Faith-Based Filmmaker Revives Jimmy Stewart in Biopic

Director Aaron Burns’ next project is a theatrical movie about James Stewart.
Faith-Based Filmmaker Revives Jimmy Stewart in Biopic
Jimmy Stewart (WikiCommons)
Juliette Fairley

When Aaron Burns produces and directs a film, it’s usually historical fiction or faith-based. He’s known for the studio projects “Birthright: Outlaw” and “Legacy Peak.” But for the first time, Mr. Burns is departing from those genres with a theatrical movie about James Stewart tentatively titled “A Truly Wonderful Life.”

“It’s the first film I’ve directed that is a true life story,” Mr. Burns told The Epoch Times.

Known as Jimmy, James Stewart was a 5-time Oscar nominee and won the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1940.

He starred in three classic films with John Wayne including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “How the West Was Won,” and “The Shootist.”

Born and raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Mr. Stewart’s father was a strong Presbyterian.

“That’s how he grew up and Jimmy talks about prayer and faith and those things,” Mr. Burns said in an interview. “He was definitely a man of faith.”

It was in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” filmed in 1962, that Mr. Stewart experienced a form of doxing after the film’s director, John Ford, publicly shamed him for describing a black cast member’s wardrobe as Uncle Remus-like.

Uncle Remus is a fictional stereotype characterized in a book called Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris published in 1881 that is controversial for idealizing the enslavement of southern African Americans.

Mr. Stewart explains in a video posted on YouTube that his words were misrepresented by Mr. Ford at the time and modern-day filmmakers have come to Mr. Stewart’s defense.
Far Out Magazine reported filmmaker Quentin Tarantino asked Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. just how many faceless Indians were killed in Mr. Ford’s movies.

“It really is people like that who kept alive this idea of Anglo-Saxon humanity compared to everybody else’s humanity,” Mr. Tarantino said of Mr. Ford.

Although he was a movie star between 1934 and 1991, Mr. Stewart also enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941 and served in World War 2 until 1947.

“He was being razzed in his day for the citizenship that he displayed,” Mr. Burns said. “He embraced the founding of our country and caring about all men created equal and what we do to serve others.”

Mr. Stewart suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to witnessing the atrocities of war and losing 130 of his men as an Air Force bomber pilot.

Aaron Burns on the set of "Birthright: Outlaw 2023" in October 2022 (Courtesy of Johnathan Schutz)
Aaron Burns on the set of "Birthright: Outlaw 2023" in October 2022 (Courtesy of Johnathan Schutz)

“He wasn’t flying the flight that day but had planned it so you can imagine the trauma,” Mr. Burns said. “I believe they sent up 28 planes from his division that day and 13 of them didn’t come back.”

Since starting his research, Mr. Burns has learned that Mr. Stewart was the strong silent type who came alive when performing.

He also appeared in more than 80 films.

“Jimmy was, by nature, a quiet person but had a lot of things to share with the world, and he chose to share those through his performances,” Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Stewart’s faith is what drew Mr. Burns to secure the exclusive rights to film his life story from Kelly Stewart-Harcourt, one of Mr. Stewart’s two daughters.

Aaron Burns on set in Oct. 2022 (Courtesy of Johnathan Schutz)
Aaron Burns on set in Oct. 2022 (Courtesy of Johnathan Schutz)

“Our family is thrilled that Aaron and his team approached us about bringing Dad’s story to life on the big screen,” said Ms. Stewart-Harcourt in a press release. “Everyone loved him as George Bailey [in It’s a Wonderful Life]. Now they can learn how that movie intertwined with other parts of his life in so many important ways.”

The project is currently in development, which involves historical research, creating budgets, finding the right studio partner, and reviewing casting options.

So far, the actor who will portray Mr. Stewart has not been cast.

“We have a number of studios that have reached out that would like to partner with us, and we’re making sure we find the right one for this special story,” Mr. Burns said.

On his bookshelf at home, Mr. Burns stores many writings of dead people because he believes in the profundity of timelessness.

Among his reading materials are “The Confessions of St. Patrick” and “Letter to the Soldiers of Coroticus” by St. Patrick, which Mr. Burns believes led him to the Jimmy Stewart project.

Praying with St. Patrick by Aaron Burns (Courtesy of Tyndale Publishing)
Praying with St. Patrick by Aaron Burns (Courtesy of Tyndale Publishing)

“I met St. Patrick through reading his letters a number of years ago,” Mr. Burns said. “I found my personal faith and personal conviction in my own vocation deepened and through those periods of praying and seeking what the right project would be is when I found the Jim Stewart story.”

Before he became the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick was enslaved at the age of 16 by a group of Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate in Britain.

Mr. Burns was so inspired by Patrick’s life that he co-wrote a devotional book called Praying with St. Patrick because he felt a calling to share St. Patrick’s story with others.

The book features a quote from St. Patrick, a scripture, a devotion, and a prayer for times of trouble, a prayer for hope, a prayer for when you don’t fit in, and many other prayers.

“What’s really exciting is St. Patrick’s Day is just around the corner,” Mr. Burns added. “It’s already been fun to see people reading it, sharing it, enjoying it, and praying through his life as we approach St. Patrick’s Day and on into Easter and beyond.”

Juliette Fairley is a freelance reporter for The Epoch Times and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Born in Chateauroux, France, and raised outside of Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Juliette is a well-adjusted military brat. She has written for many publications across the country. Send Juliette story ideas at [email protected]
Related Topics