“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 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 were nominated for multiple awards). 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. It’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, made my spirits soar. But God had one more meet-and-greet lined up.
Just as we were boarding our plane, a young filmmaker fresh out of film school in Chicago said, “You made Over-the-Rhine!” “Yes,” I replied. “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.