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February 24, 2009

'We're Going to Have Our Own Spielbergs'

Christian film fest founder draws battle lines, wants to 'build an industry around faith'

"We're here to send a message to the world that we no longer want our children immersed in toxic media which is in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian filmmaking is coming of age. Christian filmmaking is coming of age!"

So said Doug Phillips, organizer of the recent San Antonio (Texas) Independent Christian Film Festival, as reported by NPR.

The NPR piece quotes Phillips further: "I think we're going to see significant production houses that will be funding $200 million films done by Christians. We're going to have our own Steven Spielbergs. We're going to have our own filmmakers that can tell great stories, produce tremendous films, but they're going to be doing it with a Christian world view, and they're not going to be embarrassed about that."

The story also notes that Phillips told festival-goers "they were drawing the Maginot line in the culture wars."

I appreciate Phillips' passion for good content, but the feisty rhetoric about creating "our own" industry just doesn't sit well with me -- especially with such militaristic imagery as a "Maginot line" (built to keep the enemy -- in this case, Hollywood -- at bay) and "culture wars." (NPR may have paraphrased Phillips by using those exact terms, but his meaning apparently came across that way.)

But why create "our own" industry? Why not get really good at the craft of filmmaking within an already well-oiled machine -- aka, Hollywood -- and make the movies there?

I love independent films, so I'm not saying that all movies should be made in Hollywood -- by Christians or otherwise. Some of the best movies I've ever seen are indies.

But this talk of building "our own" industry, Hollywood be damned, doesn't seem right.

Festival-goers in San Antonio were apparently getting Phillips' message loud and clear:

"I don't think [Hollywood will] ever get it," said Becky Dorough from Kaufman, Texas. "They will try to mimic it, but you can't mimic Christ. They'll never get the love part. They'll never get the forgiveness. They don't get any of that because they don't think they need it."

Hmm, I wonder how our Hollywood friends Ralph Winter, Scott Derrickson, Ken Wales, Cory Edwards, and other believers in the industry feel when they read a quote like that: "They'll never get forgiveness." Oh really? These men are solid Christians, being salt and light in Tinseltown. And they definitely "get" forgiveness.

Nineteen-year-old John Robert Moore, whose film The Widow's Might won top prize at the San Antonio festival, has apparently already bought into the whole notion of a separate Christian industry.

"I think anything can be redeemed by the power of Jesus Christ. But I believe that the path [he] has set before us - which can be seen by the blessing he's put on this industry so far in this very short movement -? I think that is evidence for the fact that he wants us to work in an entirely new industry from the ground up."

Moore apparently shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker; to win the top prize -- $101,000! -- at a film fest is extraordinary. But he's already talking about "an entirely new industry." Who will be there to mentor him and show him the ropes? How can he become a Spielberg without a, um, Spielberg to mentor him? Did Spielberg -- or any other great filmmaker -- become great by staying away from those who do it best and learning on his own? No, he had great teachers along the way.

The San Antonio fest's official website includes this paragraph as part of its vision statement: "The fact is that America is discontent with Hollywood's negative, monopolistic stranglehold on film and culture. The humanistic religious worldview of Hollywood elites and their intense hatred for Christianity and the value system which it embodies has created a rift in American culture and profoundly damaged the American family. We intend to respond, not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting candles. Building a community of independent Christian filmmakers is one such candle."

There's no doubt that a lot of negative crap has come out of Hollywood, much of it anti-religious (and we're about to see more of it with Angels & Demons in May). Certainly, the city has plenty of "elites" who hold "humanistic" worldviews and even "hatred" for Christianity. Isn't that true of any business or industry? I'm sure a lot of plumbers are humanistic and hate Christianity, but if they're really good plumbers -- and if I want to be a good plumber -- then I want to learn how to plumb from them.

They say they "intend to respond, not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting candles." A hearty amen for lighting candles, but what's the point if those candles aren't burning IN the dark areas? Why light candles in the church and in the Christian community -- and, indeed, in a "separate" film industry -- where there's already light? Some of the candles should be going to Hollywood, not running away from it.

