Monday, February 1, 2010

Do We Need Christian Cinema? Part 2

On Friday, we asked some tough questions about the need for Christian cinema. Over the past few years, the number of Christian films playing at your local multiplex has dramatically increased. What are we getting for our efforts? Are we reaching a broad-based audience? Is the Christian message found in these films penetrating our culture?

We now have a successful business model which seems to be working. It involves finding the right theme, getting the church involved, tie-ins with Christian organizations, product development and a grassroots marketing effort. So far it seems to be working. Undoubtedly more mega churches will join in. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this strategy as long as we are honest with the results. To be fair, we are not reaching a mainstream audience. I think we all know this. If we are happy with making films that speak primarily to a Christian audience and at the same time can make some money and can play theatrically, that’s fine. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it is more than that.

We have created a filmmaking process that, for the most part, is stacking the deck and creating artificial numbers. We are not taking the risk necessary to reach a broader audience. If our goal is for edification and encouraging the body of Christ, mission accomplished. And I am sure that along the way we may have invited friends and family to join us at the theater, and perhaps their lives may have been changed.

So is there a better strategy? First, we need to develop media missionaries. I believe Hollywood is a valid mission field. It is a unique tribe with its own customs, language and culture. For the most part, it is an unreached people group. It is in desperate need of being redeemed and reformed. Media missionaries are media makers who are called to Hollywood and the entertainment industry to work within the system to create art that reflects Biblical values. Their mission is to partner with Hollywood. I understand that this is a difficult concept for some Christians to accept. Our best hope to impact this culture will come from inside of Hollywood. If you want to read further about what a media missionary’s role and purpose is, go to

Second, some Christian filmmakers just don’t want to go to Hollywood, so can we change the strategy? There is nothing wrong with mega churches helping to start up production companies to produce films and media. But they need to separate as far from the church as possible and be autonomous. Otherwise, they will be open to criticism and will be portrayed as a Christian organization producing propaganda. This is a killer because it will limit your audience.

And remember the goal is to reach as large and as broad an audience as possible, if we want to impact the culture outside of the Church. We also need to change the marketing plan and, as much as possible, to limit our tie-ins with third-party Christian organizations, product development (Bible studies and books), and theater buyouts. Our films have to stand on their own and compete in the general market. As soon as it is labeled a Christian product or film, we lose our ability to impact culture. I realize that means taking financial risks and not following an easy, predictable formula. But that’s the price we have to pay.

This next point will be a difficult one for some of you. But it is really the key to reaching a broader audience. We need to stop making Christian movies and start making redemptive films. Redemptive films are Christian movies without being Christian movies. What are some recent examples? Bella, Lars and the Real Girl, Spitfire Grill, and To End All Wars.

I am going to offer you my best example of a film that is not tied to the Christian filmmaking community. Rain Man won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1988. In my opinion, it is one of the best examples of a redemptive film. Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a man who is self-centered, disconnected emotionally, abrasive, lacks an understanding of love, is estranged from his father and is driven by his past. He goes through a remarkable, emotional journey towards enlightenment and discovering what love really is. We have all seen the film. It’s a remarkable character arc.

Tom Cruise’s character (Charlie) discovers that he has a brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) of whom he is unaware. They are forced to take a cross-country journey, which challenges Charlie to reevaluate his priorities and the meaning of life. At the end of the film, we see the beginnings of a completely different person. Charlie Babbitt is in the process of becoming fully human. He realizes that he is no longer the center of the universe and begins to feel. The story is totally believable, and we accept the fact that Charlie Babbitt is capable of this incredible change. As a result, perhaps, we are capable of making this journey as well. That’s the power of the redemptive story.

So you might ask, “Where is the conversion scene?” Does anybody talk about Christ? We have a somewhat narrow perspective of how God works. The divine can be found in everything. In the case of Rain Man, it’s the love between two brothers. That’s God at work. When we see people that start to reflect love, acceptance and commitment, that’s God at work. And it challenges us to think about our lives, and it gives God a chance to speak to our hearts.

Charlie began to realize his father was protecting him and, on some level, was able to begin to heal and to forgive his father. That’s God at work. I hope you begin to understand that Christian movies, which express Biblical values and themes, do not need to look like “Christian” films. Rain Man, in my opinion, is an authentic Christian movie.

Tomorrow, Part 3, The Keys to Redemptive Filmmaking.

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