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Twenty months after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” took the nation’s box office by storm, what progress have conservatives actually made in challenging liberal hegemony in Hollywood? Is it any easier today for a conservative-themed film to make its way down the studio pipeline than it was in early 2004?
The answer to this question must be a resounding ‘no.’ Based on projects recently greenlit by the major studios - including a host of films openly dismissive of the War on Terror - one might argue that Hollywood is drifting even further left than it was in 2004, when films like “Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Day After Tomorrow” or “The Manchurian Candidate” were released. Forthcoming studio films like “V For Vendetta,” “Syriana” or even Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” appear to question both the efficacy and the legitimacy of our current struggle against terrorism.
Frustrating as this may be, however, none of this should be cause for despair. If the studio system remains largely a vehicle for the liberal worldview, conservatives are nonetheless making a new niche for themselves in the world of independent filmmaking.
This is hardly surprising. Take the example of “The Passion.” Because it came packaged with a star actor (Jim Caviezel) and star director (Mel Gibson), many people forget that “The Passion” was an independent film, financed by Gibson himself. “The Passion” was spurned by major studio distributors until it was acquired by independent distributor Newmarket Films - which no longer even exists, having been absorbed into the Time-Warner empire.
Lacking Gibson’s fame and fortune, most conservative filmmakers face even more serious finance and distribution challenges. What they lack in resources, however, these new filmmakers make up with vision, feistiness, and a hunger for truth.
As co-director of the upcoming Liberty Film Festival (October 21-23 in West Hollywood), I’ve had the chance to watch countless films submitted by conservative filmmakers from around the country and around the world. A few trends were obvious: working on low budgets, conservatives are taking to documentaries like fishes to water - and are also embracing digital technology at a faster rate than mainstream Hollywood.
First-time filmmakers Nina May and Tricia Erickson, for example, wanted to tell the story of how many black Americans found their home in the Republican Party in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, all the way down through the 1950’s. To tell this largely forgotten story they interviewed black intellectuals like Shelby Steele, Deroy Murdock and Armstrong Williams - and important witnesses like Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, and Gloria Jackson, a descendant of Booker T.
Washington. The resulting film, “Emancipation, Revelation, Revolution,”
tells an almost shocking tale of how the modern Democratic Party has worked to keep black Americans on a liberal ‘plantation,’ ignorant of their own history.
Meanwhile another first-time filmmaker, Mercedes Maharis, decided to pick up a video camera and begin documenting the corrosive, demoralizing effect of illegal immigration on her border community of Cochise County, Arizona. Her film, “Cochise County, USA: Cries From the Border,” vividly captures the tragedy of illegal border crossings for migrants and Americans alike. Neither abstract nor preachy, “Cochise County” simply depicts the sights and sounds of this ongoing crisis, even featuring footage of actual border crossings.
Perhaps most novel, though, are the efforts of Marine Seargant Kc Wayland, another first-time filmmaker and an Iraq war veteran. Wayland’s “365 Boots on the Ground” documents his year-long tour of duty in Iraq, from recruitment through deployment to his return home. This absorbing, first-person account (shot in part with a helmet-cam) shows the lives of Marines in Iraq, from their daily routines, to humorous and heartwarming encounters with Iraqis, to shocking outbreaks of terrorist violence.
Films of this type are more true to the spirit of independent filmmaking than most studio-distributed ‘independent’ films of today. Some other examples among this new wave of documentaries include Ron Silver’s sobering critique of the UN (“Broken Promises”), Stuart Browning and Blaine Greenberg’s witty look at Canadian healthcare (“Dead Meat”), Evan Maloney’s irreverent take on political correctness in academia (“Brainwashing 201”), and ProtestWarrior’s Kfir Alfia and Alan Lipton’s political and spiritual odyssey through modern Israel, “Entering Zion.”
Still more encouraging, though, are developments overseas.
For example, noted Kurdish/Iraqi filmmaker Jano Rosebiani recently sponsored the First Short Film Festival in free Iraq, after decades in which moviemaking had been suppressed under Saddam Hussein. Rosebiani paired young Kurdish and Iraqi filmmakers with trained professionals and digital technology to produce a series of anti-terror, pro-democratic short films presently touring Iraq. We’ll be showing these films for the first time outside Iraq on October 22nd at the Liberty Film Festival.
These sorts of independent, do-it-yourself developments are far more encouraging than any star-laden, expensive projects rumbling their way down the studio pipeline. Why? Although Hollywood is honeycombed with conservatives at all levels, most of these ‘closeted’ conservatives - having careers to protect and bills to pay - have little incentive to rock the boat. Having been rewarded by Hollywood for keeping their silence, very few such stars or executives are likely to become agents of change.
Nor should conservatives expect that ‘market forces’ will press Hollywood to change its prevailing ideology. Being owned by larger media conglomerates, most Hollywood studios can afford to lose astonishing amounts of money on left-leaning films without blinking an eye. For example, Oliver Stone’s revisionist epic “Alexander” lost Warner Brothers untold millions of dollars; he was promptly rewarded with the first major studio film about 9/11.
If conservatives want a voice in film, they’ll have to claim it the way so many scrappy, low-budget filmmakers are doing it today: without budgets, without stars, with the prospect of only limited distribution - but with a consuming passion for the truth. Eventually - when the budgets, stars and distribution come - conservatives will be able to expand beyond documentary films and move into narratives. And then conservatives will have a major impact.
Until then, they’ll need to be truly ‘independent,’ resourceful and unafraid
- which is what conservatism teaches us in the first place.
Jason Apuzzo is Co-Director of The Liberty Film Festival and editor of the conservative film blog LIBERTAS.
By Dr. Tony Beam
The ballyhoo over this year’s Academy Awards show might boost the television ratings but it will do little to resurrect three of the films' bad box office numbers. Of course, the Academy of Arts and Sciences might be willing this year to trade ratings numbers for box office receipts. Last year’s Oscar awards drew their lowest rating in history with an estimated 32 million viewers. In fact, according to Nielson Media Research the highest-rated Oscar telecast of the past five years was 2004, when The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King won best picture. That might be due to the fact that people actually went to the theaters to see the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and were therefore interested in finding out if the Academy agreed with their assessment of what makes for great theater.
Not so this year…the combined box office receipts for the five films nominated for best picture is around $300 million. That’s about 57% of The Dark Knight’s box office take. And if you take out Slumdog Millionaire (which grossed $86,696,000) and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which grossed $122,276,000) you have a total box office Oscar meltdown with the three remaining nominees accounting for a paltry $61,954,000. In Hollywood terms, that is considered chump change.
So…why does Hollywood keep patting itself on the back for movies very few people want to see? A look at the nominees for best picture since 2004 reveals a Hollywood elite that is pushing a view of America that Americans are not interested in viewing. In 2005, moviegoers were asked to endure the trashing of the American cowboy and the glorification of homosexual attraction in the forgettable Brokeback Mountain. They were asked to enter into the twisted mind of narcissistic, self-serving Truman Capote. As you might imagine, most people decided it wasn’t worth the price of a movie ticket to watch someone self-destruct in a cesspool of homosexual decadence, lies, and blind ambition. A majority of the movie-going public came to the same sane conclusion about the eventual Oscar winner for 2005. Crash was billed as a movie that takes on racial stereotypes. It comes off as a movie that makes everything a racial stereotype and totally confuses the idea of good and bad. The rapid-fire profanity and vulgar sex scenes make Crash a perfect Oscar winner for best picture as it perfectly presents what Hollywood thinks Americans should become. Thankfully, the vast majority of Americans were willing to let Crash live up to its name at the box office.
This year’s nominees again represent a thumb in the eye and a thumbing of the nose to the majority of the movie-going public. Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly homosexual to win a major elected office in the United States. Harvey celebrates his 40th birthday by sleeping with a man he meets on a New York subway platform. He and his partner decide to move to the Castro district of San Francisco where Harvey, after losing multiple races for city supervisor and one run for the state assembly, wins a city supervisor seat only to be gunned down by fellow supervisor Dan White.
As you might imagine, Harvey Milk is considered a hero and a martyr in the homosexual community. The movie about his life portrays Christians as bigoted villains because they believe homosexuality is a sin and a threat to the traditional family values that have endured for centuries and have helped shape our culture.
