The Believer's Heaven
By Peter Conheim
Reading time 3 Minutes
The third film in the What’s Going On, USA Volume on byNWR is also the third to be based on a title for which all original elements are now lost. Completing a tragic circle, The Believer’s Heaven is the final film collaboration between director Ron Ormond and evangelist Estus W. Pirkle, and its original negative was destroyed in the horrific Nashville, Tennessee area floods in 2010, along with all of their other film work together.
Completed in 1977, it only survives in any form today because duplicate 16mm negatives were in the possession of the Estus W. Pirkle estate, along with The Burning Hell and If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, both of which we reconstructed and restored in 2018. It is, indeed, ironic that the business arrangement between the Ormonds and the Pirkles collapsed acrimoniously – had the Ormonds been the sole distributors of these films, even these backups would have been completely lost, along with the entirety of Ron and June Ormond’s filmography. Their drive-in classics such as Please Don’t Touch Me, Forty Acre Feud, The Exotic Ones and others now only exist in substandard video dubs and damaged prints, as they were all lost in the same flood of biblical proportions.
It fell to The Restorationists to compare and contrast the two surviving 16mm duplicate negatives. As with the first two films, the films were shot on Kodachrome Reversal positive film stock, but the dupe negative stock they were copied to was not particularly stable, and colors tended to fade. Unlike the horrors we encountered with the previous two films’ faded state, The Believer’s Heaven’s issues weren’t severe, although its low budget and shoddy lab work occasionally caught up with it. We corrected several examples where sequences were printed with excessive weave in the picture, and generally cleaned up large amounts of printed-in dust and dirt. The tremendous strides we were able to make with the soundtracks with the previous two films weren’t possible here, as we were limited by only having a duplicate optical soundtrack to work with. No tapes or magnetic tracks have survived. Particular gratitude is expressed to Sean Savage of Academy Film Archive for his careful inspection and comparison of the surviving materials on this title. A slot is surely reserved for him in heaven.
Peter Conheim is the lead Restorationist and Archivist at byNWR.com, and the founder of Cinema Preservation Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of endangered films of all stripes, in partnership with archives, private collectors and laboratories. As a performer from the San Francisco Bay Area, he is the co-founder of Wet Gate: The All-Projectionist Ensemble and Mono Pause, and a long-time member of culture jammers Negativland. He also performs with Malcolm Mooney (from CAN) and the Mutants. His music remastering and restoration projects have included works by DEVO, MX-80 Sound, Tuxedomoon, Noh Mercy, Factrix, Yoshi Wada, John Bender, the Screamers and many others.