Can you guess which independent film grossed the most at the box office in 2008? Slumdog Millionaire? That would be a good guess given how many Oscars it picked up on Sunday night, but no. Would you believe Fireproof? I learned this interesting trivia during NPR’s Weekend Edition on Saturday. In an insightful and balanced report, Barbara Bradley Hagartey looks into the rapidly growing Christian movie industry. Fireproof’s financial success is just one sign of the niche’s growth.
Hagarety filed her report from the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival (SAICF) where 2,000 people gathered in January to screen the best Christan films in 5 different categories. Top honors (including the $101,000 Jubilee Award) went to The Widow’s Might, “a feature length comedy adventure that tells the fictional story of how aspiring filmmakers came to the aid of an elderly widow who faced losing her home due to rising property taxes.”
The reason for the SAICF and the increasing amount of Christian films is not difficult to guess. The festival’s organizer puts it bluntly: “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.” This rationale makes complete sense given his understanding of media’s powerful influence.
“What is the single biggest influence on our families?” he asks. “I wish I could tell you the biggest single influence were churches, but that regretfully is not the case. The truth of the matter is, it is the media the people take in which are shaping and forming ideas.”
In other words, the church is simply unable to compete with media. While it would be nice to believe that spiritual formation happens within the community of believers, this isn’t realistic in today’s media-saturated culture. Thus, in order to counter the siren call of pop culture Christian filmmakers should provide clear alternatives that can stand up to the best Hollywood has to offer.
What do you make of this?
I have to admit that the NPR story surprised me. I was unaware of the ongoing impulse to create a uniquely Christian film industry. While the motives for these films make sense, these are some questions I wonder about:
- How is the Christian-ness of a film determined? Does a film that includes the not so family-friendly but quite Biblical themes of violence and sexual misconduct make the cut?
- What about films that are not explicitly Christian and yet contain themes that are clearly Biblical?
- Does a Christian film industry imply that there is nothing of Christ outside of this industry?
- Has the church been abandoned as the primary vehicle for spiritual formation within American culture?
The role of explicitly Christian films is certainly not a new consideration (A Thief in the Night anyone?) and there are many ways these questions could be answered. I’m curious about your perspective. What role, if any, should explicitly Christian films play in our day?