Why Are The Best “Christian” Movies Not Made by Christians?

A few days ago I saw the trailer for War Room, the latest film by the hugely successful Christian filmmakers the Kendrick Brothers. They are the same team that brought you Facing the Giants and Fire Proof. As a filmmaker who knows how hard it is to get a film made, I give much props to what they’ve been able to accomplish.

But I have to say, that the films themselves don’t inspire me artistically (I feel much of the acting is too melodramatic and the cinematography rather bland). But what pains me the most is the lost opportunity to use this amazing medium to reach and speak to people who don’t truly know Christ or what it means to have a relationship with Him. I find that they are films that, basically, well, preach to the choir (pun fully intended).

Then I saw the War Room trailer, and, um wow. I’m at a loss for words. (In a bad way, not a good way). I swear, if I were to make a spoof or parody about Christian films, it would be this trailer. Is it just me? Am I missing something? Watch it, and tell me if I’m just bonkers or what?

(Be sure to pump up the base so you can truly take in the full impact of the titles. Wait. On second thought, don’t do that. Depending on where you live, it could trigger alarms, cause an avalanche or trigger San Andreas.)

I’m really torn. I hate calling out the film like this. I imagine some gaffer or craft services guy who worked on the film saying “f*** you man! You don’t know how hard all these people worked to bring this to life? You make four hugely successful independent films that make a gajillion dollars, then you can talk. Until that time, shut the f*** up.” (I think the above-the-line talent may have the same thoughts, but without the colorful language).

And you know what, I kind of agree with them. Who am I to sit in judgment of their work.

But then my artistic and Christian sentimentality hit me again and scream louder. “NO! NO! NO! We can, and should, aim higher!”

The Power of Filmmaking

Movies have the power to move mountains. The can destroy theme parks. They can overturn wrongful convictions. They can make you believe dinosaurs walk the earth and that a man can fly.

There is probably no medium on this planet as powerful as film to galvanize people, communities or whole countries (there’s a reason both Germany and the United States each used films to inspire and encourage their respective populations during WWII).

So if we Christians believe we have the most important message for people to know and truly understand, why on earth are we making films for people who already know and understand what it is we want other people to know and understand? Do you know and understand where I’m coming from?

I think a movie that has one of the most powerful “Christian” messages I’ve ever seen was Dead Man Walking, written & directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn; three of the most liberal and leftwing people in Hollywood. And as far as I know, they are not Christians.

Yet I challenge you to find another film that more powerfully illustrates Jesus’ command to love your enemy and God’s command to forgive.

Then a few weeks ago I watched the documentary The Overnighters, the award-winning documentary by Jesse Moss that shows the riveting story of a Williston, ND pastor who opened his church and his home to what many would consider the dregs of society; men with criminal records, down on their luck, needing someone, anyone, who would see them as people, love them, and give them a fighting chance. It’s a powerful story about love, kindness, generosity, and doing what you would believe God would want you to do.

Then like some twisted Game of Thrones episode, it turns on its ear and the “hero” of the story is revealed to have his own sins that call into question much (if not all) that he did. At the end of the film you’re conflicted as you grapple with reconciling all the good he’d done with his own transgressions.

These movies, and movies like them, inspire conversations.

WWJD (What Would Jesus Direct)

If Jesus were a director today, I think he’d make films like Dead Man Walking and The Overnighters. It’s these kinds of stories that, IMHO, tell a more compelling, powerful and poignant “Christian” message. Stories about redemption and reconciliation of fallen and broken people. Stories that make YOU, the audience, feel uncomfortable as you’re challenged to like, and maybe even love, those you would normally find unlovable.

After all, that is the point. Right?

[If you want to hear an excellent discussion of this topic, check out this episode of “Film Rant” by Forth District.]