Friday, September 30, 2011

Courageous Hits Theaters

Courageous, the long awaited and much anticipated follow-up to Alex and Stephen Kendrick’s film, Fireproof, will hit theaters on September 30, 2011. Of course, a ton of questions have already risen on a number of blogs and websites. Will the film be successful? Can it break out and impact a larger and broader audience? There is no shortage of opinions about the work of Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Some people love their movies while some people hate them.

Since I teach on film and media, I am often asked by my students what do I think of Facing the Giants and Fireproof. To be honest, I have mixed feelings. I think there are three questions you have to consider when you evaluate their movies. The first one is what is a Christian movie? Or maybe a better way to state it would be - Is there such a thing as a Christian movie?

Over on Matthew Kilburn’s blog, he’s posted the ten commandments of a Christian movie: Thou shall not exceed a PG rating from the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America). Thou shall not have any bad language. Thou shall not show any skin, including a bathing suit. Thou shall not display any bedroom scenes. Thou shall not leave the story open-ended or to be thought-provoking. Thou shall display a prominent salvation moment. Thou shall use Christian actors. Thou shall display a traditional church setting. Thou shall use a Christian music sound track. Thou shall be a usable church resource.

Although Matthew was trying to be comical and have a little fun, there is a tremendous amount of truth in his ten commandments. He has hit on the very issue that plagues films like Fireproof and Facing The Giants. And I’m sure Courageous will follow the same pattern. Movies should be about entertaining audiences first and foremost, not about presenting a lesson. Movies like Fireproof are Christian because they follow a certain formula such as the ten commandments of Christian filmmaking. You can argue that objects and things such as movies, bumper stickers and books cannot be Christian because only people can be Christ-like or reflect the image of Christ. But for the sake of argument, we are going to call films that contain Christian content “Christian movies”.

The second question to consider about Fireproof or Facing the Giants is whether or not they are good examples of filmmaking? Can they match up with the best Hollywood has to offer? Would they be competitive at the Sundance or Toronto film festivals? To be honest, they would not. They are certainly serviceable and watchable, but they are lacking in quality in terms of acting, writing, and production values.

In terms of evaluating the work of Alex and Stephen Kendrick, it certainly excels within the realm of Christian filmmaking. In fact, their work is probably at the top of what the Christian movie industry can offer. I wouldn’t be surprised if Courageous will end up being the best Christian movie ever produced.

The final question: Is the Kendrick’s work making a difference or an impact on culture? This is a difficult question to answer. I think the Kendricks will tell you that their movies are aimed at Christians and not at a broader secular audience. In other words, they are preaching to the choir. There’s nothing wrong with that because the choir needs to hear the message as well. Their last movie, Fireproof, made $33 million at the box office. So there’s no question that they have found an audience. I’m sure they’re making an impact but not in the sense as some Christian filmmakers who promote the concept that Christian movies can impact and change culture.

I admire what the Kendrick’s have accomplished. It’s an amazing story how a church in Albany, Georgia, Sherwood Baptist, developed their own production studio, Sherwood Pictures, and went into the movie business. That doesn’t happen every day. What the Kendrick’s have created is nothing short of a miracle. They have inspired a new generation of filmmakers.

The Kendrick’s have become the darlings of Christian filmmaking. It seems like everybody is beating a path to Albany, Georgia, to discover their secrets. I have heard the Alex and Stephen speak on several occasions. They are extremely smart and know exactly what they are doing. They understand their audience and what their audience wants. Don’t believe the narrative that these are two good ‘ol boys from the South who stumbled into the movie business.

Stephen Kendrick is quite comfortable in the deal making process. He understands the business end and what sells. The Kendricks’ choose their material wisely, picking subjects that matter to the Church such as marriage and fatherhood. The Kendricks believe in the power of media. I remember hearing Alex Kendrick talks about a study he read that said movies are more effective than Sunday morning sermons. This is the primary reason he went into filmmaking.

Look for Courageous at your local theater. For more information check out their website.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great blog post! I think it brings up the thing many creative types and businesses struggle with—do you create things to inspire and change the world, or to make money? Obviously we'd all like to do both. I recently finished my first novel (I'm a professional ghostwriter who mostly writes mainstream business pieces, but the book is heavily christian referenced) and although I have one of the top agents in the business, she doesn't know where to sell it. Christian publishers don't want it because it's not traditional and mainstream publishers think it's "too Christian." So you do what the Kendricks did. You find an audience that likes what you produce and you keep them happy.

    The push comes from those who believe, as my agent and others have said, that if we dilute or "tone down" the message we'll be accepted in the mainstream venues more. But what about Christ's admonition to "Be in the world, but not of it?" I think we assume a lot when we believe that "All christians" have the same level of faith and commitment of, say, a pastor. There are many people who have gone to church for decades and NEVER understood the message of the gospel. These movies and books touch them deeply. There is a place for what we're doing and I don't think the message has to be soft-pedaled, obscured or changed to make it "acceptable." I think the boldness of speaking and portraying REAL Christians with real struggles is a greater ministry than we realize.