I talked with my mom on the phone a few days ago. She told me my last few blog entries were deep. They were well written she said, but they were very heavy. Reading back she was right, they were on the heavy side. So this post is about something lighter: a trip to a groundbreaking church in Albany, GA: Sherwood Baptist.
In 2002 someone at the church had a crazy idea: what if the church made a movie? A movie that would involve the whole church. Something that would be fun, a learning experience, and good to show to the community. A twenty-thousand dollar budget was raised and the film was made in 2003. The result was Flywheel, which was shown at a small theater in Albany, GE for six weeks. The movie, about a used car salesman, ended up being a hit. All six weeks the theater was packed out. Blockbuster ended up picking it up for rental in its stores. The church was shocked. There was a desire for wholesome, Christian entertainment. Over the span of the next seven years Sherwood made two more movies, Facing the Giants and Fireproof.
Fireproof ended up being the most successful indy film of 2008, making 33 million in theaters nationwide. The movies are written and directed by two brothers, Alex and Stephen Kendrick. I was invited to a movie junket, a term we use when marketing teams pay for us to fly somewhere and hear about a new movie. The Kendrick brothers, along with Provident Pictures, Sony Indy, and Samuel Goldwyn, announced info on their newest movie: Courageous (http://courageousthemovie.com/).
Courageous, they told us in an interview, will be about four fathers, all police officers, that struggle with the roles they play in their professional and home lives. They say it will be a gritty film, seeing as it portrays the lives of men and women in law enforcement. Stephen Kendrick gave us an exclusive detail too: the movie’s opening scene is an intense action sequence.
A fellow photog laughed at hearing the word gritty. He said that gritty in the Christian film world translates into using words like darn and heck. And I’m curious myself how you can have an “intense action sequence” in a Christian film, where any sort of violence is often seen as taboo and unfriendly for the family.
The films take a lot of heat from secular critics for being, well, too Christiany (which is what it is). The acting gets harped on the most. Check out some of the critic’s reviews; it’s funny how harsh secular critics are to these films…
In any case, the church was very, very welcoming. Stephen Kendrick even lent us his car for the weekend so we could get around. The church is full of genuine people, all striving to be as creative and godly as possible. I have another friend that said candidly, “maybe this one will actually be worth watching.” Many people share his opinion. But the truth is the film goes way beyond just the film itself. The money made helps the local schools, builds parks, and feeds back into the local economy. It gives church members something to be proud of, something they can donate time and talent to. It may even expose some of those who watch it to Christ (but typically the films only attract a Christian demographic). The movie, the filmmakers would likely admit, is bigger than just the movie. Its a whole community, working together in fellowship, trying to praise God, and doing it in an unconventional way. Whether the critics in New York or LA like the movies, well, I don’t think the church really cares.
As we were loading up in a bus to head back to the airport I told Stephen Kendrick to give me a call if he needed extra help while filming. “A lot of people have been saying that. I’ll give you a call though,” he said smiling, undoubtedly at the prospect of his next film. Though in a few months, when the church starts the intensive process of actually shooting the movie, Stephen may trade in his smiling face for a face filled with hardened determination, a face even the harshest critics couldn’t break.