Fahrenheit 9/11 has been praised and lambasted by critics for its unsubtle depiction of President Bush and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For some, Michael Moore's film is a blunt accusation of Bush's misdeeds, while for others it is full of lies, innuendo, and baseless allegations. The movie, which opened nationwide June 25 and is expected to release on DVD before the November election, overcame setbacks to its release when Disney refused to distribute it and when groups complained to the Federal Election Commission over campaign-finance regulations.

Despite the film's political aims, few have questioned Michael Moore's right to make a movie with the hopes of influencing the election. On the other hand, Christian movies are often criticized for having an agenda. We wondered if, following Fahrenheit 9/11, Christian filmmakers are re-thinking their role in Hollywood.

We talked to two Christians separately via e-mail who are part of the filmmaking scene. Dallas Jenkins is president of Jenkins Entertainment, a Hollywood film company started in partnership with his father, Jerry B. Jenkins. Dallas produced Hometown Legend and will be directing the company's next feature film. David Taylor is the Arts Minister at Hope Chapel in Austin, Texas, and director of The Ragamuffin Film Festival, held August 6-8 in Austin.

What was your reaction to Fahrenheit 9/11? And what are other Christian filmmakers saying?

Dallas Jenkins: I have met Michael Moore and got to see his second documentary, The Big One, in its debut screening. Even though I disagreed with his politics, I thought he was brilliant and hilarious. Now he, Bill Maher, and Al Franken have gotten so angry that they're not entertaining anymore. I found Fahrenheit to be by far the most boring of his documentaries. It wasn't awful, but it was so agenda-driven that he forgot to be very funny and entertaining.

I watched it in Los Angeles, so the audience was definitely on the side of the film. I believe it will inspire those who already dislike Bush to dislike him even more and to make sure they vote.

Because the movie is more political than spiritual, I think most Christian filmmakers have just been bemused by it. I think Saved! was more of a lightning rod in the Christian film community than 9/11, because Saved! had a distinctly spiritual agenda.

David Taylor: What bugs my filmmaker friends most is the way he makes the viewer feel stupid. The fact that the audience I shared the viewing with practically exploded with adulation only makes it more frightening. How gullible must we be? There's nothing suggestive about his film; there's no authentic invitation to the viewer to think for themselves, there's only rash, impulsive, devious pummeling of half-truths. I shouldn't be afraid to discover that Bush is a flawed man with skeletons in his closet—or guileful cabinet members that need a good licking for their misdeeds. There's nothing to be gained by defending the Republican party only because you hate Michael Moore. If Moore knows something about Bush that we should know also, then bring it on. He could have done a lot more with his film by asking good questions—honest questions—that compelled the American citizen to seek out the truth. Instead he produced an overwrought potion that made both Left and Right mad.

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Is there a feeling among Christian filmmakers whether or not their films should have an agenda?

David Taylor: The language of agenda is slippery. On the one hand, there isn't a filmmaker who doesn't have some agenda behind a project, whether propagandistic or simply expressionistic. On the other hand, there are films that pulse with deafness-inducing agenda. Anything by Martin Scorsese or Oliver Stone or, of late, by Michael Moore qualifies for the latter.

The problem isn't so much whether a filmmaker has an agenda, it's what he does with it. With F 9/11 the agenda might as well have been written for 1) the public idiots, 2) the dull-headed and 3) the naive. Subtlety did not win out the day. Having watched it recently, I was astounded at the nonsensical, duplicitous and superlative acclamation by critics and audience alike. It's just silly.

Dallas Jenkins: The feeling among most Christian filmmakers who work in Hollywood is that they shouldn't have an agenda in their films. The vast majority of those who have moved to Los Angeles are usually here because they wanted to get away from their more structured Christian upbringing. I have found that the most common statement about the kinds of films they want to make is, "I don't want to make Christian films. I want to be a filmmaker who happens to be a Christian."

I used to say the same thing, but in the last couple of months, I have felt led to be more "intentional" in my depiction of faith, God, or Christianity in my films. I think non-Christians are just as capable of making positive, moral films as Christians are, so I don't think there's a big hole for films that are merely positive. I also believe that the best films come from directors who make movies from their heart. Does that mean I should make propaganda or be preachy? Of course not. But I'm also not going to shy away from being explicit about faith if it's organic to the story.

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What's the difference between a movie with a message and propaganda? Is it deceitful to use film as a means of getting your message across?

