Rebel Pilgrim, my production company, was mentioned in an article on FOX News this morning entitled, "Is 2014 the Year of the Christian Film?" As an independent producer, I'm happy to have Hope Bridge, my upcoming movie mentioned on a national platform. The article stated that we have six "Christian films" in development. That's (sort of) true. We have six films in development. I'm a Christian. A few of them address God and faith.
It begs the question, What is a Christian Movie?
It seems accurate to call recent box office successes like Son of God and God's Not Dead "Christian" movies. In the industry we might say that these films are "on the nose." They address the Christian faith -- at its core -- head on. But is Noah really a Christian film? It's inspired by a Jewish story. Christians are, technically speaking, a Jewish splinter movement...so, yeah. Maybe? It also has rock people...so there's that. Maybe it's just a big budget action movie.
When you ask me my favorite Christian movies, I might say The Apostle, Leap of Faith, Sister Act, Lars and The Real Girl, The Matrix, Wall-E, Elmer Gantry or Les Miserables. Are these Christian films? Does the director, producer and writer have to be a self-confessed Christian for it to count? Does the film need to clearly address God or Jesus? Do the Christian gatekeepers need to sign off?
Are Avatar and Promised Land "environmentalist" films? Maybe. Probably. Who cares? They are what they are. You liked them or you didn't.
This is when we will know that Christian movies have made it. When they don't need the label to draw an audience. But I'm not naive. It is the label that lets these movies, generally under $2M budget, exist. If Christian movies are a genre they are closer to horror movies than anything else. A decent one, with the right elements, can serve a niche audience and financially succeed. You just have to follow the unwritten rules of the audience you are serving. Both genres can be blasted by critics and those unfamiliar with the genre as "cheesy," but the core doesn't care. They like it. A business plan around making a slate of Christian movies or horror movies looks very similar. And in reality they are probably the safest movie investments a person could make. By this definition, some of our films in development are more "Christian" than others. And for the record, we aim for not-cheesy...and usually get there.
Personally, I'm a producer. I'm also a Christian. (Side note -- there are millions of self-identifying Christians who aren't right-leaning or evangelical or literalists.) My faith informs everything I do, so in that regard I make Christian movies. I suppose that also means I make a mean Christian hamburger on my backyard grill.
The truth is that as an independent production company, we need all the help we can get. We often need the church at large to get behind our movies. Therefore, I am careful to make movies moving forward that appeal to that audience. It's my job as a business person to give people want they are asking for. My job as an artist is to give people what they aren't asking for, but need to see. That's the trick of making any movie with a message. When we learn to do both, we're onto something.
I have no idea if 2014 is the year of the Christian film. Our upcoming movie Hope Bridge mentions God. It never mentions Jesus or church. It stars Kevin Sorbo, who currently stars in the Christian film, God's Not Dead. It also stars Booboo Stewart who plays Warpath in the upcoming X-men: Days of Future Past. It's a sometimes-dark story about suicide and a boy's journey to find answers. There is hope in it. If we spark a little hope in the world, then I've done my job. People can call it a "Christian" movie or not, that spark of hope is what I deeply care about.