Five years ago this month, we dared to enter our not-yet-finished movie Healing River (then titled after its setting, Cincinnati’s gritty inner-city neighborhood Over-the-Rhine) in the world’s largest Christian film festival. It was my first feature film as a writer-director-producer, and the first film festival I’d ever entered.
“Faith-based” movies were still in their toddler stage at that point, and almost all had been criticized for ringing false, with focusing on being safe and inoffensive, rather than real or believable.
We knew our film was different, edgy and intense, full of raw emotions, not “safe.” Yet somehow, we ended up being nominated for four awards, including Best Picture. We were stunned when the premiere audience stood and cheered as the end credits rolled. During the follow-up discussion, one viewer proclaimed it the best film at the festival, another called it the best faith-based film ever, period, and the audience applauded loudly. The reason, they said, was that it felt real.
To be honest, I was disappointed when we only received a Best Picture: Honorable Mention award. I’d begun to think our efforts at pushing faith-based movies to the next stage would suddenly be officially embraced.
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, Casey, shouted, “You made Over-the-Rhine!” “Yes,” I admitted. She’d just received her master’s degree from the New York Film Academy, and 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.
And then, just as we were boarding our plane, another 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 knew then that I’d met the next generation of faith-based filmmakers. And trust me, they won’t be toddling…
They’ll be running.
Healing River had its World Premiere a month later, and went on to win over twenty festival nominations and awards. It premiered on Amazon Prime in 2020, and remains their top-rated independent inspirational film. It’s also available from other streaming sources, as well as DVD.