DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The runaway winner at the box office last weekend was "The Hunger Games." But another very different movie about a teenage girl opened in the top 10 as well. It's called "October Baby" and it tells the story of 19-year-old Hannah on the search for her birth mother. In many ways, it's a Hollywood-style road trip movie.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "OCTOBER BABY")
RACHEL HENDRIX: (as Hannah) Three weeks ago, I found out that my entire life is a lie, so I went on a trip.
GREENE: But this movie also has a hardcore message about abortion. There are scenes like this one, where we hear from a nurse who worked at an abortion clinic.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "OCTOBER BABY")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (as character) When you hear something enough times, somehow you start to believe it. It was tissue - that's what they told us. It was tissue that couldn't survive. Nonviable tissue.
GREENE: This film has been endorsed by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, and the filmmakers say they're donating 10 percent of the proceeds to an anti-abortion charity. "October Baby" is just the latest addition to a genre that has exploded recently. One film, "Courageous," dealt with fatherhood, and it became the top-selling DVD earlier this year. Director Jon Erwin helped with that film and he also co-directed "October Baby." And I asked him why he thinks Christian films are so popular right now.
JON ERWIN: Number one, I think that the values that we hold dear as Christians are immensely appealing - you know, things like sacrifice and virtue and honor and destiny and things like that. And so I think when they're presented correctly, they're appealing to everybody. That's one reason. And then also I think we're just - we're really engaging with the arts again as a faith community. We're making, you know, movies that are better and better and I'm really honored and excited to be a part of it.
GREENE: You say you're trying to engage the arts again as Christians. What does that mean?
ERWIN: Well, you know, if you think about art and faith, you know, there was a time that Michelangelo worked for the church. And there's been this bond and this link between art and faith. And somehow, I believe, that in the past, you know, few decades somehow we've lost that. But I think what we're trying to do is reengage the arts. 'Cause the arts is such a great way to engage people and to get them to think. And so I think there's an explosion going on and I think it's just going to continue. And I think it's good for everybody, because I think the values that are being presented are good. You know, they're good for people's lives.
GREENE: I saw you speak recently at a screening of the movie in Washington, D.C. at the Heritage Foundation, which is a conservative think tank in the nation's capital. And it sounded like you were saying some of the same things but a little more bluntly. You really sort of ranted against Hollywood and said that Christians didn't feel very welcome in that movie community.
ERWIN: Yeah, well, you know, "October Baby" was rejected by pretty much everyone. And I really think it was because of fear. I think, you know, a lot of the Hollywood studios were simply afraid to engage this issue and, you know, afraid that there wasn't an audience or whatever. And what we've seen with "October Baby" is there's a massive audience for this issue. There's a lot of people passionate about, you know, the sanctity-of-life issue. And, you know, "October Baby"'s an entertaining film. It's a fun ride for everybody, but it makes you think about these issues. And I think what we found is there's a huge response to the movie, much more than Hollywood thought.
GREENE: Given that there are a lot of people in this country who have been, you know, drawn to movies like this in the last few years, given, you say, that a lot of them don't feel welcome in Hollywood - I mean is there a sort of culture war developing in movie-making right now?
ERWIN: That's a great question. You know, I think there can be. Certainly a lot of the values that are portrayed in entertainment are not values that I was raised in. Certainly I was raised in the South in a Christian home and family. And I can't speak to the whole Hollywood community. I mean, certainly there's a lot of different companies. I do think that as a rule, kind of the aggregate product coming out of Hollywood is something that can be deeply offensive to people like myself. And I think Christians have kind of sat back and we've complained a bit. And I think now we're realizing that instead we need to engage and we need to make, you know, quality work.
GREENE: If there were someone who is watching how this movie is, you know, being marketed and, you know, churches are showing the movie around the country - there's a debate over whether social issues should really be prominent in the conversation, especially during an election year, whether they shouldn't be. I mean could you see some people seeing this movie as kind of drumming up social issues and making them very prominent during an election season?
ERWIN: That's a good point. You know, we intended it to - well, hey, if that happens, that's very interesting. We certainly didn't plan it that way, because we made the movie to be released last year, but unfortunately we were - we could not find distribution because of some of the people that were afraid of the film. And now we're just, you know, releasing a film called "October Baby" in March. You know, and so I certainly didn't plan it that way, but, you know, if it works for a higher purpose, I guess that's great.
GREENE: That's Jon Erwin. He and his brother Andrew directed the film "October Baby." Jon, thanks so much for joining us.
ERWIN: Hey, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
GREENE: So after talking to Jon Erwin, we also wanted the perspective from Hollywood, and we turned to the Hollywood Reporter's Paul Bond, who covers the intersection of religion and film. He says a new crop of Christian filmmakers are revisiting themes that captured audiences long ago.
PAUL BOND: Well, the popularity actually has always been there. If you recall back to "The Ten Commandments" and "Ben-Hur" and "The Sound of Music" back in the '50s and '60s, these are some of the most profitable movies of all time, if you adjust for inflation. So the market has always been there. It seems that Hollywood might have forgotten that for a little while until "The Passion of the Christ" came along.
GREENE: That's the Mel Gibson movie from 2004. It was made for about $45 million and it earned over 600 million. Paul Bond explains that there is a tension that Hollywood is facing.
BOND: Some people in Hollywood think that they represent the mainstream, and there's other people in Hollywood who know that they don't represent the mainstream. You know, it's not a monolithic community. But certainly Hollywood does have this reputation as being very liberal. If you dissect the political messages in most Hollywood films where there is a political message, it's a left-leaning political message. Look at all the children's films, for example, where the rich guy is always the bad guy, where the environment is always being despoiled by, you know, the American military or the American rich guy. And you know, audiences aren't stupid - they see these messages in there.
GREENE: So on one hand, many Hollywood moviemakers prefer left-leaning messages. But Paul Bond says Hollywood is also looking at Christian films and they're seeing dollar signs. Both Fox and Sony have already set up separate divisions to produce Christian films.
BOND: More and more, Hollywood is not shutting the door down on these Christian films, because they see that the profit margin is there. You know, when push comes to shove, they're still making a lot more money on "Hunger Games" and "Twilight," but they do recognize there's a great profit margin on these small Christian films where you can make them for a couple million and they bring in 20 million. That example right there is 10 times your production budget - and that's almost unheard of in Hollywood.
GREENE: And, as Paul Bond puts it, Hollywood doesn't like to leave money on the table, so he says to expect a lot more Christian films coming to theaters soon.