Review: Beyond the Gates (dir. Michael Caton-Jones, 2005)

Beyond the Gates would make an interesting double-bill with Hotel Rwanda. Both films concern the genocide of 1994 — and the shock that those living in that country felt when the international community failed to do much more than evacuate the people there who happened to have white skin. But whereas the latter film was largely about Africans who survived the massacre, thanks to a cunning businessman who knew how to push the buttons of those in power, the new film concerns a Catholic priest and a teacher at his school, both of European descent, who can do little more than watch as the world gives up on their friends and neighbors.

Of course, the priest and the teacher can do more than watch — then can pray, too — and one of the most remarkable things about Beyond the Gates is its refreshingly positive view of the role that faith can play even in the darkest of times.

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Interview: David Belton (Beyond the Gates, 2005)

It has been over a dozen years since the Rwandan genocide — an atrocity in which as many as 800,000 Tutsis and Hutu sympathizers were killed by Hutu extremists in just a few months, while the outside world turned a blind eye or, worse, withdrew what little help it had offered in the first place.

David Belton covered the genocide as a reporter for the BBC. He went on to become a producer of documentaries like War Spin and Soldiers to Be, and he returned to Rwanda for his first dramatic film, Beyond the Gates, now showing in limited theaters. (Look for our review on Friday.)

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Review: The Passion of the Christ: Definitive Edition (dir. Mel Gibson, 2004)

A lot has happened since The Passion of The Christ came out three years ago and broke a series of records, becoming the top-grossing R-rated movie, the top-grossing foreign-language film, and the top-grossing religious movie of all time — at least in North America. (The Matrix Reloaded is still the top R-rated film worldwide.)

Major movie studios have tried to replicate its success — by setting up faith-oriented divisions like FoxFaith, or by producing entire biblical movies of their own, such as The Nativity Story — and the careers of several of the film’s key players continue to reflect the film’s influence. Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus, will do so again in an audio Bible for Thomas Nelson. Hristo Shopov, who played Pontius Pilate, reprised the role last year in a remake of the Italian film The Inquiry. Benedict Fitzgerald, who co-wrote the script, recently wrote a prequel of sorts called Myriam, Mother of the Christ, and sold distribution rights to the as-yet-unproduced film to MGM.

And then there is director Mel Gibson, who bucked a wave of controversy over the film’s raw violence and alleged anti-Semitism, only to be caught making racist remarks shortly before finishing the similarly gory Apocalypto last year.

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All things are possible for Facing the Giants director

A LITTLE controversy can go a long way.

Facing the Giants, a modest evangelical film made by a church in Georgia with a cast and crew made up almost entirely of volunteers and amateurs, got loads of free publicity last summer when it was rated PG for “thematic elements” — a rating that many pundits and politicians interpreted as a slam against Christianity.

As a result, the movie — produced by Sherwood Baptist Church for a mere $100,000 and released on only 441 screens — went on to gross over $10 million.

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Review: Apocalypto (dir. Mel Gibson, 2006)

Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but there’s no denying the man knows how to use a camera — which is more than can be said for many other actors who have turned to directing. His skills as an auteur have become especially apparent over the course of his last two films, The Passion of The Christ and now Apocalypto, both of which feature mostly unknown actors speaking ancient languages; the absence of big stars and readily intelligible dialogue keeps us focused on the visuals, which are bold and unsettling throughout. Gibson also made both films with his own money, so for better or for worse, they truly represent his personal artistic vision, unlike many so-called “independent” films that are tweaked by their distributors. But that means Gibson’s weaknesses are just as evident in these films as his strengths.

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Review: The Nativity Story (dir. Catherine Hardwicke, 2006)

The Passion of The Christ was an independent movie, paid for entirely out of Mel Gibson’s pocket. The Prince of Egypt was an animated film that emphasized the common ground between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Last Temptation of Christ was a low-budget art-house flick based on a heretical novel.

You would have to go back at least as far as King David, the mid-1980s box-office flop starring Richard Gere, to find another live-action movie produced by a major Hollywood studio and based directly on the Bible. And you would have to go back even further — to the bathrobe epics of the 1960s, at least — to find a mainstream biblical movie that was as blatantly Christian as The Nativity Story.

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