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“I guess I have an outdated notion that churches are there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