Christian Response to Aronofsky’s ‘Noah:’ Downright Embarrassing

I have not seen Darren Aronofsky’s Biblically-themed epic Noah.

You have not seen Noah.

No one has seen Noah, except perhaps Aronofsky himself. It’s not finished yet. (Although an early version was shown to test audiences, yes.)

Yet, the self-appointed forces of Biblical Orthodoxy are coming out against it.

Just because, you know….Bible.

As Peter Chattaway posted, the same PR firm that campaigned for Duck Dynasty during the recent Culture War moment is now riling the faithful up against Aronofsky’s Noah, a MOVIE NO ONE HAS SEEN.

They use this shockingly, horrifyingly, embarrassingly leading question:

“As a Faith Driven Consumer, are you satisfied with a Biblically themed movie – designed to appeal to you – which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”

When the respondent inevitably answers “no,” the poll result is taken as a hit against the film WHICH NO ONE HAS SEEN.

No wonder Hollywood wants to steer clear of faith audiences. With crazy stunts like this, who can blame them?

It’s just embarrassing. The movie may be good, it may be bad, it most likely is a mix.

It may challenge our cute, fuzzy understanding of the story. It may even challenge our faith.

That’s what art is supposed to do.

And, let me tell you, “Faith Driven Consumers,” if you associate the story of Noah with adorable animals smiling under a sunny rainbow, you’re reading the story wrong. It’s the story of one man, one single man, chosen with his wife and descendants, to survive a mass extinction. It’s dark, horrible judgement and a story with which believers should wrestle.

Not one they should put up on a nursery wall.

If you’re ok with a simplistic, two-sentence explanation of the Noah story, you’re hiding from the deeper, darker, richer, and ultimately life-giving aspects of the Bible.

But whether the story follows our unchallenged idea of what “Biblically accurate” is, whether it actually goes against the Christian faith (Aronofsky is Jewish, and they had the story first), or whether it is exactly what you’ve always imagined…..

We just don’t know.

So stop fighting against something we don’t know about yet.

Please.

You’re embarrassing me as a Christian believer.

If you want to know more about the Noah movie, we’ve been covering it extensively.

image: Gustav Dore woodcut h/t Dave Lilley

Biopic of Mother Teresa Coming to Big Screen

She loved mightily, trusted beautifully and inspired millions.

Now the world’s most famous nun will be coming to a theater near you in 2015, The Wrap reports. 

The first ever authorized movie biography about Mother Teresa, tentatively titled I Thirst, will be written by screenwriter Keir Pearson. Pearson was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay for Hotel Rwanda.

“Keir’s presentation and his Oscar nominated script of ‘Hotel Rwanda’ and his sensitive script for ‘Chavez’ (the upcoming movie about Cesar Chavez) made him the perfect choice,” explained [head of Flame Ventures Tony] Krantz. “’I Thirst’ is the first and only authorized film about the life of Mother Teresa on the big screen. We couldn’t be more excited for this movie about a woman who stood for total commitment, faith, charity and love.”

Current plans call for Pearson to complete his research trip in Kolkata, India and Tijuana, Mexico during the next month and begin writing by the end of February. “We’re eager to get this story to the global audience,” said producer Jamey Volk.

Read the full story here. 

This begs the question….who would you pick to play Mother Teresa?

Guest Post: The Wealthy Conservative Family Behind Former Oscar Nominee ‘Alone Yet Not Alone’

Alone Yet Not Alone will probably go down in Oscar history as the most obscure Christian movie ever to have been given, and subsequently revoked, a nomination for best original song. In 2013, the movie run was limited to 11 actual theaters, five of them in Texas, according to the Alone Yet Not Alone website. One of the theaters listed on the website, Celebration! Cinema at Rivertown Crossings in Grand Rapids, Michigan, confirmed that the movie did play there briefly in September 2013. Additionally, the movie showed at the 2013 National Bible Bee in November

After considering the movie’s miniscule release and listening to the song itself, many speculated that the song’s nomination had less to do with its musical merits than it did the fact that the song’s composer, Bruce Broughton, is a former Governor of the Academy and the current Music Branch executive committee member.