There are a lot of comments at the end of the NPR article, and a lot of feisty words. But this comment especially struck me: "I am a non-Christian. Some of my favorite works of art: Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales, most sacred choral music, sacred painting and architecture from the European middle ages and the Renaissance. The message in these works is explicitly, didactically Christian. However, I enjoy the many aspects of these works that have significance and beauty beyond the religious focus. What's more, there are many universal truths and useful lessons that any person of intelligence may glean and apply."

So true.

Christians don't need their "own" movie industry. Yes, Christians should make indie films, and make them really, really good. Keep honing the craft, improving the art, and telling the best stories -- but learn how to do those things from the best in the business, not by creating a Christian-ese ghetto that only preaches to the choir.

That's my 2 cents, anyway. What do you think?

UPDATE: Hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet, who reminds me that this isn't the first time this topic has been discussed at CT.

Related Tags: Christian films, San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival

Comments

A hearty "amen!" from me Mark. This Magniot line rhetoric makes me clammy.

Here's a sociological theory for you: Texas is for independents. I grew up in Texas and feel like the hyperindividualism and independent streak that runs through much of the state is very much at play here. I would argue that it's this culture--not primarily scripture--that creates the especially fertile soil for efforts that pit righteous Christians against (insert enemy here). In this case, it's the heathen Hollywood machine. This battle plays into a bigger cultural narrative about striking out on our own in search of promised land. Clearly, the "go west young man" narrative and independent streaks in general aren't the sole possession of Texas, but they do reside in the state in a concentrated form. After all, everything is bigger in... It's just a theory.

Oh, good grief... What we as Christians DON'T need more of in our post-Christendom society is seperation from the world in which we're supposed to be ministering. I am in total agreement that this is NOT what we should be doing.

For that matter, anything TOO overtly Christian actually will end up turning people off. "Oh, it's those preachy Christians again. I'm gonna go watch the latest Spielburg flick." Meanwhile you have movies like Spider-Man 3 that shows forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, and repentance (watch that last hour again sometime) or the Lord of the Rings films that tried their best to preserve the Christian themes that Tolkien himself said that he couldn't keep out of his books.

Christianity is alive and well in Hollywood and is selling good movies. Let's not jump ship just when we're getting started...

Stories like the NPR report really scare me. I see Christians, in their zeal to represent Jesus, chopping themselves off at the knees, and making it more difficult for Christians who are already artists to do good work in the world.

When people ask me if I'm a "Christian artist," this is what I say: "NO. I'm a Christian, and I'm an artist." There are a lot of reasons for that.

There are already a host of Christians out doing excellent art in the world. They don't need a label marked "Christian" on their art. In fact, it would cripple their ministry.

We live in a culture saturated with advertising. People usually turn to stories and movies because they want to "escape." They want to be entertained. They want their imaginations engaged.

If they sense any kind of "preaching" or "a message" right away, they back off. They don't want to sit down with a book or a video if they know that they're going to get a Message From Jesus at the end.

Imagine if Pixar's films were suddenly branded with the label "Christian". A lot of people would run away. They would never be drawn into the wonder and delight of those stories, because they would put up their defenses, their shields, and view the films with suspicion.

Because Pixar is very very good at storytelling, they let their stories do the work. They kindle questions in the minds of the viewers, questions that might lead them into a spiritual journey. And yes, there are some very imaginative Christians at work in Pixar's moviemaking. Case in point: Andrew Stanton, the storyteller behind "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E." Now, do we want to spoil his ministry by branding him as a "Christian moviemaker"? Heaven forbid. Imagine what would happen to you in your community if you wore a sandwich board that said "EVANGELIST FOR JESUS" everywhere you went. Hardly anybody would listen to you.

If we create a "Christian film industry" the way we've created a "Christian music industry" (and it appears like, alas, we have), we're "ghettoizing" the imaginative work of Christians. My own novels are meant to be fantasy stories for everybody. But because people know I'm a Christian, bookstores are shoving my stories down into the "Christian fiction" section. Do you know who will find it there? Christians. And in fact, only those Christians who go looking for fiction in the "Christian fiction" section. That infuriates me. I didn't write my stories for just a few Christians. I wrote them for the whole world.

Think about the great storytellers and poets, those that were Christians whose literature has stood the test of time and is celebrated as having set a standard for excellence. For my English literature degree, I studied John Milton, John Donne, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Flannery O'Connor, Frederic Buechner, J.R.R. Tolkien, Madeleine L'Engle, C.S. Lewis, Dostoyevsky... They didn't worry about being part of "the Christian industry." They just wrote great stories that everyone could enjoy, stories that were so deeply rooted in concern for truth and beauty that the meaning of the stories just shone through. As Emily Dickinson says, the truth dazzles gradually.