Sean Penn, who won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, used his acceptance speech to take a shot at the people of California who voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage. Penn said, “I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren’s eyes if they continue that way of support.”
Granted, the big winner on Oscar night was Slumdog Millionaire. Taking home eight Oscars including best picture, it was a box office success and a sentimental favorite. The other Oscar nominee with box office clout, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button can thank star power more than story content for its success. While director David Fincher deals thoughtfully with the concept of death by creatively approaching it from the end and working toward the beginning, his treatment of sexual morality in the film should have ended before the beginning.
If this year’s Oscar nominated films is any indication of how Hollywood sees mainstream America, it appears the two will be out of step for the foreseeable future. Hollywood would rather make movies that, for the most part, go unseen and then pat themselves on the back for presenting their vision of what America should be. As least for now, most Americans don’t want to spend their hard earned money to see the values they hold dear trashed on the sliver screen.
I agree with John Podhoretz, who wrote a review of the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop that appeared in the February 23rd edition of The Weekly Standard. He noted the shock in Hollywood over the success ($100 million at the box office so far) of a movie Variety dismissed as, “an almost shockingly amateurish one-note-joke.” Podhoretz said, “It seems clear that audiences have been hungering for a comedy that doesn’t force them to cover their own eyes in discomfort, their children’s eyes in embarrassment, or their grandmother’s eyes in shame.”
Maybe if we all hunger for the same, Hollywood will eventually change the menu.
By Rebecca Hagelin
If you’re a parent, you know what a challenge it is to monitor your children’s media habits. Frankly, you need all the help you can get.
But because your children need guidance, you know you have to step in — no matter how time-strapped you are. So before they go to a movie, you check out the Dove Foundation’s Web site [www.dove.org] to get a detailed review of the film — and find out how family-friendly it really is (or, more often than not, isn’t). Before they watch that hot new TV show, you hop over to the Parents Television Council’s site [www.parentstv.org] to see if it’s worth tuning in. And if they want to buy or rent a new video game, you pull up the Plain Games site [www.plaingames.com] for some guidance.
Wouldn’t it be a real time-saver, though, if everything could be on one site? Well, I have some good news for you: Now it is. Family Entertainment Central [www.FamilyEntertainmentCentral.org] is up and running — a veritable one-stop shopping mall for all the reviews and articles you need to make anxiety-free media choices for your children. It links to the three great sites I just cited, with the latest releases in each area front and center for busy parents.
Take the new Denzel Washington film, The Great Debaters. You may have heard that it’s the true story of Melvin Tolson, a professor at Wiley College in Texas in the 1930s. He inspired his students to form the school’s first debate team, which eventually took on Harvard University in the national championship. Sounds like a refreshing change from the usual parade of gunplay and special effects, doesn’t it?
But before heading to the multiplex with your 13-year-old, look at Dove’s review. Yes, the movie emphasizes the importance of education, and it does have some spiritual scenes. But it also has “a very graphic scene of a hanging man, in addition to some strong language.” More details about both problem areas are included, as well as the fact that “an unmarried couple spend the night together” and there are “a couple of scenes in which a woman is groped.”
Now, it may well be that some parents would decide to head to this movie anyway with their daughter or son in tow. Others might preview it for themselves, either in the theater or once it’s out on DVD. But isn’t it better to have been forewarned, no matter what you choose to do? That’s really what Family Entertainment Central is for — to give parents the information they need to make the best media decisions for their children.
Consider the review for another film that’s now in theaters, The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep.” Given the positive word of mouth surrounding this PG-rated adventure, I was surprised to see that it lacked the Dove seal of approval for families. The review itself is almost uniformly positive. But there’s one area where the film falls short: language. Specifically, the Lord’s name is used in vain on two occasions. Armed with this information, some parents may decide not to go, but others who opt to take their family anyway could perhaps discuss this with their children ahead of time and stress the importance of using our Lord’s name appropriately.
Beyond reviews of the current movie, TV and video game releases, FEC also provides entertainment news and commentaries to suggest ways to help improve the culture — and to keep you abreast of the latest trends.