Apparently, they were not wrong.

On January 28, the Academy’s Board of Governors rescinded the song’s Oscar nomination after discovering that Broughton contacted voters in a way that appeared to offer “an unfair advantage,” according to Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs. An Academy press release further explains the decision and the Academy’s promotional regulations.

There are now quite a few people who are upset that the song’s Oscar nod was snatched away, far more people than have ever seen the movie, by all appearances.

Their dismay is couched in language of triumph — along the lines of God’s opinion is the only thing that matters, so who cares about the Oscars anyway — and persecution. Some of these commenters, judging by the list of names I recognize personally, know nothing about the movie other than that it has a Christian message, and thus they’re interested in watching it whenever it actually comes out.

The thing is, even given its relative mediocrity, the song is better-quality than the movie itself, and is certainly, at least lyrically, less controversial in content.

The screenplay follows Tracy Leininger Craven’s book by the same name, a historical-fiction account of her ancestors, Barbara and Regina Leininger, German immigrants who were captured during the Penn’s Creek Massacre of 1755 and raised by Native Americans.

Given its tension and unusual nature, it could be quite suited to cinema, judging from this dated outline of events by John B. Deans. The climax of the tale comes in 1764, when Barbara and Regina’s mother is vainly searching among freed captives for the still-missing Regina, who has grown into adulthood and apparently forgotten her own name. Finally, Mrs. Leininger begins to sing one of Regina’s favorite hymns: Allein, und dock nicht ganz alleine, bin ich in meiner einsamkeit (Alone, yet not all alone, am I in my solitude). Regina recognizes the song, and runs forward into her mother’s arms.

The treatment this story receives by Tracy Leininger Craven is less than outstanding, however. The book is stilted and poorly written, with all the artistic and ideological subtlety of a Westboro Baptist picketing sign. As the story opens, the immigrant family is perfect, and perfectly happy to be toiling in this foreign land, which the book claims they have purchased from the Indians. They are so happy, in fact, that they would rather die and go to heaven in the contested woods of Pennsylvania circa 1755 than be “slaves” in Germany.

The males of the family do die in short order, trying to protect the females they have dragged to the promised land.

The screenplay is much like the book: full of historical inaccuracies (the native costumes come to mind), incoherent narrative and poor acting. After discussing the movie at length with other movie-goers, one source noted “superficial details were well-executed, but where it really counts, the core aspects of visual storytelling fell flat and was laden with faith-based platitudes. The cinematography was fairly well-executed — good framing and picture quality, although there were technical issues such as color grading. However, the script was very poor, moved slowly and lacked any sort of flow.” As far as more offensive underlying themes go, the story revolves around the idea that Native American culture was primitive, savage, and toxic to good Christian white girls, even when they were treated well by said Native Americans.

The lead role of Barbara Leininger went to Kelly Greyson, Tracy Leininger Craven’s older sister, although this familial link has been kept oddly hush-hush. Both women were homeschooled, which their father, billionaire right-wing political donor James Leininger, said  was “consistent with his belief that parents should have choices in their children’s instruction.”  Allegedly, James Leininger provided much of the funding for the movie and has been listed as its producer.

Owen, the movie’s male co-lead, was played by also-homeschooled modesty proponent Brett Harris, little brother of homeschooled Josh Harris, who first launched the idea of courtship into mainstream evangelical society.

The role of Colonel Mercer went to one-time patriarchal and homeschooling star Doug Phillips, although nearly all references  to him appearing in the movie have been scrubbed since he admitted  to having an “inappropriately romantic and affectionate” relationship with “a woman.” It remains to be seen if the version of the movie appearing in June 2014 will have excised his actual scenes as well. Two of his children are still listed in the IMDb credits, as well as former members of his church.

