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'We're Going to Have Our Own Spielbergs'

Christian film fest founder draws battle lines, wants to 'build an industry around faith'

"We're here to send a message to the world that we no longer want our children immersed in toxic media which is in opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ. Christian filmmaking is coming of age. Christian filmmaking is coming of age!"

So said Doug Phillips, organizer of the recent San Antonio (Texas) Independent Christian Film Festival, as reported by NPR.

The NPR piece quotes Phillips further: "I think we're going to see significant production houses that will be funding $200 million films done by Christians. We're going to have our own Steven Spielbergs. We're going to have our own filmmakers that can tell great stories, produce tremendous films, but they're going to be doing it with a Christian world view, and they're not going to be embarrassed about that."

The story also notes that Phillips told festival-goers "they were drawing the Maginot line in the culture wars."

I appreciate Phillips' passion for good content, but the feisty rhetoric about creating "our own" industry just doesn't sit well with me – especially with such militaristic imagery as a "Maginot line" (built to keep the enemy – in this case, Hollywood – at bay) and "culture wars." (NPR may have paraphrased Phillips by using those exact terms, but his meaning apparently came across that way.)

But why create "our own" industry? Why not get really good at the craft of filmmaking within an already well-oiled machine – aka, Hollywood – and make the movies there?

I love independent films, so I'm not saying that all movies should be made in Hollywood – by Christians or otherwise. Some of the best movies I've ever seen are indies.

But this talk of building "our own" industry, Hollywood be damned, doesn't seem right.

Festival-goers in San Antonio were apparently getting Phillips' message loud and clear:

"I don't think [Hollywood will] ever get it," said Becky Dorough from Kaufman, Texas. "They will try to mimic it, but you can't mimic Christ. They'll never get the love part. They'll never get the forgiveness. They don't get any of that because they don't think they need it."

Hmm, I wonder how our Hollywood friends Ralph Winter, Scott Derrickson, Ken Wales, Cory Edwards, and other believers in the industry feel when they read a quote like that: "They'll never get forgiveness." Oh really? These men are solid Christians, being salt and light in Tinseltown. And they definitely "get" forgiveness.

Nineteen-year-old John Robert Moore, whose film The Widow's Might won top prize at the San Antonio festival, has apparently already bought into the whole notion of a separate Christian industry.

"I think anything can be redeemed by the power of Jesus Christ. But I believe that the path [he] has set before us - which can be seen by the blessing he's put on this industry so far in this very short movement -? I think that is evidence for the fact that he wants us to work in an entirely new industry from the ground up."

Moore apparently shows a lot of promise as a filmmaker; to win the top prize – $101,000! – at a film fest is extraordinary. But he's already talking about "an entirely new industry." Who will be there to mentor him and show him the ropes? How can he become a Spielberg without a, um, Spielberg to mentor him? Did Spielberg – or any other great filmmaker – become great by staying away from those who do it best and learning on his own? No, he had great teachers along the way.

The San Antonio fest's official website includes this paragraph as part of its vision statement: "The fact is that America is discontent with Hollywood's negative, monopolistic stranglehold on film and culture. The humanistic religious worldview of Hollywood elites and their intense hatred for Christianity and the value system which it embodies has created a rift in American culture and profoundly damaged the American family. We intend to respond, not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting candles. Building a community of independent Christian filmmakers is one such candle."

There's no doubt that a lot of negative crap has come out of Hollywood, much of it anti-religious (and we're about to see more of it with Angels & Demons in May). Certainly, the city has plenty of "elites" who hold "humanistic" worldviews and even "hatred" for Christianity. Isn't that true of any business or industry? I'm sure a lot of plumbers are humanistic and hate Christianity, but if they're really good plumbers – and if I want to be a good plumber – then I want to learn how to plumb from them.

They say they "intend to respond, not by cursing the darkness, but by lighting candles." A hearty amen for lighting candles, but what's the point if those candles aren't burning IN the dark areas? Why light candles in the church and in the Christian community – and, indeed, in a "separate" film industry – where there's already light? Some of the candles should be going to Hollywood, not running away from it.

There are a lot of comments at the end of the NPR article, and a lot of feisty words. But this comment especially struck me: "I am a non-Christian. Some of my favorite works of art: Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales, most sacred choral music, sacred painting and architecture from the European middle ages and the Renaissance. The message in these works is explicitly, didactically Christian. However, I enjoy the many aspects of these works that have significance and beauty beyond the religious focus. What's more, there are many universal truths and useful lessons that any person of intelligence may glean and apply."

So true.

Christians don't need their "own" movie industry. Yes, Christians should make indie films, and make them really, really good. Keep honing the craft, improving the art, and telling the best stories – but learn how to do those things from the best in the business, not by creating a Christian-ese ghetto that only preaches to the choir.

That's my 2 cents, anyway. What do you think?

UPDATE: Hat tip to Jeffrey Overstreet, who reminds me that this isn't the first time this topic has been discussed at CT.

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