A renaissance of faith-friendly films?

4 Oct

OCTOBER 4, 2010 — If you’re a concerned Christian parent like me, you’re concerned about all of the negative influences bombarding your children every day. No matter how well you protect them from advertising, movies and other messages with a secular, hedonistic worldview, some will filter through.

Jim Caviezel as Jesus in THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST

Despite the onslaught of negative messages, Christians haven’t given up. I’ve been following the development of Christian media for years. Like many others, I fully expected a rush of Christian films to hit the big screen after Mel Gibson’s $611-million blockbuster The Passion of the Christ six years ago. It didn’t happen. One studio, New Line Cinema, made a weak attempt to provide a Christian picture when it released The Nativity Story in 2006. Despite the hype and its Vatican City world premier (sans the Pope), Christian film-goers were unimpressed. And irony of ironies, its teen star Keisha Castle-Hughes announced she was unwed and pregnant just prior to the film’s release. The movie tanked, earning only $45 million.

Fireproof and Courageous

Since then, Christian filmmakers have struck out on their own, making high-quality films outside the studio system. In 2008, for example, Sherwood Pictures in Albany, Ga., released Fireproof. With a tiny $500,000-budget, the film — starring Kirk Cameron (who took no salary) — grossed more than $33 million. The pro-marriage flick debuted at No. 4 and was the highest-grossing independent film of the year! The church-based studio is busy on its next film film, Courageous, which addresses one of the biggest social epidemics in our culture today — the crisis of fatherhood. Too many fathers are either absent, abusive or neglectful.  Studies show this epidemic has let to an increase in crime, gang activity, homosexuality — and even more absent, abusive and neglectful fathers.

On the set of COURAGEOUS in Albany, Ga., in May with producer/writer Stephen Kendrick (above) and my son (below)

I had the blessing of being on the Courageous set (with my own son) in May. I met with the filmmakers and the dozens of locals who have developed spin-off businesses around Sherwood Pictures.

Courageous will be the studio’s fourth picture. The others were Flywheel, Facing the Giants and, of course, Fireproof. The exciting thing about what Sherwood is doing is that they are Christians making films for Christians. They get it. Studios don’t. I once worked for a Catholic company that engaged a secular PR firm to help get its message out. It was painful. As much as the PR reps wanted to get the message out correctly and effectively, they didn’t think like us, making the entire endeavor more arduous than any of us had ever imagined.

The same is true with movies. If a studio boss tells his Yes-men, “Get me a Jesus picture!” They’ll do it, but unless Christians write, produce, direct and star in it … it will ring hollow. Case in point, The Nativity Story.

Secretariat

There are a number of films either just out or in production that we have to look forward to in the coming months. Christian media (and PR teams) are busy promoting Disney’s Secretariat as the next Blind Side. Starring one of my favorite actresses, Diane Lane, it tells the story of Penny Chenery and Secretariat, who became the first horse in 25 years to win the Triple Crown in 1973. It’s in theaters Friday, so we’ll see if it wins Lane an Oscar as The Blind Side did for Sandra Bullock.

Cristiada

Cast of the upcoming Andy Garcia project CRISTIADA, which just wrapped filming in Mexico

A film that I’m personally looking forward to is Cristiada (official site), starring Andy Garcia, Eva Longoria Parker, Peter O’Toole and Eduardo Verástegui.  The film weaves itself around the Cristero War (also known as the Cristiada ) of 1926 to 1929. It was an uprising and counter-revolution against the Mexican government of the time, set off by religious persecution of Catholics, specifically the strict enforcement of the anti-clerical provisions of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 and the expansion of further anti-clerical laws.

I intereviewed Verástegui in person a few years ago when he was out promoting the release of Bella, the pro-life film that captured the hearts of movie-goers at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most prestigious festivals in the world.  Bella won the People’s Choice Award, the same award that sent Slumdog Millionaire on its path to Oscar gold two years later.

When I talked to him, Verástegui told me that he had renounced films that denigrate his race (he’s Mexican) or his faith (he’s Catholic) or that would offend God in any way. Since Bella, he’s only made one film — the touching 20-minute short, The Butterfly Circus. I fully expect every Verástegui project to be a winner. He’s talented, popular and fully committed to his faith.

Andy Garcia on the set of his new movie CRISTIADA

His reversion to the Church came after his first major success in the U.S. (he’s called the Mexican Brad Pitt because his popularity south of the border rivals that of Mr. Jolie). He fired his staff and sought God’s will. He thought he’d go off to South America and become a missionary, but his spiritual director wisely pointed him back to the jungles of Hollywood where evangelization is far more desperately needed than in the wilds of the Amazon. After turning down dozens of projects that didn’t meet his new faith-based standards, he was broke and living in his Cadillac Escalade. (Only in Hollywood!) Then God’s Providence led him to Leo Severino and Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. The Three Amigos birthed Metanoia Films and Bella. The rest is history … and their future has just begun.