I would rather see Christians learn to work in the secular arena, learning standards of excellence and craftsmanship, even as they put their roots down in deep faith. That way, the truth will shine through more powerfully, in a way that isn't preachy. And we will draw people because of the glory of the truth and beauty we convey, rather than shouting at them and throwing messages at them.

Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "We do not draw people to Christ by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a truth that is so lovely they will long with all their hearts to know the source of it."

If we create "a Christian film industry," we will only reach a very narrow portion of the population. Further, we will increase our own delusion that We Have The Answers!, and create a calculated, manipulative, agenda-driven kind of art that is focused on changing others, rather than putting us in a place of awe and discovery, where might be changed ourselves.

Why not follow the examples of the great storytellers, instead of making ourselves a "brand" that others can conveniently avoid?

Eugene Peterson has a wonderful new book, by the way, called "Tell It Slant," that talks about *how* Jesus told stories, how he engaged with secular people between Galilee and Jerusalem. It's a wonderful primer for artists in storytelling.

Madeleine L'Engle's "Walking on Water" is also essential in this regard.

Sweet irony and bad reference. The Maginot line was one of the greatest military debacles in the history of the World. The Germans just walked around it.

I couldn't agree more. A wise man once told me that there is no such thing as a "Christian" company -- Jesus didn't die for businesses. The same is true of the film industry, arts, or any other human endeavor. Jesus died for people. What we need now is believers working in an already established industry.

We also need to stop thinking of the audience as our mission field. The people working in Hollywood need Jesus, but because of all this us vs. them crap, they don't want anything to do with Christianity. Instead of making movies with Christians for Christians, let's start making movies for general audiences with a Hollywood cast and crew. Stop thinking about all the people you can reach with your films message and begin thinking about all the people you can show the love of Christ to while you work 16 hrs a day with them making something people will enjoy.

I say this as the director of what has unfairly been described as a Christian Film for lack of a better term. Dangerous Calling is a thriller that takes place in and around a church, but we didn't intend to make a message film. We wanted to tell a good story and bring together a good mix of believers and unbelievers to make the film. We had atheists and Buddhists working with us. If you've ever worked on a film set, you know how fast bonds form. You become a family. We had numerous opportunities to share our faith in real practical ways and show them the love of Christ. It was an incredible experience and we ended up making a great film. Find out more here: http://www.dangerouscalling.com

Well said, Mark.

Yes, I'm all for believing filmmakers producing indie films, just as I'm all for believing writers writing for religious publications and publishers, believing teachers teaching in religious schools and believing healthcare professionals working in church-affiliated hospitals.

OTOH, I can't imagine anyone wanting a world in which mainstream publications and publishers don't work with believing writers, public schools have no believing teachers and state-run hospitals employ no believing healthcare professionals.

"Salt of the world." The words mean something.

I agree with Jeffrey that there are similarities between the proposal for the creation of a Christian film industry, and the creation of the Christian music industry- but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Yes, there have been many cases, and more so in recent decades, where Christian music frankly sucks. It's sappy and demeaning, preaching to the choir, and signifying nothing. Good Christian music should be challenging the status quo, and working to truly usher in the Kingdom.

This however doesn't mean there should't be such a thing as Christian music. There can be exceptional artists who sing with a Christian focus, and there should be. The problem is not what they are or who they are, but rather what the genre has become- a subculture.

I would hate to see a Christian film culture that became that, as this indeed does appear to be the direction it's headed in. But what if what we called Christian film movies like The Mission, Bowling for Columbine, Chariots of Fire, Ben-Hur, Dead Man Walking, and The Passion? All films from a heavy Christian perspective, expressing Kingdom ideology, and all well made. All raising serious questions for consideration, each in their own way challenging the status quo- including Christians themselves.

I think it is great if we have a Christian film industry. Let's just define it like the best of Christian music- those films that express the Christian viewpoint, the kingdom challenge to the authorities, and not some sort of ghetto culture preaching to the converted.

I thought the best-known thing about the Maginot Line was that it was a complete and utter failure. Yeah, sure, it prevented the Germans from invading in one direction ... so they invaded from another direction, and France was conquered all the same.

