Jehovah's Witnesses and Filmmaking: A Century in the Making
The Photo Drama of Creation
In 1912 production began on an epic multimedia presentation about the history of the world in relation to the Bible. Along with records and glass slides, it included cutting edge technology of the time such as film over film and other special effects, synced dialogue and singing, and colorized footage and combinations of these years before The Jazz Singer and The Wizard of Oz. The eight hour film, split up into four parts and also available in shorter versions, was released theatrically in 1914 with over nine million people seeing it before year's end, and many more thereafter as it continued to be used into the 1920's.
Mid 20th Century Films
Jehovah's Witnesses focused on radio for a time, but in the 1950's and 1960's films made a comeback starting with The New World Society in Action. A handful of films were made about conventions and other aspects of the organization, and these mostly were silent films that required a live narrator reading a script. The last film from this era, called Heritage, was half an hour and mostly directed at teenagers much like Young People Ask in years to come. This was their first with sound recorded onto the film, and therefore was suitable for broadcast on a number of television stations nationwide. After that, the Watch Tower Society focused on releasing slide presentations over the coming decades, often with pre-recorded soundtracks on audio cassette. While most of these presentations are considered lost, one from the 1970's has been restored and remastered.
The Home Video Era
In the mid 1980's the Watch Tower Society acquired video filming, editing and duplication equipment which at first was used primarily in house. However in 1990 they released their first movie in decades, Jehovah's Witnesses: The Organization Behind the Name. This immensely popular video cassette was translated into many languages and was used for sixteen years. Videos of various types continued to be released such as documentaries, ancient and modern day dramas, videos targeted for children and teenagers and more. At first new videos were announced via the periodical Our Kingdom Ministry and at congregation meetings, sometimes a poster of the upcoming film being posted on the information board. 2004 saw the first major DVD releases, replacing VHS, and in 2009 DVD's began to be introduced at District Conventions instead. By 2014 the level of professionalism had risen considerably. The dramatic film from that year, The Prodigal Returns, was not only their first to be in HD but also to have a true feature length running time and utilize better acting, editing and on location shoots.
Epilogue: Online Transition
After the turn of the millennium Jehovah's Witnesses began issuing periodic online videos. They were low budget, focused mostly on persecution, weren't very clear due to common low bandwidth limitations at the time and didn't have a very wide audience.
By 2012 however, usage of the internet, social media and streaming by the public had mushroomed, so jw.org was redesigned and relaunched, with a number of new, short, high quality videos released online exclusively over the next couple of years. During that time JW Stream was also launched, which is used to show live or pre-recorded events to individuals and audiences around the world, from congregation meetings to special conventions.
Finally, in 2014, JW Broadcasting was introduced. This online video channel enabled anyone to watch previously exclusive special events and massively increased the amount of video content being produced, paving the way for the drastic reduction and in some cases elimination of printed publications.