“Faith-based” movies are in the toddler stage. Hollywood only began to realize there was a large audience for such films when The Passion of the Christ sold massive numbers of tickets to churchgoers in 2004. But it wasn’t until Fireproof, a low-budget indie written and directed by a Baptist minister, made almost $40 million in 2008 that faith-based movies became a recognizable box office phenomenon.
They’re still learning to walk. Almost every faith-based film released has been criticized for ringing false, for being more concerned with being inoffensive than with creating something real. And there’s more than a little truth in the criticism.
We knew our film was different—it has a grittiness that is unfamiliar in religious movies—so we didn’t expect to win any awards. We just hoped to find out how movie-goers would respond. And we were overjoyed when Over-the-Rhine’s premiere audience cheered as the end credits rolled last Friday night. During the follow-up discussion, one viewer proclaimed it the best film at the festival, and loud applause followed. The reason, audience members agreed, was that it rang true, it felt real.
To be honest, I was disappointed when we received an Honorable Mention at the awards ceremony. I’d begun to hope our efforts at pushing faith-based movies to the next stage would suddenly be officially embraced (we’re negotiating a distribution deal currently and a big Best Picture award couldn’t hurt). But something far more significant happened the next morning.
My wife and I were climbing into the airport shuttle when a young woman in the back seat shouted, “You made Over-the-Rhine!” “Yes,” I admitted. Then Casey, a student filmmaker who’d just received her masters degree from the New York Film Academy, said, “Your film was so different from all the others, so real. That’s the kind of movie I want to make!”
We encouraged her. And she encouraged us. I silently thanked God all the way to the airport. Casey’s words, and a good stiff cup of dark roast, had made my spirits soar. But God had one more meet-and-greet lined up.
Just as we were about to board our plane, a young filmmaker fresh out of film school in Chicago said, “You’re the guy who made Over-the-Rhine.” “Yes,” I replied a little more hopefully. “I cried three times,” he confessed. “It was so beautiful and so real. That’s the kind of movie I want to make!”
I have met the next generation of faith-based filmmakers. And trust me, they won’t be toddling.
They’ll be running.