Walden Media is a well-funded, inside-Hollywood venture that, in the words of Walden chairman Cary Granat, hopes to "create popular entertainment that would become an ally of parents and teachers."
The company is owned by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, whose properties range from Qwest Communications to the Los Angeles Lakers. Mr. Anschutz has said that he wants to help make major movies that reflect his Christian faith, and his control of 6,000 movie screens-he has bought the United Artist chain and other bankrupt megaplexes-gives him clout and credibility in Hollywood.
Walden Media's two leaders are Mr. Granat, a veteran filmmaker, and president Micheal Flaherty, a former staffer with William F. Buckley and National Review. They are college roommates who took different paths. Mr. Flaherty, a pioneer in the charter-school movement, was one of the founders of the Frederick Douglass School in Boston, which works to give a quality education to impoverished inner-city children.
In the meantime Mr. Granat was advancing up the career ladder in Hollywood, becoming the president of Miramax's Dimension division, which specializes in teen flicks such as Scream and Scary Movie. From talking with teenagers, Mr. Granat told WORLD, he came to realize more about how popular media have "so much greater power over them than the subject matter they were supposed to be learning in school." Then he had children of his own, and began to want something better for them than the horror movies he made for other people's children.
That something better includes not only Holes and the Narnia stories but Ghosts of the Abyss, a documentary directed by James Cameron showing a descent to the real-life Titanic resting on the ocean floor. The next Walden feature will be Around the World in Eighty Days, a remake of the classic Jules Verne novel, this time starring Jackie Chan, with extensive geography lessons. Other projects in production include Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys about the Revolutionary war heroes; Manhunt: The Twelve Day Chase for Lincoln's Killers; and Jim Thorpe, on the life of the great athlete.
Also in the works are The William Wilberforce Story, about the evangelical British statesman who put a halt to the slave trade, and a documentary series based on Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization, which showed how learning and Western culture were kept alive through the Dark Ages by the church and the work of Irish missionaries.
Will this effort to make "positive" films-or at least the kind of family-friendly fare that was taken for granted a few decades ago-flounder as others have? Walden has the advantage of being both well-funded and well-connected. (For example, Disney has signed up to distribute films from Walden of the kind Disney used to be famous for.) To succeed, Walden will have to produce movies that are wonderfully entertaining as well as educational.