What all of the aforementioned cast members (with the possible exception of Kelly Greyson, who has not been vocal on the subject) have in common is a particularly strict view of gender and family. Homeschooling, to them, is a way to ensure that children believe all the right things and behave in all the right ways. To quote my cousins, who have been very active in this particular homeschooling community, part of this is the imperative that women be modest “keepers at home” (unless, perhaps, like Greyson, they are well-connected) whose pursuits revolve around serving their fathers or husbands.

All of these people believe that America would be better off under a theocracy of their choosing, and they think this is attainable with enough homeschool graduates, who will eventually win over the culture with their grand artistic and political productions — and their sheer reproductive numbers.

What they don’t appear to have realized yet is that all the illegally-campaigned Oscar nominations in the world won’t make their vanity projects into decent art. For art, you need to push, to explore, to touch the stillness and the complexity of what it means to be human; to echo the age-old, conflicted call towards the divine. Christians can make complex art with a good moral message, there is no question. Ask Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

However, bloated propaganda pieces are something else entirely.

Katie Botkin is a freelance writer and the managing editor of MultiLingual magazine. She was homeschooled for the first 18 years of her life, and by age 26 had gone on to get two bachelors and a masters degree between teaching English on three continents. 

Review: Oscar Nominee ‘Her’ and Its Sadly Small, Dehumanizing Version of Love

Her stars Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore, the most evolved sort of man. He’s post-hipster, dresses in cardigans and old man pants, talks softly and emotes freely. It is unimaginable to think of him swilling beer while watching football or getting in a bar fight.

His job is equally feeling-centric. Set sometime in the very near future, he earns a living writing emotional letters on behalf of people who just can’t find the right words to say to their girlfriend, grandmother, or war buddy’s widow. He’s not exactly a ghostwriter, more like a valued third party in their relationships.

Smarting from the breakup of his marriage to his childhood sweetheart – the divorce is filed but not signed – along comes technology to meet his every need.

 

Rooney Mara as ex-wife Catherine and Joaquin Phonenix

His personal device – something between a phone and a human secretary – has an operating system upgrade. After a few questions, including hilariously, “How do you feel about your mother?” the software creates for him the ideal companion.

She’s Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and she’s perfect. Curious, intelligent, funny, insightful, Samantha is a female version of Theodore, or maybe Theodore with a female voice.

She’s not the yin to his yang. She’s the yin to his yin.

It doesn’t take long for the two to fall madly in love. Part of the genius of this film is that the viewer believes in that love. Joaquin Phoenix convinces us he is head over heels, happy, and satisfied with his virtual girlfriend. Johansson is equally remarkable in her ability to create a full character using only her voice. They’re helped by a smart and engaging script by Spike Jonze, who also directs, that creates a movie that’s surprisingly entertaining for all its philosophical subject matter.

This modern love faces challenges, however, not the least of which is Samantha’s pesky lack of a body. Sexual desire isn’t a problem, but sexual fulfillment is.

The second problem is that an intelligent personality with the ability to process trillions of bytes of information in seconds has to slow down to accommodate her human lover.

It’s an interesting conundrum, one that reaches an interesting conclusion, as far as it goes.

But I’m more taken with what the movie leaves out.

It paints a picture of modern day love that is fascinating in its assumptions, whether it be with operating systems or common human partners.

Most people would, if forced to think of it, likely agree with the idea of a person being an intimate mix of three components: The intellect, the part that mulls over On Walden Pond, remembers, plans and strategizes, and makes choices, or at least rationalizes them. The body, the part that sweats and poops and has sex and gets fat, but also sings, cries, and quivers. And the soul, a more ineffable part, the part that endures, enjoys, loves, hates, the part that we can’t really explain but know matters and sense is eternal and is somehow the wellspring of what we are.

We can’t really explain how they interact either: Why a man sees a woman across a room and knows he wants to know her better, out of all the women in the room. Why we get physically ill when we see a person beaten or killed, why sadness makes our very bones ache. Why a smell can make us happy or laughter actually makes us healthy.

No one would doubt the intellect connects with the body when they see how an Olympic diver focuses as he studies his tape, that the body connects with the soul when they lose themselves dancing their sorrows out on the dancefloor, that the soul connects with the intellect when they hear a tale of a soldier weighing his options and choosing to put his life on the line for his brothers in arms.

The things that touch us most deeply touch all three aspects of us. And love is the deepest of all.

Her reduces love to a purely intellectual pursuit. The very idea of soul is absent, irrelevant, not addressed, abandoned. Does Samantha have a soul? The question is out of place in this movie.

But it’s equally shocking how out of place the body is, although the movie devotes much energy attempting to address Samantha’s lack of a physical body. She, and to a lesser extent, he is concerned about sex, even to the point of attempting various solutions to make sex more physical for them both.

As if that is all we do with our bodies.

Sex is important, don’t get me wrong, and the way the film deals with it is fascinating. But I found myself wondering about more.

What about the encouraging glance just before walking into a party? How do they replace the way the slump of your man’s shoulders can tell you everything, even things he can’t verbalize himself? What about those times a hug is the only gift you have to give a suffering loved one?

I thought about how when you have the flu, what you want more than anything is someone to bring you a bowl of soup and pass a tender hand over your hot forehead. I thought about elderly couples who hold each other’s aches and pains as precious burdens.

When our children are little and fall, we fix it with a kiss. When they cry, we comfort them with a cuddle. That doesn’t end in adulthood. To reduce physical interaction to merely sexual is to deny humanity. Indeed, sex is a culmination, a consummation of those glances and touches and soothing moments. It is a fabulous part of a grander whole.

The second thing that was utterly missing from the movie is equally fascinating. In his former marriage and in his relationship with Samantha, children are flagrantly irrelevant.

Theodore loved his wife, even still loves her in a way one loves exes. That he loves Samantha is clear. But out of the three of them, no one seems to have or have had the least desire to grow that love into a family.

It’s not that they actively don’t want to either. It’s just not a factor. It’s not a question. There’s not even the sense that he’s giving up something to be with Samantha, as many people freely choose to do out of love for partners who cannot somehow have children.

Both Theodore and Samantha create – he, his writing, she music. They find value in adding to the world, in leaving behind a legacy. But that legacy will not be passed on through a new generation. Their art is the closest thing they have to children and they are satisfied with that.

It strikes me that Theodore falling in love with Samantha is a very safe love, for both of them. Just a portion of himself is at risk, so much of his being is left behind. He is in control. Precisely because she doesn’t have a body, he does not risk losing her to life’s horrifying uncertainty.

People often describe having children as your heart walking around outside your body. For Theodore, his heart is safely in its metal case in his breast pocket.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To its credit, the film doesn’t make it so easy for the lovers. Unforseen threats arise. But still, so much of Theodore is reserved from Samantha that he’s not deeply threatened. Not in any way that matters beyond a few tears.

Ultimately, the movie bothered me not for its commentary on technology or our dependence on it, much of which has been explored wonderfully by other writers.

It bothers me to see love reduced to merely a meeting of minds, sex to an intellectual exercise, creation to a few paltry letters and songs. It bothers me to see love reduced to something so small.

Interview: Real Life Encounter With Homeless Teen Inspired Director Ron Krauss to Make ‘Gimme Shelter’

On a dark, cold night, filmmaker Ron Krauss met a young woman. She stood on the street, no coat against the January night, nowhere to stay.

Krauss was in New Jersey filming a documentary about Kathy DiFoire, a woman who invited a homeless, pregnant teenager into her home in 1981 and grew her vision into a movement called Several Sources Shelters. With five shelters, she offers shelter and a future to hundreds of homeless, many of them pregnant.

Krauss assumed the girl shivering in the cold was a resident and she assumed he was a shelter worker. He brought her in from the the cold and found her a bed.

“Something about her sent a jolt into my heart and touched me so deeply,” Krauss told me when we talked by phone.

The girl he met that night became the inspiration for Agnes “Apple” Bailey, the homeless, pregnant teen played by Vanessa Hudgens in Gimme Shelter, opening Friday. Mistreated by her addict mother, rejected by her wealthy father, left pregnant and alone by a man she met on the streets, Apple needed both help and healing when she showed up at the shelter that night.

After moving into the shelter for a year to learn about the residents there and write the screenplay, Krauss was ready to bring Apple and Kathy’s work to the big screen as director.

In the current economy, he says, the movie is relevant to our time. “The face of homelessness has changed from an old drunk guy in an alley. It’s about all of us now, trying to pick the pieces up and help each other.”

The script attracted big name talent. In addition to High School Musical princess Hudgens, the cast includes Rosario Dawson, Brendan Fraser and James Earl Jones.  ”I think they read the script and recognized that compassion,” said Krauss.

With an unplanned pregnancy supported by a caring community, this movie has been hailed as a pro-life story. But Krauss says it’s more than that. “We get so hung up on those terms, but really it’s about people. Kathy said it’s more than pro-life. It’s pro-love. It’s about life on many, many levels.”

The film is not faith-based in the sense of aiming at a purely faith audience, says Krauss. “There should be faith in every film,” he says, “and love and respect.” He set out to make a good movie, one true to the character of Kathy DiFiore, whose mission of mercy is inspiredly her Catholic faith. “Kathy says she works for God, lives her life by God,” said Krauss.

However, he believes the film will appeal to everyone. “The greatest special effect in cinema is human emotion,” something this film offers multiple times.

“It doesn’t preach anything. It just shows. I hope it will inspire people and give hope that no matter how bad people think things are at times, there are other people going through the same thing. I hope it inspires us as a society to reach out to each other.”

Ron Krauss with GIMME SHELTER stars Vanessa Hudgens and Rosairo Dawson. Photo via IMDB.com

Gimme Shelter opens January 24. This post is part of a promotional campaign with our partner Grace Hill Media in support of Gimme Shelter. 

Director of ‘Jerusalem’ IMAX movie: ‘Jerusalem will Surprise You’

“Jerusalem absolutely surprises you,” Director Daniel Ferguson says, leaning forward on the bench outside the theater where we discuss his new IMAX movie Jerusalem, now playing in some theaters across the country.

Equal measures earnest movie artist, theological philosopher, and evangelist for interfaith understanding, he enjoys discussing the nuance and complexity that he tries to portray in his 45 minute movie about the Holy City.

Filled with breathtaking aerials and lavish visuals, and narrated by current heartthrob Benedict Cumberbatch, the story follows three young women who call Jerusalem home, one each Jewish, Muslim and Christian. They tell the stories of their people, celebrate their holy days, and walk the same streets, astonishingly ignorant of the traditions of their neighbors.

In fact, each girl took Ferguson to sacred or special places, telling him the significance to herself and her people. He was shocked to find they often took him to the exact same places, but with completely different narratives. And when he asked if they knew the story of the locale from a different faith, they knew nothing about it.

The young women – each beautiful, curious, proud of tradition but open to learning, and so very similar in many ways – create a metaphor for beginning to understand the city, region, and world.

“That girls with such similar intersts and such similar backgrounds and such similar culture would be so close and not have an opportunity to meet. So close and yet worlds apart,” Ferguson marvels.

That snapshot is life in the world’s holiest and most divided city.

“Jerusalem absolutely surprises you, whatever expectations you thought. Often times people think it’s a Jewish place or a Christian place or a Muslim place and don’t realize the rich traditions of each. And then they don’t realize that there are so many groups within them. That’s the shocking thing.

Christians in particular are often offput by the old city. It’s so Eastern, it’s so foreign. And yet that’s what Jerusalem does, it kind of forces you to go, ‘Gosh. They too, but from their Eastern perspective’. If you come from the East, if you come from the West, Jerusalem is entirely different.”

This difference is richly apparent in the film, which manages to give a small portrait of faith and family, from the dancing and laughter of late night fast-breaking during Ramadan, to the touristy and yet traditional Easter procession winding through ancient streets, to bat mitzvahs at the Wailing Wall.

With no megachurch or guitar-playing worship leader in sight, American audiences are plunged into a world of robes, incense, candles, and chanting.

And that’s a good thing.

“Jerusalem is a place that takes you with all your assumptions and makes you realize what your perspective is on the world,” says Ferguson, a Montreal resident himself, “And might convince you to open your eyes to very different perspectives – you don’t have to embrace them. You come back completely changed because you see people worshipping in all these iconic locations that you’ve had in your imagination growing upi. Jordan River. Dead Sea. These are etched in our consciousness.

And frankly, for western audience, religious or not, this tiny city has shaped our civilization. Our poetry, our paintings, our literature, our music, our …ideas, how we discuss or dialog, the newspaper everyday. We have this Jerusalem literacy and yet illiteracy about Jerusalem, because we think about it in political terms and very black and white terms.”

For the Western world, Ferguson loves that people of faith are stretched by Jerusalem, but he hopes the film reaches and challenges another group as well: Secularists.

“I would love to see a local audience of all faiths embrace this film. And also people who are not necessarily religious who are sort of offput by this, to come and have their assumptions and associations about people of faith challenged. Talk about two solitudes, the secular and religious world. There are so many assumptions about someone who’s religious.”

Jerusalem is a National Geographic production. It is playing at the National History Museum in Washington DC and other theaters in the country.

First Look: New Trailer for Life-Honoring Movie “Gimme Shelter”

This movie looks like it might be interesting. It stars Vanessa Hudgens as a pregnant teenager.

 

Here’s the synopsis from the press people:

Based on the inspiring true events, GIMME SHELTER centers on the courageous story of Agnes “Apple” Bailey (Vanessa Hudgens) and her incredible path to motherhood as a pregnant, homeless teenager.  Forced to flee her abusive mother (Rosario Dawson), and turned away by her Wall Street father (Brendan Fraser), Apple finds herself on a desperate and isolated journey of survival.  In the depths of despair, she meets a compassionate stranger (James Earl Jones), who ultimately leads her to salvation and unprecedented support in a suburban shelter for homeless teenagers.   With gained confidence, and the warmth of her new home, Apple breaks from her inhibiting past, embracing the future with clarity and hope.

Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical franchise) leads an all-star cast including James Earl Jones, Rosario Dawson, Ann Dowd and Brendan Fraser.  Hudgens’ immersed herself in the character and delivers a transformative and stunning performance.  To prepare, she lived for weeks in pregnancy shelters, interacting with the young, homeless mothers who also appear in the film, completely altering her appearance unrecognizable.

Written and directed by Ronald Krauss, GIMME SHELTER opens in theatres across the country on January 24, 2014.

Inside ‘GodlyWood:’ A Day on the Set of a ‘Christian’ Movie

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

One Alabama May morning, film director Andrew Erwin preps his crowd of extras for the day’s movie shoot in the parking lot of a bowling alley.

But this isn’t just any Hollywood set.

After instructing the children and mothers on where to stand, where to walk, and what noise not to make, Erwin hands the mic to the reigning godfather of Evangelical subculture moviemaking and force behind religious blockbusters Fireproof and Courageous, Alex Kendrick.

The pastor-turned-movie-mogul steps into the center of the circle to give an old-fashioned Southern Baptist homily before filming begins.

“You are the leading actor in God’s story of your life,” he thunders, pausing for effect as the crowd blinks in the hot sun, “And He has a plot for your life. And He tells me in scripture that He’s the director and the writer.”

Some heads nod in agreement as others stand politely and stonily silent. But everybody clasps hands and bows heads for a prayer for safety and creativity before the cameras start rolling.

That’s how they do in Alabama.

This movie set sits two thousand eleven miles from Hollywood in physical space and a million in tone. Daily devotions replace boozy after-hours clubbing. Earnest, self-important Liberty University interns replace arrogant, self-important personal assistants. And nary an f-bomb is audible on set from the local crew manning lights and cameras.

