Christian Filmmakers Creating An Industry Of Faith As Hollywood crowns its favorite movies and actors at the Oscars on Sunday, another group is trying to create a rival movie industry. Fed up with sex and violence in mainstream entertainment, conservative Christians are turning out their own films. And they've made surprising inroads.

Christian Filmmakers Creating An Industry Of Faith

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Tomorrow night, Hollywood will crown its favorite movies and actors at the Oscars, maybe unaware that another group is trying to create a rival movie industry. Conservative Christians, appalled by sex and violence in mainstream entertainment, are turning out their own films. And as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, they've made surprising inroads.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: Okay. Here's a quiz: What was the biggest-grossing independent film in 2008? No, not "Slumdog Millionaire," not "Milk." It was a movie you've probably never heard of.

(Soundbite of movie, "Fireproof")

Mr. KIRK CAMERON (Actor): (as Caleb Holt) In the last few weeks, God has given me a love for you that I have never had before. And I had asked him to forgive me.

"Fireproof," starring former teen idol Kirk Cameron, was the talk of these movie fans gathered in San Antonio last month.

Unidentified Man: Welcome to the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: This crowd was markedly un-Hollywood - the men wearing jeans and Polo shirts, the women in high necklines and low hems. The lights had hardly dimmed for the opening ceremonies when Doug Phillips, the festival's organizer, told the audience they were drawing the Maginot line in the culture wars.

Mr. DOUG PHILLIPS (Festival Organizer): We're here to send a message to the world that we no longer want our children immersed in toxic media which is in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Instead of just complaining about sex and violence, Phillips says, Christians must make films that reflect their own values. So he started the film festival five years ago, when he realized that Christians were losing the hearts and minds of the young.

Mr. PHILLIPS: What is the single biggest influence on our families? I wish I could tell you the single biggest single influence were churches but that, regretfully, is not the case. The truth of the matter is, that it is the media that people take in which are shaping and forming ideas.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: If Christians want to compete in the world of ideas, he says, they have to make great movies. This festival is putting up a $101,000 top prize to help them get there. And, Phillips says, this is only the beginning.

Mr. PHILLIPS: I think that we're going to see significant production houses which are going to be funding $200 million films done by Christians. We're going to have our own Steven Spielbergs.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And these Christian directors will make movies about subjects that evangelicals care about, like dramas about abortion.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man #1: If you don't get rid of this pregnancy, our relationship is over.

Unidentified Woman: In case you haven't noticed, this relationship was over the moment you insisted on killing our child.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Documentaries about home-schooling…

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Man #2: History is once again repeating itself as a free people willingly exchange their educational liberties for the shackles of government support.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And musicals about taxation…

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) Stand up, be strong, do not ignore the widow's cry for help you hear. For love of God, you should repeal…

BRADLEY HAGERTY: "The Widow's Might" tells the story of a woman about to lose her home to tax foreclosure, and the two families that help her with her lonely battle against the government. In the end, the widow prevails, to the delight of Jeff Reins of Fort Worth.

Mr. JEFF REINS: It was awesome. A lot of good biblical principles and messages in there.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Like courage and integrity, he says. Becky Dorough from Kaufman, Texas, says she wishes Hollywood would turn out movies like this. But, she says, Hollywood has a tin ear for the Christian audience.

Ms. BECKY DOROUGH: I don't think they'll ever get it. They will try to mimic it - you can't mimic Christ. They'll never get the love part. They'll never get forgiveness. They don't get any of that 'cause they don't think they need it.

Mr. JOHN ROBERT MOORE (Writer, Director, Actor): I think anything can be redeemed by the power of Jesus Christ.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Nineteen-year-old John Robert Moore is the writer, director and leading man in "The Widow's Might."

