By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Bible Storyland,” a film about an ill-fated 1960s theme park whose exhibits were based on biblical scenes, will have its New York city premiere on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Crown Heights Film Festival.
The subject of the film, Harvey Jordan, is a California art dealer who went on a decade-long quest to find out more about the never-built park after he bought approximately 250 architects’ drawings of what he later found out were intended to be park exhibits. He will be at the festival and will take part in a Q&A.
Biblical Storyland, which was intended to be built in Cucamonga, Calif. (the same place where Frank Zappa made his early recordings), was the brainchild of former Disneyland vice president Nat Winecoff, Jack Haley (the tin man from “The Wizard of Oz” and Donald Duncan of Duncan Yo-Yos.
The exhibits would have showed familiar scenes like the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Flood, Moses and the Exodus, and Solomon’s Temple, along with non-Biblical scenes from other ancient civilizations such as the Pyramids.
Director Stephanie Hubbard pointed out that the park was much more centered on the Old Testament than the New Testament, although it did have a scene showing the Baby Jesus. This may have had something to do with the fact that Winecoff was Jewish (as is Jordan himself—at one time, he argues with his wife about who should take their child to Hebrew School).
If such a park were proposed today, it would probably be proposed by fundamentalists. However, 1960, when the park was proposed, was a very different time. America, in general, was more church-going, more people were believers, and most people were familiar with the Bible as an integral part of our culture.
Yet, paradoxically, it was a fairly liberal religion that people embraced back then. Fundamentalism was basically unknown outside of the southern “Bible Belt.” The major evangelist of the time, Billy Graham (who, among other things, preached friendship with the Soviet Union), would be considered very liberal by today’s evangelicals.
The difference is highlighted, Hubbard says, when the park exhibits, whose mission was to provide family fun and a good time for all, are contrasted with a cruel, pain-filled re-enactment of the crucifixion at the Holy Land Experience, a fundamentalist theme park in Florida.
Even though Bible Storyland’s message was non-threatening, many of the established Christian denominations of the time came about against Bible Storyland. One criticism was that it included non-Biblical scenes of the ancient Near East along with the Bible itself, another was that it trivialized the holy book. “It’s clear,” Hubbard said, “that they [the churches] wanted to control the message.”
What’s not clear is what eventually happened to the idea, but much of the land is undeveloped to this day, and one scene shows Jordan visiting it.
In general, says Hubbard, the film, although a documentary, has many elements of humor, and should not be viewed as super-serious. She also said it would be good for young people who reject religion completely because they associate narrow-minded fundamentalism with faith in general.
The film will be screened on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 2:30 p.m. at FiveMyles, 558 St. John’s Place, Brooklyn, NY 11238. For ticket price and more information, visit www.crownheightsfilms.org.