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The Passion of the Christ: Ken Duncan’s Friendship with Mel Gibson

by | Thu, Mar 28 2024

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The Passion of the Christ is one of the most impactful films ever made about Jesus. Since its release in 2004, it remains one of the most-watched films, especially during Easter. Photographer Ken Duncan and Mel Gibson have been friends since school. Ken shares his experience as one of the photographers on the set of The Passion of the Christ and Mel Gibson’s connection with the Forgiveness Cross on Memory Mountain.

The Passion of the Christ was based on the book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich, published in 1833 based on Anne’s visions.

‘The way the movie came about was supernatural,’ said Ken.

Mel was working on the script and still had it under wraps when he and producer Stephen McEveety interviewed Jim Caviezel for a surfing movie. All of a sudden, Jim Caviezel said that the interview wasn’t about a surf movie; it was a movie about Jesus, and he wanted to be involved.

Mel and Steve looked at each other in surprise. In Hollywood, it’s usual to keep projects you’re working on secret so someone else doesn’t steal your idea and make a substandard film before you can get yours out. Mel and Steve advised Jim that playing Jesus in Hollywood is career suicide, but Jim insisted that the role of Jesus was more important to him than a surf movie. That’s when Mel decided to put the brakes on the surf movie and get The Passion of the Christ out as soon as possible.

Ken was about to launch his book just before Christmas. His wife Pam had all the media PR organised when Mel asked him to come on the film set to photograph the scenes. The timing was terrible, but Pam agreed that God wanted him on the set.

‘It was such an amazing experience to be on set. It was life-changing,’ said Ken. ‘Mel just wanted to have a friend on set.’

Ken became good friends with Philippe Antonello, the other photographer on the set who was there to take photos of the actors. Between their two photography styles, they decided to create a book featuring Philippe’s photographs of the actors and Ken’s landscape shots. The book was hugely successful, selling over 750,000 copies.

Mel Gibson put everything on the line to make The Passion of the Christ. When the big backers realised it was a movie about Jesus, they pulled out. That didn’t deter Mel. Despite the pressures and accusations that he was anti-Jewish, he put his career and finances on the line to make it happen.

The Forgiveness Cross on Memory Mountain

When Mel was in Australia directing Hacksaw Ridge, Ken was assisting the Ikuntji community in erecting the Forgiveness Cross on Memory Mountain, located near Haast Bluff, 246 km from Alice Springs. Mel was curious to see the cross, so Ken invited him to central Australia.

Mel made the mistake of stopping at the Coles supermarket in Alice Springs and was bombarded with people lining up to get his autograph. Ken rescued him and took him to Haast Bluff to meet his Aboriginal friends, who loved Mel but treated him like a normal person, who they called Mad Max.

‘We went up on top of the mountain where we’re going to build the cross and were sitting there looking out and having a bit of a prayer when this huge eagle, the biggest eagle I’ve ever seen in my life, hovered about 30 foot above our heads,’ said Ken. ‘Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera, but it hovered there for half an hour while we were sitting there.’

Mel stayed at Haast Bluff for four days, unwinding from the stress of filming. There was no phone service out there to disturb them. Mel told Ken he’d had the most amazing time and offered to return to teach the Aboriginals how to make movies.

‘These people are great storytellers. We want to equip young kids with technology and skills so they can do things and create jobs and income streams doing things they like,’ said Ken.

Walk a While – Reconciliation in Action

Ken has a heart not only for the Lord and for capturing great images but also for the indigenous people of Australia. He has set up an organisation called Walk a While that promotes reconciliation in action to heal the wounds of history.

‘The phrase Walk a While comes from if you really want to know someone, you need to walk a while with them. Then, if you do that, they will open up to you,’ said Ken. ‘So many people come and want things and think things about indigenous people, but they’re not prepared to spend the time. We’ve been out there for over 20 years working with the community. The key is bringing job opportunities and also supporting what they’re doing because there is a revival in some of these remote communities. I really believe the indigenous people are the ones who are going to lead a revival in this nation. … It’s not just about what we can give to them; it’s what they can give to us because they understand moving in the Holy Spirit more than we do, often, because they are so sensitive to it.

Ken shared how they are seeing amazing miracles out at the cross. People are getting touched sovereignly by the Holy Spirit without anybody intervening. Ken said this is what Australia and the world need—revival!

To listen to Ken’s full interview with DJ and Fel on Rise and Shine, click the link below:

Related Articles:

Ken Duncan and Keiran Multa Talk About the Power of The Forgiveness Cross – Vision Christian Media

Image supplied by Ken Duncan