Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Do We Need Christian Cinema? Part 3

Today is the third part of our series, “Do We Need Christian Cinema”. I asked the question, “Is there a better strategy for Christians who want to make films with Biblical values that can reach a general audience. We also looked at a business plan that offered financial success but, at the same time, limited its appeal to a nonChristian audience. I believe the answer is to stop producing Christian movies and start making redemptive films.

If Christians continue on the current course, we may very well may be successful in creating a Christian Film industry. But we will face three problems. First, Christian filmmakers will not achieve their goal. Most Christian want to make films that motivate people to come to Christ. That’s hard to do if you are reaching only a Christian audience. I think we’ve made the case for this argument. Second, As Christian production companies continue to grow, they will hire more media professionals and film school graduates. It’s very possible that some of these people are called to be media missionaries. Instead of going to Hollywood or the entertainment industry to make mainstream films, they will be tempted to take the course of least resistance. Unfortunately, Hollywood suffers and becomes a darker place. And third, Christians will be successful only in creating a new Christian film subculture. We did it with music in the 1970s, and we are doing it again with film. We can do better. Why settle for second place?

So how do we make redemptive films that point people to Christ? First, redemptive stories are about positive change. Redemption for Christians is reconnecting with God. And there are many ways that can be demonstrated in mainstream film. How do we depict this in a tangible form? Is it when somebody reaches out in love or learns to accept somebody different? Forgives people who have hurt them? How about when somebody overcomes alcohol or drug problems? These are part of the human condition and the process of healing. And they can lead us home to God. That’s the power and hope of the redemptive process.

Here are 9 guidelines that mainstream filmmakers understand about making redemptive films.

1. Your movie must have entertainment value. People watch films to be entertained. Some Christians have made entertainment a dirty word. When people watch films and television, they are relaxed and more receptive to the message contained within the story. Often, they will reexamine their lives or be challenged to be a better person.

2. Filmmaking is an art form. The art must come first. For most Christians, the message is first. Audiences will not accept this and will see it as a form of propaganda. We must recognize that the divine can be found in art. We understood this for centuries. But, somewhere along the way, we have forgotten this. Film is not a good forum for a 5-point sermon. If we make great art, it has the capacity to move the human heart.

3. Films need to have an emotional impact. Emotions move people; therefore, our characters need to be believable as well as our dialogue. Nobody will accept the redemptive process if you are not successful in taking them through the emotional journey involved in the process of change.

4. Films work better with metaphors and symbolism because you keep the audience engaged in the story. This is a concept that most Christian filmmakers have failed to understand. Metaphors and symbolism help to forge connections between dissimilar objects and themes. We need to realize our audience has the intelligence to figure it out on their own. Stop telegraphing every story element or plot point. Remember, Jesus said in his parables the Kingdom of God is like….

5. Films are a great forum to ask questions. Christians love to ask questions, but unfortunately, we love to give all the answers. We really don’t want our audience to have to think for themselves. This doesn’t work for film. Jesus used parables as his principle storytelling technique. He often asked questions, but he seldom gave they answers. It was his audience’s responsibility to find the answers.

6. Redemptive films need to illustrate the wonders of God. As Christians we don’t do this very well in film. When it come to miracles, angels, the unexplained, healings or the story of the loaves and fish, our stories seem to be flat, one-dimensional and lacking depth. Perhaps we’re too close to the subject material. NonChristians for some reason seem to be much better at this. For example, Jesus of Nazareth, produced in 1977 for television, is exceptional at exploring the wonders of God. It is a difficult concept to explain, but they do it with simplicity, humanity and the divine in such a way that it moves you.

The wonders of God can also be found in the small things of everyday life. We can find the divine patterns of life that exist in the smile of a child and the dawning of a new day.

7. Redemptive filmmaking requires the ability to question God. We Christians have a tough time doing this. We don’t want to admit we have doubts and are sometimes confused. Perhaps, we think it is a sin to question God. But that’s not Biblical. Jacob’s name meant deceiver, but his name was changed to Israel meaning one who struggles with God. This happened after the all-night wrestling match at Peniel. We have to ask questions. Where is God when we are hurting? Why do bad things happen? As filmmakers, we have to be willing to ask these questions. If our goal is to be authentic, real and genuine, our audience is asking the same questions. Let’s face it. Christian filmmakers paint a world the way they want to see it. Mainstream filmmakers paint life’s complexities and the world as it is.

8. The need for redemption requires us to face sin. NonChristians may not call sin, sin, but they are good at depicting it. There is no redemption in the filmmaking process without the ability to portray sin. Our audience will not accept the fact that our characters have gone through this incredible transformation without seeing what their lives looked like before the transformation. They have to see the ugliness. We have all gone through the same experience. Life isn’t always pretty. That doesn’t mean we offer gratuitous, offensive material just for the sake of showing it. But it is part of the journey to redemption. I know for some Christians, this is a difficult concept to accept. But here is something to consider. The Bible is a story of the human condition without God and does contain content that some may find disturbing. We are afraid that if we show sin we are somehow endorsing it. Most Christian filmmakers want their hero or protagonist to be flawless not at the end of the redemptive process but at the beginning.

9. Filmmaking is a visual medium. The key to making great films is to think visual. How do we visually illustrate the personification of art? How do we express emotions—anger, frustration, indifference, internal struggles? Redemptive stories require expressing the intangible in a tangible, visual form.

That’s my list. It’s just a starting point. Do you have other suggestions? Are you ready to start making redemptive films?

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