Unusual Films is the film studio of Bob Jones University. The studio was founded in 1950 with the purpose of producing professional motion pictures with an emphasis on spreading the gospel of Christ. Many of our productions have continued in active circulation decades after being released. “You realize that whatever we have achieved has come from the Lord and His marvelous enabling power,” says former Director Katherine Stenholm, “This has been the secret of Unusual Films.”
For more than fifty years Unusual Films productions have been widely acclaimed for their quality. But far beyond this temporal recognition is the deep satisfaction of knowing that each film continues to win souls for Christ and challenge Christians years after its release. These family films and Christian videos are not just entertainment—they teach the cost of living the Christian faith in an unbelieving world, and the Bible truths behind the family values we hold closest. The biblical motto of Unusual Films summarizes its purpose and its power: “I am made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”
Why “Unusual Films”?
Dr. Bob Jones Sr. used to call the school “the world’s most unusual university.” At the time, Christians, especially preachers, were often stereotyped as fervent but uncultured. Bob Jones University was a Fundamental Christian college, standing strongly for a literal belief in the Bible and separation, but it also placed a high emphasis on good culture and the fine arts. Dr. Bob Sr. said Christians should be “show window material.” From the very beginning, Shakespeare plays and concerts were an integral part of the curriculum. When the school’s radio station began broadcasting their classical and religious music, their call letters were WMUU–world’s most unusual university. Following in that vein is Unusual Films–a film school and production company dedicated to producing high quality Christian films and training young filmmakers to do the same.
Among the first films produced by Unusual Films in the early 1950’s were the classics Macbeth, Light of the World, You Can’t Win, Pound of Flesh, Miracle, and Calvary. They run the gamut from full-length Shakespearian plays to historical dramas and sermon films, but all center on the plan of salvation. They feature Dr. Bob Jones Sr., Dr. Bob Jones Jr., and actors like Richard Rupp and Laura Pratt, who went on to major roles in the later feature films.
Unusual Films’ first major production was a film version of Macbeth by the Bob Jones University Classic Players. Bob Jones Jr., who was a world-renowned authority on Shakespeare, played the title role. This great drama makes a good sermon about a man who, through deceit and murder, sold his soul for a kingdom. The renowned Folger Shakespeare Library chose this Unusual Films production for its archives.
Mrs. Katherine Stenholm – Founding Director of Unusual Films
When Dr. Bob Jones Jr. decided to start a film production studio, his first choice for a director was Katherine Stenholm, a teacher in the Speech Department and wife of Dr. Gilbert Stenholm, Chairman of the Ministerial Program. Dr. Katherine Stenholm was no stranger to the stage, having portrayed characters including Juliet, Margaret in Richard III and Ophelia in Hamlet.
With a similar combination of artistic flair, determination, and persistence, Katherine accepted the task of starting a production studio, having no previous cinematic experience. She spent the summer of 1950 at the University of Southern California studying cinema. On her return, she proceeded to build what was, at the time, one of the best-equipped motion picture production studios between New York and Hollywood: Unusual Films.
Katherine Stenholm was a tireless worker and an enthusiastic artist. She studied every aspect of the industry, and spent long nights preparing in minute detail for the next day’s shoot. “I think the thing that impressed me the most,” says Cinematographer Wade Ramsey, “was, when she came onto the set, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. ‘Okay, I want the camera right here. I want the 20mm lens on it.’ (…) Her absolute, total preparation was (…) the reason why it was so efficient.”
As the first six major productions were all period films, requiring immense quantities of time and research, Dr. Stenholm gained a reputation for historical accuracy and attention to detail. From the streets of first-century Jerusalem in Wine of Morning to the nineteenth-century Appalachian Wilderness of Virginia in Sheffey, her films have been praised internationally for their artistic beauty and technical excellence. They not only bring a professional edge that sets them above most Christian films, they clearly and effectively communicate God’s plan of salvation.
Dr. Stenholm served as director of Unusual Films for 36 years.
Mr. Timothy Rogers – Second Director of Unusual Films
In 1986, on the eve of production on the sixth feature film, The Printing, God brought a new director, Tim Rogers, to succeed Katherine Stenholm as director of Unusual Films. While on a research trip to Russia collecting information and footage, Dr. Stenholm suffered from a minor stroke. When it became clear that her health would not improve enough to support the rigors of production, Dr. Stenholm recommended Tim Rogers to succeed her as the next director. Tim had worked alongside her for over twenty years and was fully prepared for the challenge of leading the department and The Printing production.
Tim became first acquainted with the Cinema program at Bob Jones University as an extra in the Civil War epic, Red Runs the River. He went on to receive a BS and MA in Cinema Production at Bob Jones University. Before becoming director, Tim served as Associate Producer, Chief Editor, and Screenwriter at Unusual Films. He wrote the screenplays for Flame in the Wind, For All the Right Reasons, Sheffey, Beyond the Night, Access Your Future, and co-scripted The Printing with Charles Gibson. His directing credits include The Printing, The Treasure Map, Project Dinosaur, Appalachian Trial, Milltown Pride, as well as a number of smaller films for Bob Jones University.
Tim Rogers served as director of Unusual Films for 25 years and is now retired and living in Greenville, SC.
Change in Focus
Following The Printing, the studio embarked in a different direction from the feature-length period dramas, releasing two children’s films, The Treasure Map and the award-winning Project Dinosaur, which explored the creation evolution debate. The next award-winning release was the studio’s first animation short, The Golden Rom, directed by Bruce Polhamus and screenplay by Tim Rogers. Before returning to the feature-length format, Unusual Films released its last children’s film called Appalachian Trial in 2004.
Back to Feature Length
In 2010, the studio returned to its favorite medium—feature-length period dramas—in its latest award-winning release, Milltown Pride, set in 1920’s South Carolina and released in April 2011. Milltown Pride continues the studio’s emphasis on producing films that present the gospel of Jesus Christ.
During sixty-six years of service as an in-house film production unit of Bob Jones University, Unusual Films released 11 feature films and many smaller films for the University. In addition, the production staff served as faculty for the Cinema department, which was begun in the late 1950’s as an offshoot of Unusual Films. The production unit and academic department were separated several years ago to facilitate the accreditation process, and the decision was made to dissolve Unusual Films as an in-house production unit as of November, 2016.
In keeping with current film production models, BJU will establish a separate LLC for each future film production and bring together the crew and equipment best suited for that production. Several of the Unusual Films production staff have shifted to the video unit of the University’s Marketing Communication department and continue to produce promotional content for the university. The Cinema Production academic department remains as a part of the Division of Communication, offering a bachelor of science degree in Cinema Production.
BJU continues to be committed to filmmaking with an emphasis on spreading the gospel of Christ. Currently, the University is in the final development phase of a script that has been vetted through a number of external sources, and we are working on acquiring funding for this production. Please pray with us as we continue to use long-form, cinematic storytelling for the sake of the gospel.