Fireproof Draws Attention to Christian Filmmakers ~ Praxis Habitus - On Race Religion & Culture

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fireproof Draws Attention to Christian Filmmakers

NPR asks "What was the biggest grossing independent film in 2008?" Not Slumdog Millionaire. Not Milk. It was a movie you've probably never heard of. The success of Fireproof draws attention to the world of Christian filmmaking.

Fireproof and Christian Filmmaking

Fireproof (film)Image via Wikipedia

Fireproof, featuring Growing Pains star Kirk Cameron (who also starred in Left Behind), is the latest independent film phenomenon, outgrossing Slumdog, the most talked about independent film of the past six months.

Made for less than $500,000, the film has grossed over $33 million. Thanks to NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty, the success of the flim provides an opportunity to highlight the very busy, very active, and potentially very lucrative, world of Christian filmmaking.

I wrote about Christian filmmakers in Hollywood Faith, and I had the pleasure of meeting Barb while she was still a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Her move to NPR was a huge opportunity (and a huge risk) that has been great for her. She now covers religion stories for NPR.

This is a nice story. She points out (correctly) that Christian filmmakers who make "Christian" films seek to counter the influence of the Hollywood machine by creating their own media content.

Fireproof Hits Evangelical Hot Spots

What makes Fireproof so popular for evangelicals?

NPR News logoImage via Wikipedia

"Fireproof touches all the bases for this audience — the raw emotion of a marriage on the brink of divorce. The conversion experience as the father tells his son — Kirk Cameron, the teenage idol of TV hit Growing Pains — that Jesus died on the cross for him. Cameron's efforts to win his wife back. And finally, forgiveness and redemption."

She's right. The movie hits themes, values, and beliefs shared among evangelicals. She notes that generally Christian filmmakers make movies about subjects they care about, "dramas about abortion, documentaries about creationism and home schooling — and even a musical about taxation."

Who are these Christian filimmakers? First, it might be good to look at what is meant by "Christian film."

What is a "Christian" Film

Some filmmakers believe Christian film should only be made by Christians and for explicitly Christian purposes. These are Christian film moviemakers who consciously reject the Hollywood system. I call them "Anti-Hollywood filmmakers."

Anti-Hollywood filmmakers make their Biblically oriented films directly available to audiences through independent channels like Christian bookstores; the audience buys them because they know a standard of conservative Christian acceptability is being placed on them before they are allowed in the store.

But for many, these "Christian films” have come to be stigmatized to mean inferior quality work that contribute to making the word “Christian” pejorative when used as an adjective in describing any piece of media. It may seem unfair to characterize explicitly Christian films as those of low quality, but to date Christian films have struggled with attracting the same financing and talent of major Hollywood studios.

And rather than providing entertainment, these message-oriented films like Fireproof made by the Anti-Hollywood group are dismissed as not-so-veiled forms of proselytizing.

Among Christians active in the entertainment industry, there is a sharp distinction between films that are story-driven and those that are message-driven. One filmmaker said, “Audiences are not allowed to make the connections; they were told what to think.” An Christian screenwriting instructor in Los Angeles once said to me, “A lot of Christian entertainment is such bad quality, so sappy and one-dimensional. If you want to be a preacher, go be a preacher, but if you want to be an artist, know your art.” There is an overarching impression that Christian filmmakers are “untalented, unfunny, uncreative, and less than technically savvy.”

Niche? Or Mainstream?

Christian Films Inc logoImage via Wikipedia

A core debate among Christians in Hollywood boils down to whether Christian filmmaking is a niche industry intended for Christian audiences and sold through Christian outlets or whether Christians are intended to participate in the mainstream entertainment industry with large budgets intended for massive audiences and working alongside non-Christians.

Do believers make “Christian films,” or do they make films and happen to be Christian? Does a Christian filmmaker have to produce “Christian films?” Is it morally acceptable for Christian filmmaker to make mainstream films?

For more on my take to this development, see chapters 3 and 4 of Hollywood Faith.

No comments: