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Fed up with Hollywood, churches make own films
Kim Lawton, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
April 13, 2011
6 MIN READ TIME

Fed up with Hollywood, churches make own films

Fed up with Hollywood, churches make own films
Kim Lawton, Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
April 13, 2011

YORBA LINDA, Calif. — This year’s Oscars may have been

passed out, but for some churches across the country the major motion picture

season is just getting started.

Frustrated with the movies Hollywood has been releasing,

more and more congregations are making their own feature films.

One is Friends Church here in Yorba Linda, a Quaker

congregation with an evangelical megachurch worship style where members are

finishing production on a film called “Not Today.”

“I still hear people say it in the church, ‘What are we

doing? We’re making a movie? What are you talking about?’“ Jon Van Dyke,

Friends Church’s media director, told the PBS show “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.”

Van Dyke is director of “Not Today,” which tells the story

of a spoiled young American who goes on a partying trip to India and gets pulled

into the search for a little girl sold to human traffickers. The film was

partly shot in India and centers around Dalits, the so-called “untouchables” on

the lowest rung of the traditional caste system. Friends Church connected with

Dalits during mission trips.

“I had never heard of the Dalits until I went to India,”

said Brent Martz, producer of “Not Today” and pastor of creative ministries at Friends

Church.

Friends Church committed to help free Dalits who had been

trafficked and to build 200 schools for Dalit children. And, because the congregation

is in the backyard of Hollywood, members decided to make a movie as well.

“It wasn’t just to make a movie, because we’re not in the

movie business; we’re a church,” said Matthew Cork, the congregation’s lead pastor.

“But as a church, we do have an obligation and a responsibility to tell the

message, and we believe that this was the best way for us.”

Some experts question whether this is something local

churches should be doing.

RNS photo courtesy of Sony Entertainment

Frustrated with Hollywood’s fare, churches are making their own films, such as “The Grace Card,” which was made by Calvary Church in Memphis.

“I guess I have an outdated notion that churches are there

to inspire parishioners to then go and do things, in whatever genre, whether it’s

politics, or media or whatever,” said Mark Joseph, a film producer with the MJM

Entertainment Group who writes about religion and

pop culture.

“I’m not sure about church as film studio or church as

commercial enterprise,” he said. “But that’s, I think, the danger down this

path.”

The church filmmaking trend began at Sherwood Baptist in

Albany, Ga., where associate pastors and brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick

have released three feature films since 2003. They are finishing the fourth one,

“Courageous,” about policemen struggling to be good fathers.

In Sherwood films, volunteer church members make up nearly

all the cast and crew and do everything from catering to building sets.

Sherwood teamed with Provident Films, a division of Sony, and found a very receptive

audience. Their third film, “Fireproof,” starring Kirk Cameron, was made on a

$500,000 budget, and it took in more than $33 million at the box office, making

it the highest-grossing independent film of 2008.

Sherwood films have a specific message, and making their own

movies allows them to express it. The films have an overtly Christian tone, and

the upcoming “Courageous” continues

that.

Sherwood’s efforts have inspired other congregations.

“You’ve got these church media directors and their pastors

going, ‘Hey, why can’t we do that?”’ Joseph said.

At Calvary Church of the Nazarene in Cordova, Tenn.,

optometrist David Evans wrote and directed the church’s annual passion play for

15 years. He says after watching “Fireproof,” he came away believing Calvary

should make a film too.

“I realized that God had been preparing us for the last 15

years to do something far greater than we could ever imagine, and that’s what

set off the course of actions for me to begin writing the basic story of ‘The

Grace Card,’” he said.

“The Grace Card, which Evans also directed, is a story

about forgiveness and racial reconciliation. Although many in the cast are Calvary

Church members, the film stars Academy Award winner Louis Gossett Jr., and it

has several Hollywood partners, including Samuel Goldwyn Films.

“We want, number one, for God to be glorified through this

movie,” Evans said. “We want to plant seeds that result in people demonstrating

forgiveness and extending grace. That’s something we all need to do on a larger

scale.”

At Friends Church, filmmakers said they tried to incorporate

their characters’ faith into the story in a natural way.

“This isn’t a Christian movie,” Martz said. “It’s a movie

about human trafficking that happens to be (seen) through the experience of a couple

of Christians who are really struggling to live a good Christian life.”

Friends Church intends to deliver Hollywood quality with “Not

Today,” and they have an advantage over other churches. Director Van Dyke spent

more than 22 years working in Hollywood and other church members are in the

business as well.

He says it’s important the film, which the church hopes to

release early next year, not be perceived as a “B” movie.

“Clearly, there’s tons of talent in the church, so why are

we making crappy home movies? I mean … Hollywood should be following us. They

should be going, ‘Wow, look what the church is doing.’”

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