Mr. MOORE: But I believe that the path that God has set forth before us, which can be seen by the blessings he's put on this industry so far in its very short movement - is evidence to the fact that He wants us to work in an entirely new industry from the ground up.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Steve Morales concurs. He's the executive director of Franklin Springs Family Media, a group that invests in Christian films. He's here in San Antonio scouting for talent. He says because Christians care more about wholesome stories than big stars and budgets, the movies are cheap to make, and quickly turn a profit through box office and DVD sales.

Mr. STEVE MORALES (Franklin Springs Family Media): We're out for good, strong, economically viable films which fill a niche that is unmet right now. Blockbusters are great, but that's not the end goal.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: That goal, he says, is to glorify God - and perhaps to make the young ladies swoon.

What has been your favorite movie so far?

Ms. JULIA SPENCE: "Fireproof." This is my fifth time to see it.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Julia Spence is an 18-year-old freshman at Louisiana Baptist University.

Ms. SPENCE: Oh, it's absolutely amazing.


Ms. SPENCE: Oh, why? Oh. Because, well, first of all, it presents the plan of salvation in an amazing - and in a way that could touch everyone's heart. And also because it's romantic, and it's special and sweet, and I just love it.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: "Fireproof" touches all the bases for this audience.

(Soundbite of movie, "Fireproof")

Mr. CAMERON: (as Caleb Holt) Shut up. I'm sick of you. You disrespectful, ungrateful, selfish woman.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: The raw emotion of a marriage on the brink of divorce, the conversion experience…

(Soundbite of movie, "Fireproof")

Mr. HARRIS MALCOM (Actor): (as John Holt) God sent Jesus to die on the cross and take the punishment for your sin because he loves you.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: And finally, forgiveness and redemption…

(Soundbite of movie, "Fireproof")

Ms. ERIN BETHEA (Actor): (as Catherine Holt) And if I haven't told you that I love you, I do.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: "Fireproof" earned $33 million at the box office, but it cost only half a million dollars to make. It was written and directed by two brothers from a Baptist church in Georgia. The cast was all church members, with once exception. Kirk Cameron, the former star of "Growing Pains" and himself an evangelical Christian, offered to work for free.

Mr. CAMERON: It was the heart of the people who made the movie, combined with their ability to tell a story with redeeming values to it, that made me want to be part of the team.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: "Fireproof" opened at number four in the nation last September, beating out Spike Lee's "Miracle of St. Anna."

Mr. STEPHEN KENDRICK (Writer, Producer): Monday morning, after opening weekend of "Fireproof," we got a call from one of the guys at the Hollywood Reporter, and he said, who in the world are you, and what in the world is "Fireproof"? Of course, he used much more salty speech.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Stephen Kendrick co-wrote and produced "Fireproof."

Mr. KENDRICK: He says, do you realize what you just did? I've been tracking every movie that's coming out. He says, that's my job. "Fireproof" was not even on our radar screen.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: So how did they do it? By flipping Hollywood marketing on its head, says Ben Howard, who runs Provident Films, which marketed "Fireproof." Howard says instead of spending millions on advertising, Provident gave sneak previews to select groups.

Mr. BEN HOWARD (Provident Films): We did a lot of screenings, showing the film to influencers.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: That would be pastors?

Mr. HOWARD: Those would be pastors, those would be ministry leaders, those would be people who speak to the audience.

BRADLEY HAGERTY: Like "The Purpose-Driven Life" before it, "Fireproof" became a topic of sermons, Bible studies, radio talk shows - and an inspiration for the young Christian filmmakers in San Antonio.

(Soundbite of music)

BRADLEY HAGERTY: At the grand finale, awards were presented for the best creation movie, the best family movie, the best musical, and finally…

Mr. PHILLIPS: The winner of the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival Award, $101,000 for best of festival, goes to "The Widow's Might."

BRADLEY HAGERTY: This is a moment in history, said Doug Phillips, a moment that can spark a new generation of filmmakers, ones that will produce movies that are, quote, truly meaningful to the kingdom of God.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

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