judas Project" opens
on new screens, 125 at a time, with an ultimate goal of
3,000 from coast to coast.
As Barden says with a faccful of unrcstrainable bliss,
"If you believe and you don't give in, God will allow
you to vindicate yourself."
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ATTORNEY AT LAW
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