BOOTLEG FILES 314: “World’s Fair Encounter” (1964 promotional film produced by Billy Graham’s ministry).
LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last commercial screening of this title.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.
REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Unavailable for commercial release.
CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not likely at all.
You may not think of Billy Graham as a player within the motion picture industry, but for years the celebrated evangelist actually has a cinematic connection. In 1951, Graham created World Wide Pictures as the film production and distribution division of the Billy Graham Evangelic Association. For three decades, World Wide Pictures was focused on the non-theatrical market, distributing more than 100 Christian-oriented films to churches and community groups. Very occasionally, there would be a mainstream theatrical release – most notably the 1975 Holocaust drama “The Hiding Place” – but for the most part the emphasis was on bringing Graham’s message to movie projectors.
Back in 1964, Graham opened his own pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Part of the pavilion included a special theater that presented “Man in the 5th Dimension,” which was arguably the most ambitious production in World Wide Pictures’ history. For starters, the film was shot in 70mm Todd-AO, which was the first time this widescreen process was ever used for a nontheatrical short. The theater was equipped with special audio equipment that allowed viewers to listen to the soundtrack in a choice of six languages.
In an interesting move, World Wide Pictures decided to make a promotional film that called attention to the Billy Graham Pavilion and “Man in the 5th Dimension.” A one-hour travelogue called “World’s Fair Encounter” was produced on location at the fair, but what made the film unusual was that it actually gave equal screen time to both Graham’s activities and other key attractions at the fair.
“World’s Fair Encounter” involves the brief encounter between two twentysomethings who visit the fair: a young blonde from Montana who is planning a nursing career in the Amazon and a Swiss exchange student who is trying to soak up as much of the American culture as he can. They meet cute – he helps her frame a snapshot she is trying to take of a statue – and they decide to tour the fairgrounds together.
For the first part of the film, the young couple can be seen strolling around the various pavilions and attractions of the fair. If the film is any indication, the celebrated fair was actually a bit of a cheesy mish-mash. Part of the fun includes visits to the Belgian pavilion (complete with a recreation of a “typical” Belgian village and a snack bar serving Belgian waffles), the U.S. pavilion (which gathered together every known photograph of Abraham Lincoln – yes, what’s a world’s fair without Abraham Lincoln?), the Swiss pavilion (which has a supersized clock that makes the Swiss exchange student beam with nationalistic pride) and the Austrian pavilion (which must have been a real stinker, since the couple is only seen leaving the place).
In between these visits, there are plenty of glimpses at the fair’s curious attractions, which included a giant statue of a brontosaurus, a stunt driving automobile show, an extravagant Spanish flamenco revue, and some of the ugliest buildings ever slapped together for a World’s Fair.
In the course of the day, the couple are initially uncertain if they are becoming attracted to each other. The blonde worries what her mother would think about a boy who speaks French, while the Swiss guy can’t understand why this lovely Montana mama wants to hide herself in a rainforest hospital.
Halfway through the film, the blonde recalls that she promised her mother that she would stop by Billy Graham’s pavilion. Dragging the somewhat indifferent Swiss fella with her, she arrives just in time for a screening of “Man in the 5th Dimension.” The Swiss puts on one of the earphones provided by the theater and switches between a few languages before he can find French.
Oddly enough, “World’s Fair Encounter” spends its second half presenting “Man in the 5th Dimension” – or at least offering a 16mm glimpse of what the 70mm film looked like in its pavilion theater. The film was designed to explain the spiritual nature of man within the wider environment of the world, and it offered spectacular views of the universe (as seen through the telescope at the Palomar Observatory) and noted attractions including the California redwoods, the U.S. Capitol and the Acropolis in Athens. Every now and then, the film cuts back to the young couple – she looks enraptured, he looks pensive, but eventually he understands what Graham is saying. Praise the Lord, the Swiss kid gets it!
Unlike most world’s fairs, the New York edition actually ran a second year. Thus, anyone who couldn’t make it in 1964 was able to enjoy it in 1965. This certainly helped World Wide Pictures, which used the film to remind Billy Graham fans visiting the fair to stop by the preacher’s place in between the Belgian waffles and Abraham Lincoln photofest.
Strangely enough, World Wide Pictures was able to keep the film in release after the fair closed. Press clippings from 1967 screenings can be located online – the fact it was able to get an audience two years after its shelf life is rather amusing.
“World’s Fair Encounter” is a benign but charming souvenir of the fair, yet it also provides a vehicle for preserving what may have otherwise been a lost film. During the fair’s full run, the Billy Graham pavilion went through 11 different Todd-AO prints of “Man in the 5th Dimension.” By the end of 1965, however, all of the prints had to be discarded – after 12 showings a day and more than a few accidents with projectionists who were not used to working the Todd-AO equipment, the damage on the prints could not be repaired. As a result, no Todd-AO print of “Man in the 5th Dimension” survives.
World Wide Pictures supposedly had 16mm prints made of “Man in the 5th Dimension,” but tracking those down have been frustrating. I contacted both the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and the Billy Graham Center Archives, but neither organization has a copy of the film. The film was supposedly broadcast on a Christian cable television channel, but would be curious since the Graham organizations would control the broadcast rights (and that’s not easy to do when they don’t have a print to send out).
However, “World’s Fair Encounter” can be easily located in the grey market, either on its own or as part of a round-up of films shot during the fair’s run. Granted, it is not desirable to watch a 70mm production in a washed-out 16mm print. But at least then having the film completely disappear.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!