Find out, for example, which video game has been banned in Britain for its “sustained, casual sadism.” Read why one New York newspaper columnist thinks that Nickelodeon should drop Jamie Lynn Spears from its “Zoey 101” show if the network truly “wants to be the safe haven it has always promised America’s parents.” And learn which two movie ratings have been adding up to box-office gold over the last year. (Hint: It’s not R, or even PG-13.)
I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t visit other Web sites as well to learn more about your family’s media choices. There are other good sites out there that can help you navigate the tricky waters of our modern culture — I’ve spotlighted many of them, in fact, in past columns. But what a help it is to have a parent-friendly site such as Family Entertainment Central. Do yourself, and your kids, a favor and bookmark it now. I can’t think of a better — or easier — way to ensure wholesome entertainment options in the years ahead.
The midterm elections this fall will feature young people born in 1992 — in other words, four years after Ronald Reagan left office. What do they know about this man?
It’s quite likely that many of them have been told of Reagan’s firm resolve to win the Cold War. But it’s also likely they haven’t learned about the Reagan budget policies that led to a historic economic recovery. Instead, liberal revisionists are working overtime to assign to the Gipper’s tax cut policies the blame for deficits on his watch. Given the disastrous performance of Barack Obama, it’s time to give this man a serious look once again.
Young Hollywood director and producer Ray Griggs has made a breezy and yet substantive documentary titled “I Want Your Money” that can educate young voters on the differences between Reaganomics and Obamanomics. Some might say that Griggs is trying to become the conservative Michael Moore, but that would be unfair, since Moore’s documentaries often depart from the classification of “nonfiction.” When Moore claims health care is better in Cuba than America, or that Iraq before the Iraq War was a placid kite-flying paradise under Saddam Hussein, serious filmmakers run from him.
Griggs is talking about a real, gripping American disaster: our trillion-dollar deficits under Obama and the ever-increasing weight of the national debt. Conservatives in this film are appalled by the loose spending of George W. Bush and Congress over the last decade, and correctly so. But they know Obama is making those deficit years look like a nursery-school exercise in overspending. What’s emerging now is tea party anger, of conservatives who’ve been pushed too hard for too long.
“I Want Your Money” is stuffed with weighty conservative experts — Steve Moore, Steve Forbes, Newt Gingrich, Ed Meese, Ken Blackwell and more. But perhaps the most affecting visuals are the old clips of Reagan, speaking so clearly about the perils of liberal profligacy. There is Reagan at the convention in Dallas in 1984 joking, “We could say they spend money like drunken sailors, but that would be unfair to drunken sailors ... because the sailors are spending their own money.”
It also has a “BS meter,” which goes berserk when Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims that the Democrats will pass the Obama agenda, including ObamaCare, with “no new deficit spending.”
The film not only discusses green-eyeshade budgeting, but the larger philosophical debate between capitalism and socialism. In an animated segment, the Reagan character lectures “Obama” about what kind of productivity you would get in a classroom if everyone was awarded the same grade, no matter how serious the effort: a dramatically reduced work effort from the productive people, while the lazy students would forever be lazy.
It exposes a real contrast between presidents. As experts point out in the film, Reagan used clarity to teach you about the real world. Obama uses eloquence to hide what he’s doing because if his real agenda became clear, as it did with ObamaCare, it would be opposed by the majority.
Griggs found a very nice film clip of the late Nobel Prize-winning capitalist economist Milton Friedman speaking to a dark-haired Phil Donahue in 1979. Donahue proclaimed that capitalism was all about greed. Why, Friedman wondered, was it that political self-interest was so much nobler than economic self-interest? A voter born in 1992 has probably never witnessed Friedman’s television work, especially his “Free to Choose” documentary series (also in those paper-stuffed things called books). This kind of exposure could cause a rediscovery, just like this year’s new interest in Friedrich Hayek’s book “Road to Serfdom.”
So how will this film get into theaters, since it’s not one of those left-wing documentaries? A national effort is being organized by Motive Entertainment, the company that promoted the grassroots campaigns for “The Passion of the Christ” and the first “Chronicles of Narnia” movie. In mid-September, they’ll begin organizing private screenings to celebrate Constitution Day on Sept. 17. From there, organizers will prepare for an Oct. 15 theatrical launch in more than 500 theaters from coast to coast.
