Christian filmmakers have apparently realized that gee, people don’t just want a Jesus movie; they want to see a good Jesus movie. Even more weird, it doesn’t even have to use the word Jesus in the title! And even stranger than that, doesn’t even need a “Christian” label at all, so long as it fits the particular assumptions Christian viewers would have about people.
I’m not saying this is a bad thing. Atheist though I might be, I get more than a little sick of the trash being offered up as entertainment these days. Torture porn is not my idea of a fun time at the flicks. If a movie looks like something I’d enjoy, I’ll watch it, even if a Christian message is blatantly obvious. But it’s nice to know some directors are trying not to be.
Director Brian Baugh’s upcoming teen film “To Save a Life” may be many things, but one thing it’s not, he says, is a “Christian” movie.
The upcoming film about a star basketball player who copes with a friend’s death is edgier than others—with violence, marijuana and a brief sex scene. Conservative friends who’ve screened the movie worry it doesn’t have enough faith in it, while others think it may have a bit too much.
“That’s what makes it fun,” said Baugh, a film photography director whose new movie will be distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films. “Can we walk that line? It’s a great challenge.”
Five years after the stunning box-office results of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” Christian filmmakers are trying to develop higher quality movies that will attract a faith-based audience without alienating nonchurchgoers.
It’s worth a shot. A well written, well acted and well directed picture will engage the audience, no matter their credo. A lot of movies are made with a message in mind already and the better ones manage to carry that message with weight and heart yet avoid beating the audience into submission with it.
A small but growing movement is trying to change that image, highlighted most recently by “Fireproof,” a movie about a firefighter struggling to save his marriage, and produced by a Southern Baptist church in Georgia, that ended up the No. 1 independent movie of 2008.
You can’t really count that result like you can with other films:
Fireproof is obviously critic-proof; though it hit theaters sans reviewer screenings, it had been heavily screened for pastors, who bought group tickets for their congregations, ensuring plenty of sold-out opening-weekend showings. Can hundreds of thousands of multiplex-invading Promise Keepers be wrong?
That’s cheating is what that is. If the movie is really worth seeing then people will get their own tickets and spend the money happily. And they’ll certainly tell their friends if the money was well spent. Critic-proof, that movie wasn’t:
Basically, the problem with Cameron and Bethea’s marriage is that he’s pissed off because his wife actually expects something from him, like extending a little kindness to her or washing a dish every once in awhile. He’s like a gardener who never supplies a drop of water to a plant, then rages petulantly when the plant wilts. And when Cameron gets in a rage, out comes the baseball bat.
Fireproof gets hung up in a lot of Promise Keepers hoo-hah about reaffirming marriage as a covenant with God rather than a contract filed at City Hall, but that’s just a cover for two fundamental points about the movie: Cameron acts like a childish jerk, even in the reconciliation phase, and the underlying reason is that he—and the movie—hates women.
I can’t agree or disagree with that as I haven’t seen it. I’ve just bolded the bit I liked best. heh. Who doesn’t know people like that?
But back to RNS:
“The profitability of a film like `Fireproof’ will inspire a spate of imitators,” said Detweiler. “What I’d rather see is a wave of originators who have such a level of artistry, craft and originality that audiences and critics stand up and take notice.”
Yes, that’s a point. Plus, a movie ought to stand on its own, not on its message. In order to do that, these filmmakers have to make films with wide appeal. They literally can’t afford to alienate entire classes of ticket buyers. If they want the big box office bucks, they have to be willing to risk a few bucks of their own, as well. Not every unknown volunteer will turn out to be an acting genius. If the cast can’t act their way out of their own shoes, how can that be called a quality picture?
The Kendricks’ movies are apprentice efforts, and there’s nothing wrong with that—all great artists and craftsmen go through an apprentice stage. But for an apprentice to graduate into true mastery, someone must give him honest feedback, and it appears no one in the evangelical community is willing to do that. Some of the most prominent movie reviewers in the Christian world acknowledged the film’s shortcomings but said—inexplicably—that they didn’t matter. Among rank-and-file Christians, any criticism of the movie is met with vitriol, such as the hate I was met with on an online discussion group. You would have thought I had nominated Osama bin Laden for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Make movies. Make message movies. But by all that is great and holy and worthy of salty greasy buckets of banged grains, make great movies!
Build them! And they will come!
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