There Be Dragons

Next, the new Roland Joffé,  (The Killing Fields, The Mission) film is already generating a ton of buzz in Catholic and secular circles. Like Cristiada, There Be Dragons is a historical epic. Based on an script originally penned by Catholic screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi, Joffé directs the film set during the Spanish Civil War. According to publicity material, the film’s themes include betrayal, love and hatred, forgiveness, friendship, and finding meaning in everyday life. The film, scheduled to be released next spring, includes the story of revolutionary soldiers, a journalist, his father, and a priest, St. Josemaría Escrivá — a recent Roman Catholic saint and founder of Opus Dei. Escrivá has been called the saint of ordinary life.

There Be Dragons doesn’t boast Cristiada’s all-star cast,  but still brings an impressive slate of veteran actors including Charlie Cox (Stardust), Wes Bentley (American Beauty), Rodrigo Santoro (300), Dougray Scott (Desperate Housewives) and Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace).

The film has received indirect support from the personal prelature Opus Dei, which Escrivá founded. Although maligned by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and its sequel Angels and Demons, Opus Dei actually recorded a bounce in membership and attention thanks to the books and films. The organization seems poised to capitalize on this new film, which is sure to generate more interest for Opus Dei — albeit far more positive attention. No murderous albino monks here.

Motive Entertainment, which led the pre-screening blitz for The Passion and the first Chronicles of Narnia film, is already bringing Dragons to leaders with screenings across the country this fall. So far the buzz has been positive. Joffé, who is an agnostic, told the National Catholic Register‘s Tim Drake, “When I decided I would do the movie, I wondered what Josemaria Escrivá might say. I think he would be delighted. He had an all-embracing view of human beings. If certain of our values are lining up, how wonderful that is and what a rich world God’s is.” Read the rest of the interview.

Mary Mother of Christ

Camilla Belle. Hope they change her eye color from blue to brown in post-production!

Nicolosi and her company Origin Entertainment are behind one of the more anticipated upcoming films — the $36-million production of Mary Mother of Christ starring Camilla Belle (The Lost World: Jurassic Park ) as Mary, Al Pacino as Herod and Peter O’Toole as Simeon. Nicolosi tells me that “the shooting has been delayed several times due to financing troubles related to the current economy. The current schedule is for the project to shoot in Jordan in January.” With Nicolosi’s involvement — and the star power of Pacino and O’Toole — this will be one to keep an eye on!

There are several just-released films and some in the hopper worthy of note: the newly released Like Dandelion Dust is being marketed to Christians, a film on Our Lady of Guadalupe is being penned by famed Hollywood screenwriter Joe Eszterhas, Rust (produced and starring Corbin Bernsen came out on DVD this week), The Mighty Macs (which will hopefully be released to DVD soon), a film billed as the Christian version of the Oscar-winning Crash called I Am, and a German film on the 12th century mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen called  Vision. Oscar winning actor Lou Gossett Jr., a professed Christian, may have another hit on his hands with The Grace Card, which hits theaters on Feb. 25, 2011. And soon out on DVD is Robert Duvall’s sensational Get Low.

With the November elections just around the corner, watch for I Want Your Money. And lastly, every adult Christian should understand the horror of abortion. Two phenomenal films that expose the underbelly of the beast we euphemistically call the “abortion industry” are Blood Money (news article) and Maafa 21.

 

A few more for your consideration (all new on DVD): Bringing Up Bobby, The Mysterious Islands, Upside, the phenomenal Letters to God, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry and last but not least … my favorite Christian-themed movie of the year: To Save A Life.

With a plethora of films that go against the Hollywood mainstream, we may be witnessing the slow birth of a renaissance in faith-friendly film. Time will tell.

Patrick Novecosky is the founder and editor of The Praetorium.

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4 Responses to “A renaissance of faith-friendly films?”

  1. April October 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm #

    Thanks for the update! I’m looking forward to some good faith friendly flicks.

  2. www.yahoo.com April 23, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    Amazing blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really make my blog stand out.

    Please let me know where you got your design.
    With thanks

    • Patrick Novecosky April 28, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      It’s one of the many WordPress themes, right off the shelf. Called Bueno. Not custom made.

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    […] and other producers are offering several movies more sympathetic to Christianity than is usual in the […]

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