Readers know that I have a real love for film. In recent years I have studied film and watched more than my share of feature films. I wrote a few weeks ago about a seminar ACT 3 hosted in San Clemente for film makers, script writers, actors and producers. That event was attended by only ten but this was about what we wanted in the first place. My goal was a small intimate group of earnest young Christians who love film and who are devoted to making and marketing feature films with a Christian worldview.
Our special guest teacher was Brian Godawa (photo of him teaching our group), who is the author of the two best books I can recommend to you on film and worldview.: Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment and Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination. We enjoyed a lot of interaction and a fun time of getting to know one another in the setting of a small and interested group.
Note that I did not say “Christian films.” I am not even sure if there is such a thing but I am quite sure that most of what passes for Christian film is really only the result of evangelical cultural Christianity. And this is only a small part of that subculture at best. Films like Facing the Giants and Fireproof come to mind. These films were produced for a little over $600,000. They made something like $100 million if memory serves me correctly. The market for this kind of film is still obviously very large. The question here is rather simple: In what way do these types of films actually shape culture and change lives both in the church and among those still outside the faith? And, to press this a bit further, do these films actually present a robust, thoroughly Christian, view of life in modern America? Personally, I find them predictable and very simplistic. I think Fireproof even presents a type of Pollyannaish thinking about subjects like evangelism, faith and marriage that is disturbing but I would need a lot more time to argue this case.
Don’t misunderstand. I commend the folks who made these films for their integrity and courage. I admire their business sense too since they learned how to make money and advance their films when Hollywood was totally unsympathetic. (Don’t kid yourself, Hollywood has never been sympathetic to what Christians value!) We will hear much more from these film makers in the years ahead I would expect. I am quite sure they do a lot of good with their efforts but I am not so sure that they do as much good as some people actually think. There is a tendency here to tell ourselves that if this many people are seeing “our” kind of film then we are actually changing people and culture powerfully. I reject this premise.
But I also think these kinds of films present a less than honest and full-orbed view of how to live distinctively Christian lives in the present age. This film might work in parts of Georgia or Alabama (not in the major cities, or college towns, so much) but it will not in San Francisco or Los Angeles. There are still millions of Christians who want to see films like these so there is, and will be, a market for them for some time to come.
But what could be done with film if the film maker understood that this medium was really about entertainment? Look, films are no substitute for preaching and incarnational living in the church. They never will be. But films that entertain can and do tell stories. They can tell either good or bad stories. The goal should be to entertain well with stories that reflect worldviews which grip and move people. We are not trying to present a gospel outline in a film, at least not in a good film. We can at least prompt people to think and consider life in whole new ways. I will say more about this tomorrow.