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“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Movies: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

My son started his community college classes last week. Among other things, he enrolled in a Contemporary Cinema course. This was a large, popular class and our family enjoys watching movies, so he thought it would be fun and interesting. However, I was shocked upon glancing at the syllabus after he came home on the first day. Now I knew this wasn't a Christian movie class, but I certainly expected the selection of movies to be educationally worthwhile. There are hundreds of great movies to choose from, right? Well, out of the 12 movies they will be studying, most of them are rated R. I can understand The Godfather and Saving Private Ryan despite the violence and bad language. Life is Beautiful was a wonderful although sad movie, and I recommend seeing that one. Two of the other foreign films sound interesting. But of the rest... at least two of them glamorize adultery, one celebrates sleazy erotic dancing and mocks Christianity, another one is about male strippers, one focuses on teenage prostitutes, another features a man who dresses as a woman, and the other one is just plain offensive. Here we spend 18 years raising our son to be a godly man of virtue, and this class could trash all of that in one semester! Does the instructor really consider these films to set an example of great art?

Henry Van Til, a professor at Calvin College, once observed that “culture is religion externalized.” By this, he meant that the culture of a people reflects their true religious priorities and values as expressed in music, paintings, and entertainment. The Bible teaches that all men have faith, in that they either worship the creature or they worship the Creator. There is no neutrality. When people worship sensuality or embrace dark visions of reality, it is always evidenced in the arts. On the other hand, when a nation fears and loves God, their religious commitment is evidenced in the music they play, the way they dress, and their vision of life. You can choose to focus on what is good, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8), or you can choose to focus on the bad, sinful, ugly side of humanity. It seems to me that a college professor should inspire young people to reach high standards, not drag them down! Can you imagine viewing graphically explicit movies like those above in a classroom setting? Ugh! Anyway, my son dropped that course and substituted an animation class where he can make his own stuff instead.

The Rise of Christian Entertainment

Anyone who has seen today’s modern movies with their vulgar humor, foul language and immorality has probably wondered ... whatever happened to good, clean, wholesome family films? The answer is, they are alive and well at the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. Founded in 2004 by Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, the mission of SAICFF is to encourage the production of films which inspire the highest ideals, with a clear commitment to the noblest biblical values.

“This is a wonderful time to be a Christian engaged in the arts,” Phillips said. “America is discontent with Hollywood’s negative monopoly stranglehold on film and culture,” he continued. “The intense hatred by Hollywood elites for Christianity and the value system which it embodies has created a rift in American culture, and profoundly damaged the American family. We intend to respond, not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting a candle.”

The following criteria are taken into consideration by the SAICFF panel of judges in selecting their award recipients: 1. sound biblical worldview; 2. theological accuracy; 3. holiness in presentation; 4. wise and creative use of technological resources; 5. level of difficulty; 6. production value; 7. quality of directing, script, acting, editing, soundtrack, etc.

This year’s SAICFF was held on January 8-10, 2009. Special guests included producer Stephen Kendrick (Fireproof), actor Kirk Cameron (Left Behind, Fireproof), and Disney veteran Dean Jones (The Love Bug, Saint John in Exile, Abraham and Isaac). Competing films included: Fireproof, Expelled, The Widow’s Might, Pendragon, and Pilgrim’s Progress – all of which are excellent movies in their own right.

Click on the titles to read my reviews of these movies:

Fireproof | Pendragon | Expelled | The Widow's Might

The Best of Festival Jubilee Award with its $101,000 cash prize – the largest single film festival grand prize of its kind in America – was awarded this year to The Widow’s Might, a feature-length western comedy. The Widow’s Might tells the fictional story of how a group of young filmmakers came to the aid of an elderly widow in danger of losing her home due to rising property taxes.

The top honor in the “Best Feature Film” category was awarded to Fireproof, a Sherwood Pictures film starring Kirk Cameron that explores a firefighter’s struggle to save his failing marriage. Fireproof — which was written, produced, and directed by Alex and Stephen Kendrick (a homeschool dad) — was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008.

Incidentally, shortly before the film festival, some filmmakers were discussing the fairness of allowing established big name films such as Fireproof and Expelled into the SAICFF. The comments were along the lines of, "How are homeschooled filmmakers supposed to compete with that level of film?" John Moore of HeuMoore Productions (The Widow’s Might) responded at the time that Fireproof is just as independent as any other independent film. He went on to explain how a big film like that actually adds more credibility to the contest, legitimizing the festival and raising the level of excellence.

Moore's December 9, 2008 blog post says, "The film that comes away from the festival with the Audience Choice award, will be able to say decisively that they beat out Fireproof. That’s just the coolest thing in the world… there, the audience is a true judge. Winning audience choice with no Fireproof would still be grand, but certainly not to the same extent." Wow, was that statement a self-fulfilling prophecy or what!

Christians who are willing to think outside the box live at a time of unique opportunity. Independent Christian filmmakers now have access to technologies which were once primarily available only to well-funded Hollywood studios and are now readily available in the consumer markets. For less than $10,000, the Christian filmmaker can set up a basic digital studio capable of noteworthy productions. For less than $5,000, the Christian film student can have a working platform to make digital film shorts. This is already resulting in the rise of more family-friendly, creative alternatives to the typical Hollywood fare.

“We believe the Hollywood monopoly is about to be broken,” said Phillips. “Thanks to the development of inexpensive and readily accessible technologies, the success of new channels for distributing films, and the rise of a new generation of entrepreneurial and creative Christian filmmakers, there never has been a better time for Christians to influence their culture for Christ.” Phillips adds, “By providing a platform for Christians to present their art, and by offering appropriate recognition for excellence in Christian film production, we hope to encourage this movement for the glory of God.”


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