Death by Silence
What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen to Christian film?
By Douglas M. Downs, ChristianSpotlight.com Staff Writer
I just love that opening scene in the beautiful classic The Sound of Music when Julie Andrews sings the opening theme song. For me, it is one of those wonderful moments of cinematic inspiration. Such defining moments are rare. Similarly, when I see a great film I want to shout it from the rooftops! I personally preview and review over 400 films a year. It is sometimes difficult to maintain a sense of optimism when it comes to the business of entertainment, so I find it thrilling when Christian companies like Big Idea break into the mainstream marketplace.
I personally enjoyed every frame of their Fall 2002 release Jonah—a VeggieTales Movie. In fact, I’ve not stopped talking about this film since I viewed it several weeks ago. But let me ask you something: are YOU talking about it and sharing in the anticipation of faith-based movies? I hope so because the secular media certainly is not!
Recently in Hollywood, as an invited guest serving on a panel discussion on current entertainment issues, I learned that perhaps the biggest concern on the minds of the directors and screenwriters present was censorship. A grave concern on the hearts of many Christians is the powerful negative impact and influence of many Hollywood directors and screenwriters. While in L.A., I had the privilege of spending some time with Director Wes Craven (the Scream series, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.). He shared with me one of the sad tactics in the media industry: It’s known as “Death by Silence.” If you truly want a film to fail, you fail to mention it or give it any notice whatsoever.
Is this what many noted reviewers are doing to “faith-based” films when they refuse them any publicity at all? Let’s take a look. Nearly all of Hollywood press-junket-genre shows like “Hot Ticket,” “At the Movies,” “E.T.”, “Extra”, etc. don’t cover films of this genre at all. Why not? The good news is that some studios are starting to take notice. Grace Hill Media is a relatively new group on the scene. They do publicity for studios who hire them to promote films and television programming to religious audiences who cannote the faith-based themes or family friendly programming (Pay It Forward, Tuck Everlasting, The Emperor’s Club, “Doc”, “Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye,” etc.).
I want to give kudos to fans of VeggieTales for placing Jonah at or near the top ten for four weeks in a row! Big Idea, producers of VeggieTales, reported that, as of this date, it is now the Number 1 family film of Fall 2002! Its success has not been the result of the courtesies given to secular films like Toy Story, Monsters, Inc. or Shrek. It has been rudely ignored. This means we Christians must do more!
So what can you—I—we together do? Here are just a few ideas:
- Watch family-friendly or Christian-faith friendly films! Every ticket purchased or video rented is a “yes” vote for that title.
- Call every pastor in your area and encourage them to mention faith-based films at the time they are released.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local paper and encourage other parents to discover such films.
- Reach out to your community through faith-based films. You might want to gather together some neighbors to go see a film and plan a discussion time around the themes raised. Due to the high costs of distribution and doors closed by secular theatrical distributors, most Christian films can only get to the local theater if a local group sponsors their print. Many churches (though not enough) have been known to give $2000 toward such a community outreach project, reaping a percentage of any profits above startup costs.
- Thank theater managers for carrying the film. They hear lots of complaints, but rarely a heartfelt “thank you.”
- Research the film before you see it. Time and time again, I hear someone talk about how they “wish they had known before” the kind of content or themes in a movie they saw. There’s no excuse for not knowing, with such services like ChristianSpotlight.com and others at your fingertips. If it sounds like a faith-honoring film and falls in line with what you are comfortable with, go see it! If not, don’t.
- Publicize the film by printing off reviews from ChristianSpotlight.com for posting at schools, churches, and other public places. You can also e-mail your friends about the film you are excited about, letting them know where they can find out more information for themselves.
In my little crusade to promote quality Christian films, I’ve written to every major critic that did not review Jonah—A VeggieTales Movie. I also wrote every show that covers the entertainment industry. I even wrote “20/20” and “60 Minutes.” I’ve already started to call independent theaters in my area encouraging them to carry other films like Time Changer.
Be sure you support and request the film when it is released. I have personally made sure that every single film rental store in my geographic area carries current Christian titles. I then encourage Christians to visit these stores, rent the video and then thank the manager. One manager told me that his business has picked up significantly since he has paid more attention to this often-overlooked area.
So how do you find out about upcoming Christian or “faith-based” films? Visit Christian Film News section, a part of Christian Spotlight, where frequently updated news items from the Christian film and TV industry are reported. It’s never been easier than it is today to be “in the know,” and with the advent of digital filmmaking technology the Christian market is on the verge of explosion (if enough people support it).
Christians, if we are ever going to see better films in the theater—we must exercise a little passion! Please join with me to lend your support to the tireless crusaders that are trying to do something positive in the arts. I express my gratitude to those who are using their talents and craft to glorify our God. It’s a tough business out there. Pray that those spiritually-mature and gifted Christians in the position to produce quality materials not sell out.
Do you remember the 1999 family film Music of the Heart? Wes Craven, also the Director for this film (believe it or not), shared with me that Music of the Heart was the only film that the studios let him direct that he wanted to do. But the powers that be killed it through silence. And so, Wes has resigned himself to doing the best job possible with whatever is assigned to him.
Friends, the hills are alive with people of faith who have something valuable to say. Let’s not keep silent, but help amplify that voice!
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