Documentary, Super 16mm, Dolby SR, color, 52’

Heaven on Earth

Branson, Missouri. Some call it the new Nashville or the Las Vegas of the Bible Belt. Over the past ten years, nearly 40 theaters have shot out of the ground in this once sleepy Ozark Mountain town of fewer than 4000 inhabitants. Here in America’s heartland, country legends and television and stage stars from yesteryear have reincarnated themselves and offer up good ol’ patriotic, Christian entertainment to six million tourists annually.

HEAVEN ON EARTH follows filmmaker Rick Minnich’s quest to find the perfect America which Branson promises to be. Seeped in nostalgia, and wallowing in stars, stripes and neon lights, Branson is populated by such colorful figures as USO pin-up girl Jennifer Wilson, country music star Barbara Fairchild, boy wonder Matthew Matney, and, of course, Jesus Christ himself in the bombastic musical “The Promise.” Mixing show numbers, interviews, and behind the scenes shots, HEAVEN ON EARTH weaves a dense portrait of the making of the American myth. The film climaxes with the largest Veteran’s Day celebration in the United States, including a rare, chilling interview with General Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, in which he reflects upon his dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Still only a small dot on the map, Branson now offers more theater seats than Las Vegas and Broadway combined, and has established itself as the second most popular drive-to holiday destination in the United States.


HEAVEN ON EARTH is a personal documentary about my quest for the perfect America. After nearly ten years in Berlin, I have begun toying with the idea of returning to the United States. Until now, I haven’t known where to go. My chance encounter with Branson (my mother moved there in 1996) left me with ambivalent feelings about the U.S., and the image my homeland presents of itself. The mythical America I found in Branson struck me as both irresistible and horrifying – a nightmare vision of the fundamentalist, patriotic attitudes I fled a decade ago, but which continue to fascinate me even today. The culmination of my quest was clearly my interview with General Paul Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay. His hair-raising account of dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and how he “did the right thing,” was for me the ultimate tale of heroism which Branson likes to hold high — a kind of heroism which leaves me cold.

HEAVEN ON EARTH is my attempt to convey in an entertaining, ironic, yet disturbing manner my ambivalence, fascination and repulsion at the country where I spent the first twenty years of my life. In many ways, the patriotic fervor which has erupted throughout the United States following the terrorist attacks on September 11th has proven the fulfillment of the vision of America Branson propagates on stage and off.

HEAVEN ON EARTH was shot entirely on location in Branson, Missouri, USA from Nov. 4-27, 1998. It is director Rick Minnich’s thesis film at the Hochschule für Film & Fernsehen “Konrad Wolf” in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany.

  • May 2001 Audience award for best documentary, Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival, New York
    German Cinematography Award nominee
  • June 2001 Special Prize of the European Film School Jury, SEE Docs in Dubrovnik
  • July 2001 Babelsberg Media Prize – Best German Graduation Film
  • Oct. 2001 Bronze Plaque, The Chris Awards, Columbus Int‘l Film Festival USA
  • Dec. 2001 IDA/David L. Wolper Student Documentary Achievement Award nominee
  • Jan. 2002 FIPA d’or (first prize) and honorable mention from the youth jury, International Festival of Audiovisual Programs (FIPA) Biarritz, France

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  • April 2001 Sehsüchte International Student Film Festival, Potsdam
  • May 2001 Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival, New York
  • June 2001 Art Film Festival, Trencianske Teplice, Slovakia
    SEE Docs in Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Oct. 2001 Denver International Film Festival
    International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film
    The Festival of Festivals, Palm Springs, USA
  • Nov. 2001 Competition “First Appearances” Amsterdam IDFA
    Sleepwalkers Student Film Festival 2001, Tallinn, Estonia
  • Sept. 2002 St. Petersburg Film Festival “Message to Man”
    International Film Festival Split, Croatia
  • Oct. 2002 Independent Film Festival of Osnabrück, Germany
  • Nov. 2002 Kassel Documentary Film and Video Festival, Germany
  • Sept. 2006 Werkleitz Biennale, Halle, Germany

IKON-TV, (Nederland 1) The Netherlands, Program “Werelden”, Dutch Title: “Het drive-in paradijs”, 22 August 2001 (re-run: 25 August 2001)  

TSR2 (Switzerland), Program: “le doc du lundi”, 2 September 2002 

TSR1 (Switzerland), 4 September 2002 (re-run 1 December 2002)

WDR (Germany), WDR-dok: “Der Himmel auf Erden – ein Besuch in Branson, Missouri” (re-run: 7 July 2003)

3sat (DE/A/CH), “Der Himmel auf Erden – ein Besuch in Branson, Missouri”, 1 November 2004

KiKa (Germany) – 5 min. excerpt, 8 October 2002 – 15 June 2012 (6 broadcasts)

ZDF (Germany) – 5 min. excerpt, 14 June 2003

Planet TV (DE/A/CH), 18 September – 5 October 2001 (8 broadcasts)

Writer & Director: Rick Minnich
Cinematography: Eeva Fleig
Sound: Dietrich Körner
Editors: Bob Schneider, Xina Graff
Music: Antonin Dvorak, Irving Berlin, F. Scott Key, F.W. Meacham, Jan Dargatz, Jeff Gibson, The Steeles, Boudleaux Bryant
Featuring: Barbara Fairchild, Jennifer Wilson, Matthew and Molly Matney, Randy Brooks, Richard Clark, Jimmy Nicholas, General Paul Tibbets
Production: Hochschule für Film & Fernsehen “Konrad Wolf” and Hoferichter & Jacobs GmbH
Producer: Holger Lochau
Executive Producer: Olaf Jacobs
Development: Developed through the VISIONS 2 Program of the Groupement Européen
des Écoles de Cinéma et de Télévision (GEECT)