And can we please stop spreading the meme that Fireproof was the #1 independent film of 2008? The #1 American independent film, sure, maybe... since Slumdog Millionaire, a British movie, has grossed about three times as much as Fireproof did, no matter what the NPR report says... though I'd like to know how Twilight, a movie produced and distributed entirely by Summit Entertainment if I'm not mistaken, doesn't qualify as "independent". (None of Summit Entertainment's other releases have ever made more than $25 million, which is well behind Fireproof's gross. That sounds kinda indie, no?) Okay, maybe Fireproof was the #1 American independent film that played in less than a thousand theatres... but that doesn't roll off the tongue quite so easily, does it?

Jeffrey: Are your books classified as "Christian" because people know that you, personally, are a Christian? Or is it more likely that they are classified this way because your publisher happens to be an easily identifiable evangelical Christian "brand"? Like it or not, you're part of the "Christian book industry", and not simply a Christian working in the book industry. But if your publisher has managed to achieve both artistic integrity and cross-over success, then hey, let's take that as a hopeful sign that the "Christian film industry" can do the same.

Peter,

There's a difference between a company of Christians who say "Let's make art" and a company of Christians who say, "Let's make *Christian* art, that preaches *Christian* messages, and that creates a *Christian* equivalent of secular expressions."

WaterBrook Press is setting a good example by striving to cultivate literary fiction... fiction that happens to be written by Christians. That has resulted in "Auralia's Colors" and "Cyndere's Midnight" sitting on the shelf in the general Fantasy section of some bookstores, which feels like exciting progress to me. That was my hope. I want to write for general audiences, and if it happens to be Christians who support that, I'm grateful. Their understanding of the audience for these books was part of what excited me about working with them.

If existing Christian media industries are working to break down the walls that have developed, and supporting artists to do their own art, without prescribing an agenda for those artists, that's progress.

Leslie "Sam" Phillips talks about how she was required to have a certain praise content in her music, and when she started asking questions in her lyrics, or exploring darkness and trouble, she started feeling pressure from the record company. I don't experience that pressure. Not for a moment. I have the privilege of writing novels that are not deliberately evangelical in nature... they're just the stories as I imagine them. That's why I think there's a difference between saying you're "a Christian artist" and saying you're "a Christian *and* an artist."

Now, there *are* artists who feel called to make art that's by Christians, and for Christians. Or art that is by Christians for the specific purpose of teaching Christian principles or lessons. I don't see a problem so long as we call that what it is: evangelism and propaganda. And if we want to put that on big screens, we'd better not complain when every other special interest group puts their propaganda on the screen as well. As a movie critic, I call propaganda what it is -- and it sure isn't great art. Art, in its purest form, is something very, very different than advertising and preaching. It's an invitation into an experience that kindles questions, not lesson that can be easily distilled and paraphrased into a "moral" or a "message."

So yes, it's true that WaterBrook's recognized as being a Christian publisher. But they are also taking steps to publish literary fiction, not necessarily Evangelical fiction. To me, that's exciting progress.

(To stay on topic, let's take any more talk about my personal experience elsewhere, please. I don't want to turn this thread into anything resembling self-promotion. This is about the "Christian movie industry.")

"Christians don't need their "own" movie industry. Yes, Christians should make indie films, and make them really, really good. Keep honing the craft, improving the art, and telling the best stories -- but learn how to do those things from the best in the business, not by creating a Christian-ese ghetto that only preaches to the choir."

Or perhaps we could build an industry centered on really great art that is so compelling (anyone remember Bach, Handel or Rembrandt?) and such high quality, AND made with God honoring methods, that it will forcefully take the Gospel message into the devil's strongholds. Without swimming the cesspool of neomarxist immorality that Hollywood has become.

Just a thought.

Many of the comments here demonstrate that we are so immersed in sub-quality "Christian" art that the authors can't see past their own feeble definitions of what Christian art is.

I'm curious if any of the commenters (or the blog author) have actually interacted with or listened to any of the SAICFF's material before they picked up their "pen"?

Thanks for this Article, Mark, and the balance and insight it brings to the table.

As both a filmmaker and a Christian, I realize that how these issues are handled by We the Church will define an entire generation of filmmakers.