But this campaign to show box-office appeal won’t be successful without the same grassroots energy that mobilized the tea party protests. The movie trailer on YouTube has more than 2 million page views. If everyone who watched the trailer would turn out for the whole movie, then theater owners would have no choice but to take notice.
Perhaps, then, Americans will laugh when news anchors (like CNN’s Rick Sanchez) try to describe Obama’s campaign speeches as “Reaganesque.” We can’t even find a Republican who has fully earned that grand adjective, and it certainly doesn’t fit the socialist blather of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Would you ever make a movie? I’m not talking about a YouTube upload that you and your friends filmed with your cell phone…I mean a real movie. If so, what would you do?
In this film publicity image released by 20th Century Fox, the character Neytiri, voiced by Zoe Saldana, right, and the character Jake, voiced by Sam Worthington are shown in a scene from, ‘Avatar.’
Let’s take it a step further. What if you had pretty much unlimited time, equipment, and cash? That’s the situation James Cameron found himself in a few years back, and the result is the visually stunning sci-fi cowboys and Indians movie called Avatar.
And when I say he had money, I mean he had bank. Cost estimates for Avatar run between 300 million to half a BILLION dollars. With that insane amount of money that dwarfs the gross domestic product of over a third of this planet, you better create an out-of-this-world place that rocks.
And James Cameron did that with Avatar. Don’t expect any dialogue that would make Shakespeare nervous (i.e. “You are not in Kansas anymore. You are on Pandora, ladies and gentlemen” …wow …just, wow).
But do anticipate the 3-D cinematic equivalent of a 162-minute roller coaster ride that will leave you wishing for another round of Avatar.
By the way, do you know what “avatar” means? No, not “freaky blue creature that looks like a misshapen cousin of Jar-Jar Binks.” It actually comes from the Hindu religion, meaning,
The descent of a deity to the earth in an incarnate form or some manifest shape; the incarnation of a god. (www.dictionary.reference.com)
It’s interesting, isn’t it, that this movie was released around Christmas? Because at the heart of this holiday is the shocking, amazing, and breathtaking truth that the true Creator, Jesus, became the real incarnation of the deity to earth:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
No one has ever seen God, but God’s one and only Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known (John 1:1-3; 14; 18).
Think about it…the eternal and all-powerful God wrapped Himself in human flesh to live on the planet He created and dwell with the inhabitants He formed from the dust of the ground.
In the film Avatar, the main character named Jake links with his own avatar so he can infiltrate the “Na’vi” creatures. But the God of the universe, named Yahweh, incarnated Himself as Jesus so He could accomplish the most important mission of all time:
“Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
As the Christian band 4Him says, “That’s such a strange way to save the world.” What a wild idea that God would step down from the throne of heaven and allow himself to be subjected to life in this evil and fallen world…and for what?
To die. The only way to save us from an eternity separated from God was for God Himself to pay the penalty for all our wrongdoing. And the only way for God to die was to take on humanity.
Jesus came into our world as a visitor to accomplish His salvation mission. He lived a perfect life and died a horrible death so we could have hope here on Earth and a glorious eternity in heaven.
So this Christmas, remember that the scene of Jesus lying in a manger has the dark shadow of the Cross in the background, but behind the Cross is the doorway to heaven, open to anyone willing to trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
If that doesn’t rock your world, I’m not sure what could!
Flashpoint: Ignite into Action
Talk to your friends about the movie Avatar and transition into what the word avatar means. Explain that Jesus really was the incarnation of the deity into human form and that He came to save humankind. What a great opportunity to explain God’s incredible plan of salvation!
By Russell D. Moore
If you can get a theater full of people in Kentucky to stand and applaud the defeat of their country in war, then you’ve got some amazing special effects.
I just left opening night of James Cameron’s gazillion-dollar epic film Avatar. The reviews were right. The plot is laughably cliched. And the special effects are the most jaw-dropping you’ve ever seen. What I wasn’t quite ready for was the preachiness of the propaganda.
The medium was George Lucas; the message Che Guevara. At one point in the movie, Southern Seminary student Daniel Patterson turned to me and said, “This is Perelandra meets Jurassic Park.” Yes, and then it became Rambo… in reverse.