David Taylor: The idea of agenda, as a formal artistic medium, is called propaganda. Propaganda, in its denotative sense, is a legitimate means of communicating ideas. It's what advertising is all about. NIKE would be an outstanding example of the use of propaganda art to propagate its concept; so is Volkwagen, McDonalds, and Apple. There's also such a thing as disingenuous propaganda, and that's where the filmmaker tucks the propaganda beneath the veneer of a narrative film. That's where Left Behind failed as a work of art. They promoted themselves as a piece of narrative film, when in fact they produced a religious infomercial. The problem wasn't the agenda per se-an agenda to persuade the viewer of a dispensationalist view of eschatology-the problem was that there was only agenda and no story, or rather no artfulness to its storytelling.

Dallas Jenkins: Moore didn't try to be balanced or subtle. I don't think that's the way to convert someone long-term. Even with Christianity, we may shock or scare someone into the sinner's prayer, but long-term, such a person must be grounded in truth, reason, and a more comprehensive understanding of who Jesus is. I don't believe a two-hour movie can single-handedly give someone a full understanding of any belief system.

The Passion of the Christ and Fahrenheit 9/11 have appealed to widely different audiences and were successful. Is there something to learn from these movies-with-a-message?

Dallas Jenkins: The biggest thing I learned from Moore and Gibson's movies is that being offensive doesn't necessarily mean unsuccessful. Jesus told us that we should expect persecution and controversy if we're serving him accordingly. The idea that we don't want to make a movie that may "upset non-Christians" doesn't wash anymore, because two of the biggest movies this year upset quite a lot of people. It's not like everyone's calling is to make movies that are spiritual or political in nature; but if someone wants to make such a movie, showing something that's "easily digestible" might not get as much of a response.

David Taylor: My short answer to your question is: Christians should never set out to make a film with an agenda. That's the wrong end to star with. They should start with a good story and then let the story derive its own agenda or "message." Tell a good story and it will find the truth. Tell a true story and it will be good for the viewer. The issue here isn't the subject matter of a film. The subject can be religious or it can be irreligious, that's neither here nor there. If a Christian filmmaker wants to make a film about the doctrine of justification or the prophet Malachi or end-time prophecies, that's fine, all we ask is that they write a good story with good characters tangled in genuine tension that forces them to come to terms with truth. And beyond that, make it beautiful, which is what Gibson did par excellence.

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Dallas Jenkins:Fahrenheit is successful for the same reason the Left Behind books and The Passion movie are successful—people like passion and a specific message. If your goal is to change the minds of the "opposition," I'm not sure the methods of Mel Gibson, Michael Moore, or LaHaye/Jenkins are going to accomplish that en masse. For some people, the image of Jesus getting tortured is a first step towards getting them to explore the Gospels, which might in turn result in their coming to a better understanding of salvation. And the Left Behind books, regardless of your opinion of their literary quality, are very intense, action-packed, and scary. Same goes for Moore's movie.

David Taylor: Christians should avoid playing tit for tat with Michael Moore. He simply did for the left wing what folks like Left Behind did for the right: make political/religious propaganda that argues the obvious. The worst part for me is that he treated his subject disingenuously and purported to convey the truth in a sensible manner, when in fact the documentary fulfilled the worst sense of Jean-Luc Godard's observation: "The cinema is the truth at 24 frames a second, and every cut is a lie."

Are these movies encouraging Christians filmmakers in Hollywood to rethink the relationship between their faith and art?

Dallas Jenkins: So often we say, "I don't want to make Christian movies," or "I don't want to be preachy." I hope our goal is to be reasoned, fair, and subtle in our art. Fighting a cultural or spiritual battle in entertainment may not be the calling of every Christian artist, but we must realize that the other side is fighting one, and they're fighting hard.

Those who reject traditional family structures, or Judeo-Christian values, are working very hard to use entertainment as a tool for their side. They've got money, and they're using it. They also have been working harder than Christians for the past 30 years, working their way up the studio system, learning their craft and perfecting it, and they're just as passionate as we are.

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I don't fault them for their passion or their work ethic. I don't complain about the fact that Hollywood is largely made up of those who disagree with my worldview. If anything, I'm inspired by it, and I hope to learn as much as I can from them. I don't know what my next 10 movies are going to look like, assuming God allows me to make them. But I do know that if I ever decide to make a film that is "specific" or "intentional" in its viewpoint, I have some extremely profitable and successful movies to learn from.