And lines are being drawn between those who seek a Cultural REVOLUTION and those who seek a Cultural RENAISSANCE. It's a huge distinction.

S. David Acuff, Editor
Wired4Film.com

"Without swimming the cesspool of neomarxist immorality that Hollywood has become."

Wait. I thought the Movieguide discussion was happening somewhere else.

I'm querying managers for my first script, but not receiving any bites yet. I'm afraid that the faith-related storyline is hurting my chances of getting signed by a legit industry pro.

I'm not crying 'discrimination.' I just think that there's still not a real market in Hollywood's eyes when it comes to faith-related films. Movies like "Passion of the Christ" et al. are just exceptions to the rule.

I've been advised several times to approach Christian production companies with my script. However, I don't want to pigeonhole it as a Christian film. Sadly, when I think of a Christian film, I think of low production values, subpar acting, and sanitized stories.

I don't think that the Christian prodcos would be interested anyway because the story's a little rough around the edges (just like real life), and I'd prefer to keep it that way.

So, my big challenge is: I'm trying to write engaging and relatable faith-infused films. The Hollywood players don't think there's a market and the Christian players wouldn't take a chance on non-family-friendly fare. Hmm...

Jeff, I mention your personal experience only because you cited it as a reference point, and I think it is a very useful one. WaterBrook Press describes itself on its website as "an autonomous evangelical Christian publishing division of Random House, Inc." That is their brand. And when I checked your book out on the Barnes & Noble website, they said it was published by "The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group". That, too, is a brand, and no doubt helps to explain why some bookstores stock your books the way that they do. The question is whether the publisher is able to think and promote their books beyond that starting point, and it sounds like they are -- which is great. And you, by publishing your books through a Christian company instead of a purely secular company, are helping those sorts of cross-overs to happen -- which is also great.

The reason distinctions like these matter to me is because I can remember how excited I was in the mid-1990s to discover that Steve Taylor had released an album on Warner Alliance. I saw the word "Warner" and took it to mean that he was continuing to release new albums on a secular label, following the demise of Chagall Guevara. But I later learned that it was the "Alliance" part of the equation that mattered, from a marketing point of view -- and that the "Alliance" part was basically just another specialized Christian music label. That was disappointing -- so I was very happy for him when he started Squint Records a few years later and was able to get broad mainstream exposure for artists like Sixpence None the Richer. Squint, as far as I know, was still a Christian label, but it was more than that, too.

But you don't need broad mainstream exposure in order to be validated as an artist. My favorite living singer-songwriter is Terry Scott Taylor (Daniel Amos, Swirling Eddies, Lost Dogs), and he has definitely butted heads with the Christian music industry from time to time, but I also find it difficult to believe that he could have thrived to the degree that he has in any other music industry. Terry is very definitely a Christian musician -- concerned with Christian themes and subjects, etc. -- and it is good, I think, that a "niche" exists for artists like him.

Likewise, as I wrote in a blog post two years ago (citing you, Steve and Terry as models to follow), I have no beef with the idea that a "Christian" film industry can have its benefits: it could provide a base for some artists to launch careers with a broader outlook, or it could provide a "niche" for some artists who might not be able to find an audience for their idiosyncratic spiritual musings anywhere else, and so on, and so on. Niches are just fine; it is only ghettos that should worry us.

And that, of course, is where expressions like "Maginot Line" become very, very dangerous.

Eric,

Barbara Nicolosi is working on several faith-related film projects. There are Christians working on the projects, but I don't think she's having them made through "Christian film industry" production houses. I'm not sure. You might contact her and ask for some advice. Those films look likely to reach the big screen, and one of them is attached to big-name actors. She blogs at http://churchofthemasses.blogspot.com.

Or write to other Christians who are working in the film industry, like the folks at Act One (the screenwriting program) or Grace Hill Media (the publicity company) to see what advice they might have for you.

Get in touch with Craig Detweiler at Fuller, or folks in the Biola film program. Go to their media conference and learn what you can. (You may have already done these things. I don't know.)

Perhaps I'm very naive, but I suspect that if the story is truly compelling and written with excellence, it might catch the attention of even non-Christian producers who could see its potential. It might not be blockbuster material, but if a producer sees an audience for it, you never know.

