In memoriam James M. Wall (1928-2021)

Obituary by Philip Lee, General Secretary of WACC

On March 22nd, 2021 James M. Wall passed away. He was a key figure for promotiung the Protestant film and cinema commitment in North America, and member of INTERFILM to the last. Philip Lee, General Secretary of WACC and editor of the journal "Media Development", appreciates the deceased.

INTERFILM notes with sadness the death of James M. Wall, an ordained minister of the United Methodist Church who used his journalism skills to write about faith and modern culture in his articles, books, and blog postings. He was editor of “The Christian Century” (1972-99), a leading magazine of U.S. mainline Protestantism.

Jim Wall had a special interest in cinema and served for a time as President of INTERFILM-North America, on the Ecumenical Jury at the Montreal Film Festival, and as the animator of several film workshops.

Wall published two books devoted to theology and film: “Church and Cinema” (1971) and “Three European Directors” (1972), which he edited. He was also the author of “Winning the War, Losing our Soul”, a collection of Christian Century editorials written during the Gulf War, and a collection of essays entitled “Hidden Treasures: Searching for God in Modern Culture” (1997).

From 1990 Wall taught as Adjunct Professor of Religion and Culture at the Claremont School of Theology, California. He was a representative of the National Council of Churches to the motion picture industry and advised the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) as a consultant to the industry's ratings appeals board.

In politics Wall was proud of his involvement in Jimmy Carter’s campaigns in 1976 and 1980 and was a Carter delegate at the 1976 and 1980 Democratic National Nominating Conventions. He also worked on campaigns for George McGovern and for Paul Simon.

Wall made more than 20 trips to the Middle East as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, the first and second Intifadas, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election.

In an interview published in the international journal “Media Development” (2017), Wall was asked to pick one film that has born the test of repeated viewing and still has “something to say”. He chose David Lynch’s “The Straight Story” (1999), describing it as “one of the finest works of cinematic art from the 20th century… It sustains the viewer as it calls for whatever steps are needed to make amends for decisions made, or not made.”

Jim Wall will long be remembered as a man of principle, of faith, and as an unrepentant film buff whose opinions were widely respected.

Link: Appreciation of Jim Wall in the Chicago Tribune