First of all, from the preemptive war talk to the “blood for oil” theme to the napalm in the jungles to the “shock and awe,” the film couldn’t have been less nuanced. The American military was pure evil, while the Pandoran tribespeople were nature-loving, eco-harmonious, wise Braveheart smurf warriors.
Now, when it comes to issues of war and peace, I don’t mind a message to the movie. American citizens can and do disagree about whether Vietnam or the Iraq War were right. Christians disagree about whether these wars were just (and many would argue they were just but unwise).
Some who believe the wars were warranted and just still oppose some of the tactics used. And most who oppose going to war in some of these places, still hope for their country to win those wars once they’re entered.
For this film, there was no argument here, no appeal, no real narrative though. Just propaganda mediated through some “shock and awe” technology.
And in the end, a group of people (including some, I’m sure, who love the counter-propaganda on their local country music station about such things) stood and applauded as the “wicked” U.S. military went down, quite literally, in flames.
Of course, James Cameron is the same man whose moving images and music caused theaters full of “family values” Christians to tear up and cheer two teenagers fornicating in an abandoned car on the RMS Titanic.
Despite my eye-rolling here, I’m not really all that bothered. Propaganda isn’t dangerous, after all, when we know it’s propaganda.
Still, movies of all sort ought to remind us of the power of images, and what they can lead us to think and feel. Wonder how much propaganda we’re latching on to without ever even knowing it’s there?
The first full-length movie starring Christian songstress Rebecca St. James hit stores across the nation Tuesday and has been lauded for the powerful message it delivers.
“Sarah’s Choice,” a straight-to-DVD flick that features St. James in her first leading role, centers on the life of Sarah Collins (St. James), a young, unmarried junior account executive at a major advertising agency who becomes pregnant while climbing the ladder of success.
Though her friends and co-workers insist that she has the right to choose a path that offers a successful career and seemingly unlimited material rewards, Collins comes to consider another choice following a series of nightly visions and the words of a mysterious stranger.
Though it should come as no surprise that the message contained in “Sarah’s Choice” is a pro-life one, St. James says the movie is also “all about choice.”
And making the “choice,” St. James acknowledged, can be difficult – even for Christians.
“I think the biggest thing the film imparted to me-both in researching the role and in portraying the character-was a real sense of empathy for women who find themselves in the situation my character found herself in,” St. James commented ahead of the film’s release.
“My heart goes out to them as I have seen the extreme amount of pressure and fear that can come from outside sources at a vulnerable time such as this,” she added.
Still, in filming for the movie, St. James said she pulled away with a “real passion” to make a positive impact with the message of God’s heart for the unborn.
“Too often, young women choose abortion and subsequently suffer the immeasurable pain that often comes with living with regret and guilt,” she noted.
St. James is hoping that the pro-life message in “Sarah’s Choice” will help young women to choose “life” as the decision of choice in unplanned pregnancy. And she feels the movie holds the promise of doing so.
“Sarah’s Choice” is being released by Pure Flix Entertainment and also stars comedian Brad Stine, Charlene Tilton (Problem Child 2), Dick Van Patten (That 70’s Show, Arrested Development), and Staci Keanan (Step By Step, My Two Dads).
“Ratatouille,” “Bella” and “Amazing Grace” were among the top movies of 2007 named at a recent ceremony honoring films that increase people’s understanding and love of God.
The best 10 movies in the families and mature audiences categories were announced Tuesday at the 16th Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala, held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Winners were selected by Christian Film & Television Commission, which awards movies based on Biblical principles and positive family values. The event was introduced by the organization in 1992 and has since been likened to the “Christian Oscars.”
Tuesday’s event was hosted by Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of Movieguide and movieguide.org, a Christian-based website that ranks movies. Baehr also chairs the Christian Film & Television Commission.
One of the highlights of the awards ceremony was the announcement of winners to the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Prize, an award of $50,000 for God-honoring films and television programs.
“Amazing Grace,” which tells the story of antislavery pioneer William Wilberforce and his long fight to abolish the slave trade in the British empire, won the Epiphany prize in the film category and was named the Most Inspiring Movie of 2007. The historical drama from Samuel Goldwyn Films beat out other nominees including “Bella,” “I Am Legend” and “Spider-Man 3” among others.
