11 April 2010

The Opportunity in Film...

An interesting thing is happening at theatres in recent days. The film Letters to God is attracting a large mainstream audience, and wowing critics as well.

Perhaps the first miracle is that it was made at all. Imagine - in the ever-secular, and often anti-Christian, atmosphere of today's society - trying to pitch an openly-Christian script to a producer. But Patrick Doughtie did just that, and says that the early success of this film has inspired him to start a few more like projects. Visit the official movie site at www.letterstogodthemovie.com.

I have to wonder where such films have gone. Even in the midst of the anti-establishment mood of the 1960's, few films on St. Francis of Assisi were successful. Becket, the story of St. Thomas Becket, starring Richard Burton, was a blockbuster. Perhaps this was because Richard Burton palyed the part of the saint himself, and Peter O'Toole played his friend/nemesis King Henry II. Both were matinee idols at the time. Imagine now if you would, today's matinee idols consenting to play a religious figure. My guess is that they wouldn't - who would be brave enough to be so politically incorrect?

In 1989 a film was released on St. Francis of Assisi. It starred Mickey Rourke, and it flopped. The critics hated it; the public hardly knew about it. Perhaps the lesson is that if we are going to make a Christian-based film, we need to do it well. After all, the reputation of Christian feature film, needs all the help it can get, and we can't afford sloppy efforts to hurt it.

But that being said, it seems that the time may be ripe for the success of Christian-themed films in mainstream entertainment. People are cynical, having been forcefed anti-Christian rhetoric from all corners in recent decades - but they are also hungry for hope. In an era when militant Islam, which is arguably the ugliest of faith ideologies, offers hate, the hope of Christianity is an enormous weapon.

Preaching at people is a big part of what the current anti-Christian anger is about. For too long, evangelicals have not done well at spreading their message. Too often, they wore their pride on their faces as they used the Christian message to wag an accusatory finger at their fellow man at worst, and speak patronizingly to others at best. They have been slow to understand the error, and to learn a better way.

We need to give serious thought to what makes Letters to God successful. We need to think about its tone toward a mainstream audience, we need to think about the way it has been marketed. And we need to take advantage of the pain and uncertainty of our times to bring Christ's message in the ways that are most meaningful in today's world - through mass entertainment media.

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