Yet this next generation of faith-based film is also miles away from the films Kendrick and his brother Stephen produced as ministers of film at Shrewood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.

A still from Mom’s Night Out

 

For one thing, this new motion picture, Mom’s Night Out, bears the backing of Sony Entertainment’s Faith and Family division Affirm Films. They greenlit the stay-at-home mom comedy and provided it with a respectable budget. Professional level funds enabled Erwin to land a recognizable cast: Emmy-winner TV star Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin of Lord of the Rings and Rudy, Country Music star Trace Atkins, and Grey’s Anatomy cast member Sarah Drew.

This time, Alex Kendrick is on set to lead devotions and for a bit part only.

This movie belongs to Jon and Andrew Erwin. Their mentors the Kendrick brothers turned to moviemaking as a means to save souls, but the Erwin brothers journey to film director sounds more similar to aspiring directors in the secular world. Entranced by filmmaking as teens, they practiced for fun and learned at summer camp, paid their dues and learned their profession at ESPN before breaking away to focus on music videos, commercials, and, eventually, feature films.

Since Mel Gibson blew up boxoffices with his astonishingly profitable The Passion of the Christ in 2004, Hollywood has been looking to cash in on faith-based markets. Some efforts are successful, such as this year’s record-breaking miniseries The Bible from Survivor producer Mark Burnett and Touched by an Angel alum Roma Downey.

Others, not so much.

For every Fireproof, there is a Letters to God, a religious genre movie that fails to make enough at box office to even cover its production costs.

Turns out, faith-based audiences are as difficult to predict as secular ones.

Next: How Alex Kendrick came to dominate the religious market.

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Interview: Sean Astin on His Faith and His Family

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Sean Astin comes into the press room on the set of Mom’s Night Out after a run. He’s slightly sweaty and red faced. Many stars would never face the press without hair done and stylist approved clothes, much less still glistening from a workout, but Astin plops down on a seat, smiles all around and fields questions as he downs a water bottle.

It feels like a backyard barbeque and this man is a genial host, friendly and open.

His ease is all the more amazing when one remembers Astin is Hollywood royalty, the son of star Patty Duke and a well-known actor in his own right, from Goonies to Rudy to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The man grew up in the spotlight, which, as we know, often does not turn out well.

His upbringing is evident, however, when he talks about his family. He’ll prattle on all day about his pets, but ask him to connect his current role to his real life role as a dad, and he politely but firmly demurs.

This movie is like my family. The situations in the film are very like the situations we face. As recently as yesterday.

Q: What happened yesterday?

I can’t say….

Um. Well we this weekend was chock full….I haven’t been spending much time at home, I’ve been all over the world, really. I came home. Next thing you know, I’m at the..

I can’t say. I don’t want to betray the trust of my kids.

Astin never does say what happened the day before. As it turns out, he’s a good dad.

He’s also somewhat of a philosopher. The press in the room is religious press, and as they ask repeated questions to nail down Astin’s faith status, he gives profound but unconventional answers.

Asked about the faith of his mother, Patty Duke, he responds, “Depends what day you ask her.” But then he goes on to give a profound observation: “I know when my sister died, she insisted that, there’s this group of nuns that live in a convent near her, she insisted they be there. So when you talk about self-identifying verus how people practice versus their culture, I think my mom feels very comfortable with Catholicism.”

Astin isn’t interested in categories of faith because he knows that they way people act in reality often defies categorization.

The proof is in the pudding, as it were.

“Religion is most noticeable when someone dies. We all seem to experience a lot of death. Different generations, different tragedies, cancers, things. I think it snaps us back, always, to a keep appreciation for what formal religion can do to bolster families and communities.”

Astin says his own Christian faith “takes a long time to unpack,” but he and his family are baptized Lutherans, attend church, and he sends his daughter to a Christian high school.

Astin has no problem referring to Mom’s Night Out as a “Christian” movie. In fact, he worked on another movie he matter-of-factly calls “Christian:” Amazing Love. The debates and nuance of faith-based filmmaking don’t seem to affect him one bit. If he likes a project, he does it.

Sarah Drew and Sean Astin on the set of Mom’s Night Out.
Photo via Twitter

Secure in his fame, his family and his legacy, Astin isn’t really interested in debating divisions. He is more interested in drawing together. His current passion project, next to running marathons, is Vox Populi Radio, an occasional show in which Astin talks in depth about politics and issues. In one episode, he delved into the role of the Congressional Budget Office with talk show host Michael Medved. In another, he explores the Afforable Care Act.

Given his ability to discuss emotional and difficult issues and still be friendly and approachable, he should be a natural.

Read the transcript of the interview with Sean Astin here.

Interview: Andrew Erwin on Filmmaking, Faith, and Being in Alabama

The players of Mom’s Night Out

Andrew Erwin
“Our first goal is to tell a good story”
Alex Kendrick
We want to present stories that would draw people to a relationship with the Lord.
Patricia Heaton
I don’t think of movies as Christian or non-Christian. I don’t think God categorizes us like that.
Sean Astin
My Christian faith takes a lot of time to unpack.
Sarah Drew
So much beauty and truth can be found in every show.
Mom’s Night Out
A day on the set of a “Christian” movie

Andrew Erwin is taking on Hollywood at its own game and in his own terms.

He makes movies from an unapologetically religious point of view.

He films – and lives – in Alabama, almost as far spatially and methaphoically as one can get from Hollywood.

And yet, as far as he is from Hollywood in philosophy, he is equally as far from his mentor and friend Alex Kendrick as well.

While Kendrick speaks language of ministry, theme and message, Erwin speaks about story, character, and even making money.

“I think our first goal – I mean… Jon and I are unapologetically Christian – and our first goal when we take on a story is to tell a good story. To make sure it’s an entertaining movie because we are in the business of entertainment. And if we don’t entertain people, there’s no reason to put our message in there. But I think when we find a story that is entertaining,  nine times out of ten, we are attracted to stories that have our values just, you know, intrinsically in it.”

Jon (left) and Andrew (right) Erwin
Photo: Facebook

Rather than come to filmmaking, as Kendrick did, out of a sense of using the  medium to reach people as a ministry, Jon and Andrew fell in love with moviemaking at a young age. After making growing up in the studio of their politician/TV minister father and attending a summer camp in which they made movies for the campers, “We fell in love. It was like…it was just…we got just hypnotized by it. [We realized] this is something we’d love to do for the rest of our lives.”

Like many aspiring directors in Hollywood and out, they found ways to make money doing what they loved, making music videos, working on documentaries, and for many years, working for ESPN. Then a film to which they were attached – Mom’s Night Out – was given the greenlight.

Erwin speaks the language of the younger generation of Evangelicals, using terms like “engage,” “honesty,” and “humility.”

I think that the first thing you gotta do, is you can’t go to make a movie trying to make everybody happy because I think those are the movies that end up offending more people because you’re trying to..it’s not honest.

Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin are both married, both with young children. Their filmmaking is a family affair and their children grow up near extended family. The day of the press visit, their father, Hank Erwin is on set, shaking hands and slapping backs like the Southern politician he is. After a career as a radio and TV preacher, he went on to serve in Alabama’s State Senate. Mom Shelia is on set too, beaming with pride and on the two boys she raised and homeschooled.

Andrew Erwin enjoys visiting Los Angeles, but he’ll stay right on Alabama soil, he says:

I like being close to home. For some reason, this is where I feel most creative. I like the pace of life. I like being in a state where people really don’t know a whole lot about what I do so I can just be a regular person and just be creative and it’s the story, not all the chaos that goes around The Industry. So as long as I can, as long as it fits the narrative and it enhances the story, I’ll keep making movies here as long as I can.

Read the entire transcript of the interview with Andrew Erwin here. 


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