I'm encouraged by the fact that "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days", one of the greatest Christian testimonies ever filmed, was directed by an atheist who found the story irresistible and inspiring.

I'm encouraged by the fact that "Doubt" earned multiple Oscar nominations and drew a respectable audience for several weeks.

I'm encouraged that "Bella," which had strong associations with faith communities, became a hit with audiences.

Martin Scorsese is in talks with actors to star in an adaptation of what may be the most celebrated novel ever written about a Christian missionaries. (Is it, I wonder? Hmm. I'll have to think about that.)

Danny Boyle's "Millions" (a film that I still like much better than "Slumdog Millionaire", and not just because it's about a boy who prays a lot) is a spectacular motion picture that looks like a million bucks (and probably was). It gave us Christian characters, saints who appeared and spoke to the main character, and the finale was set around a Christmas pageant. Was this a "Christian movie"? Not in terms of a "Christian movie industry," no. And Danny Boyle does not identify himself as a Christian (his mother was Catholic). But the story was so good, and the writing so wonderful, that the film was made... with brilliant results that audiences everywhere loved, Christian or otherwise.

"Ostrov (The Island)" is a film about a monk who teaches his fellow monks some hard lessons about faith. That film was heartily endorsed and celebrated by Russian Orthodox monks. And Film Movement, an American distributor, saw it, bought it, and distributed it on DVD. It's a wonderful, profound film about faith, one of my favorites of 2008.

It can be done.

I could go on and on with examples to encourage you. And none of my examples would be drawn from "the Christian movie industry." They were projects that were strong enough to draw the attention of secular studios. They were filmed and distributed. And they earned some remarkable acclaim... yes, even from secular American film critics. Because they were really good.

But hey, I'm not trying to deny the challenges. It is very difficult to get any good script to the big screen, and yes, even more difficult to get a story about faith up there.

I'm curious: How much critique have you pursued from people who really know screenplays and the business? Have you considered a stage-play version? (Does your screenplay lend itself to that? That might be a good way to get the story in front of people, and to learn how it might be improved.)

I cringe everytime I hear of someone wanting to "redeem" a certain thing one doesn't like. As if businesses and movements have souls in need of the Lord. It often seems to me that the word is being misused. It's another way of saying "change to the way that I want, or believe to be the 'right' way". Why can't someone just do the films s/he wants to do? Go to the films s/he wants to see? It's a little like saying "GM doesn't get it and never will. We need to start a christian car company that really meets the needs of Americans and is concerned for the heart and soul of America".

Hey, how about a CNFL?

That way, football players who kneel and thank Jesus after a touchdown could all be together in one place. Then Christian athletes could get out of the corrupt NFL and not have to worry about being around people who have ego problems, or scantily clad cheerleaders, or obscenity-spewing coaches, or steroid.

Okay, but seriously:

When Jesus said be "salt of the earth", did he mean we should be seasoning? Or stay in the shaker? Or maybe, be a salt lick?

Apparently, criticism such as Mark Moring's is not of any use to Christian filmmakers. Apparently, a desire to "lift up Jesus name" is all you need to make excellent movies.

The following excerpt comes from a free newsletter from the latest Christian Films newsletter from the Christiano brothers:

"Who is Billy Donovan? He is the head basketball coach for the Florida Gators. Okay, so why do I mention this? Well, he said something that has stuck with me ever since I heard it. But first, have you noticed how much criticism, negative blogs, and hate comments are on the Internet about Christ-centered films? We release a Christian movie or air an episode of the TV series about Jesus and it gets slammed dunked by people who have nothing better to do than to criticize anybody who truly wants to lift up the name of Jesus Christ. It has gotten so bad that I don't even read comments anymore people leave about our films or other Christ-centered films. And so I've started to follow something Mr. Donovan said to his basketball team. After Florida had won the 2006 NCAA basketball championship and had all starters returning for the 2007 Season, he told his team this: "Don't listen to the praise, ignore the criticism, and stay focused on the goal". A great saying! Florida did what their Coach told them because they won the championship again for back to back titles.

So, we'll do the same here. We'll stay focused on Jesus Christ and not the negative talk about movies that truly present our Savior. We know who Jesus is and we know someday He is going to wipe away all of the evil that fills our world and airwaves. Lets make a real impact for Jesus Christ this year with our lives. Lets have a heart for the Lord and try to reach out. I hope you'll get involved above. Bring Jonathan Sperry to your city and also check out 7th Street Theater and the messages that show is trying to present."

