When Australian missionary Graham Staines was brutally murdered 20 years ago by religious fundamentalists in India, the story resonated with Dallas entrepreneur Victor Abraham.
The India native’s subsequent efforts to share Staines’ efforts on the big screen resulted in The Least of These, a faith-based biopic that marks the first theatrical release for Abraham’s Skypass Entertainment.
The film tracks the work of Staines (Stephen Baldwin) with impoverished leprosy patients in India during the 1990s, when radical Hindu groups accused him of converting his patients to Christianity in coercive ways that violated local proselytizing laws.
“The conversion issue is a toxic issue in India,” Abraham said following the recent Dallas premiere of the film. “On one side, it’s driven by the freedom of choice, and on the other side, it’s driven by ideologies and different worldviews. Where those worlds collide is where this story begins.”
Such accusations eventually led to Staines and his two young sons being burned alive while they slept in the back of a station wagon in 1999. It also prompted a well-publicized statement of forgiveness for the perpetrators from Staines’ widow (Shari Rigby).
Abraham said the film, which was shot on location in India, isn’t meant to sermonize or take a certain political stance, but rather to spread a secular, universal message about compassion.
“Nowadays, it’s so difficult to forgive each other. There’s so much bitterness in our hearts,” Abraham said. “I’m hoping and praying that this will make a difference in people’s lives.”
That passion for the material was matched by director Aneesh Daniel, who likewise had wanted to make a movie about Staines for years prior to meeting Abraham in 2013. He said the moral implications should resonate with a wide audience.
“This is a story of love,” Daniel said. “I want people to get off their couches and turn off their cellphones and walk an extra mile to help somebody in need. You don’t need to travel to India or Africa. Just walk through your neighborhood and find someone.”
Five years after expanding Irving-based Skypass Group — which primarily focuses on corporate travel and hospitality — into the entertainment realm, Abraham said he’s eager to tell more stories, when the time is right.
“I will do another film if I get good subject matter that can make a difference,” he said.