I'm sure the Christianos mean well, but the implications of this note trouble me. In Jesus' name, they trouble me.

To read this excerpt, it sounds like critical thinking about their work is a threat to them.

It sounds like they're suggesting that it's enough that they want to lift up the name of Jesus. If I were to question whether there might not be a better way to lift up the name of Jesus, would that qualify as "hateful speech"?

If we don't think critically about our artmaking, and if we don't consider that how we make our movies is going to be as important as what the movies are about, we're just going to see "Christian art" perpetuating the same mistakes that have blunted its impact over the last several decades. Excellence matters.

Proverbs has a few things to say about the value of good criticism, if I recall.

Did anybody say yet that the Maginot Line was an utter, abject and colossal failure?

Before you start spouting about how inspiring your full-length feature films are going to be, you should work on choosing your itty bitty metaphors more carefully.

Great piece, and a great little discussion going on the in comments. I just wanted to add my two cents and say that a "Christian Film Industry" is really no different than any other niche film market. Tyler Perry has made a career out of movies(and plays) that appeal and speak to a specific market. I don't see how this is any different, except that when they do well movies like Fireproof make enough money that people take notice. Independent film production is a hard, often penniless road. I sympathize with those who say that being "Christian" doesn't mean that it should be given a pass if it is bad. Certainly not! But likewise should it be ignored if it is good? Certainly not!

Fireproof proves that there is an audience for this type of film. There are Christians who are hungry to see their lives on the screen, to see their values and their struggles. Sure, they may seem prudish to some, but they don't want to expose themselves to certain things and that's fine. But horrible movies like The Nativity Story and Evan Almighty(with a CT cover ad!) tried to appeal to the same audience, and found little success. These movies were what many are accusing the independent christian films of being; crass money-grabs that banked on a sheep-like attendance by Christians. The filmmakers didn't care about making a movie for Christians, and they certainly weren't good movies. They were marketed for Christians and the studios thought that would be enough. Obviously not.

I expanded on this a bit, and brought in some thoughts from other blogs, on my own Christian movie blog:

http://supercandid.blogspot.com/2009/03/everyone-else-is-wrong-truth-about.html

I have to agree with Mark's article. When king Solomon amassed the millions of dollars of gold and silver to build the best possible temple he could build, he hired men from Tyre to do the craftsmanship, not Jews. He apparently had a wonderful relationship with Huram, the king of Tyre. And Esther was humble enough to listen to the advice of the head eunuch (who wasn't Jewish) who knew the king very, very well and had excellent advice. God's gifts and talents are spread far and wide to all people, regardless of whether or not they realize it. Christians would do well to follow Solomon's example and seek out the "best" to work with.

It's not one OR the other. There is a place for both and both are necessary. Christians must always give their best and they are needed IN Hollywood, but if given the opportunity to create an industry dedicated to specifically serving the body of Christ, by creating new media and telling the stories that Hollywood doesn't want to tell, DOES come along, that is wonderful!!! Why do you condemn that?
I've never been to the San Antonio Christian Film Festival but I have seen some of the films that have been given a platform by this festival and I'm proud of them and the vision they have. No one should be condemning our brothers and sisters for this kind of enthusiasm.
I am reminded of the 15th century, when Puritans stayed IN the church to bring reform, and Separatists traveled to America and helped to establish a new nation based on Biblical principles. BOTH were needed. God used both and He will use both groups of filmmakers today. I look forward to more talented Christ-centered people infiltrating Hollywood and creating praise-worthy art and I look forward to what a new completely Christian industry can accomplish with its particular freedoms and vision! I intend to support both types of filmmakers.

What's the difference in what the Christian filmmakers are saying and you using the word ghetto? Hmmm I wonder how many people you've insulted whether they be Christians in the "ghetto" or Christians IN HOLLYWOOD FROM THE "GHETTO".

As both a filmmaker and a Christian, I realize that how these issues are handled by We the Church will define an entire generation of filmmakers.
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Hello.
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Thanks for sharing it.

I like a good story, film, song or painting as much as anyone, but the word "artist" is starting to give me rash, especially when one uses it to describe himself. It's always used as if it had a capital "A", whether it is written that way or not.

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