The movie also topped the list of 10 best movies of 2007 for mature audiences. Additionally, the film has earned high praises among evangelical circles for bringing awareness to Wilberforce, a devout Christian whose faith played a significant role in his cause.
“Valley of Light,” a Hallmark Hall of Fame production about homeless World War II veteran Noah Locke, played by actor Chris Klein, took home the Epiphany prize for the television category.
“The Epiphany Prizes are intended to encourage spiritual wisdom, knowledge and growth,” said Baehr, according to The Bulletin. “We hope that by honoring these movies and television programs, millions of people will be uplifted and inspired.”
Mexican actor Eduardo Verastegui was named the best actor for his role in the 2006 movie “Bella,” beating out Alice Braga of “I Am Legend,” Albert Finney and Ioan Gruffudd of “Amazing Grace,” and Forest Whitaker of “The Great Debaters.” In the film, Verastegui plays a character whose rising soccer career comes to an abrupt end through horrible tragedy. He later finds renewal and atonement through helping an unexpectedly pregnant waitress he befriends while living in New York.
“Bella,” which has been praised for its pro-life message, won the Faith and Freedom Award for Promoting Positive American Values in 2007.
“Ratatouille,” the animated film from Walt Disney Pictures, was named number one on the list of the 10 best family films of 2007.
The Grace Award for Most Inspirational Television Acting in 2007 went to Bailee Madison and Abigail Mason of “Saving Sarah Cain.”
The ceremony also awarded three levels of screenwriters with prizes from the John Templeton Foundation.
Winners for the best 2007 movies are listed below:
The 10 Best 2007 Movies for Families:
3. “Alvin and the Chipmunks”
5. “The Game Plan”
6. “In the Shadow of the Moon”
7. “Shrek the Third”
8. “The Ultimate Gift”
9. “Nancy Drew”
10. “Bridge to Terabithia”
The 10 Best 2007 Movies for Mature Audiences:
1. “Amazing Grace”
2. “August Rush”
3. “Spider-Man 3”
4. “I Am Legend”
6. “The Great Debaters”
7. “The Astronaut Farmer”
10. “Live Free or Die Hard”
By Rebecca Hagelin
Rarely am I so taken by the beauty and power of a movie that I want everyone I know to see it. “Bella” is a film you must see.
The story (I won’t reveal too much, because I don’t want to spoil it for you) concerns a young soccer star whose career is abruptly cut short. He winds up working in his brother’s restaurant in New York City, where he befriends a struggling waitress. The story is rich in messages of redemption, friendship, sacrifice and hope. No wonder the Hollywood crowd is beginning to cut it to shreds.
“Bella” isn’t for the little ones. It deals with mature themes (and is rated PG-13) revolving around a fatal car accident, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and the subjects of abortion and adoption. But in a refreshing break from the status quo, “Bella” handles these topics in a moral and uplifting way.
The film is full of all the right messages about the character qualities that everyone should applaud — honesty, devotion, family commitment, courage. It’s a masterpiece of cinematography, writing and acting. Director Alejandro Monteverde, and the outstanding actors Eduardo Verastegui and Tammy Blanchard, deliver the “feel good” movie of the year. The executive producer is Steve McEveety, producer of such blockbusters as “The Passion of the Christ,” the top-grossing R-rated film of all time, and the amazing “Braveheart.” I’m so impressed with the values, quality and message of Bella that I’m personally buying tickets for our high-school youth group.
Such a movie is all but verboten in Hollywood these days, with directors and producers competing to see who can come up with something “dark” and disturbing. Even a lot of “kid” films are filled with needless grotesque humor, sexualized images and smirking references. That’s certainly not the case with “Bella” — which is all the more reason you should make a point of seeing it this weekend. This wonderful film has done very well at the box office during its first few weeks, but this weekend is critical if it is to survive through the blockbuster movie-going Thanksgiving weekend. Any films that don’t do well this weekend will be pulled from the theaters.
As you might expect, elitist movie reviewers have already been working to ensure that “Bella” gets overlooked, despite the fact that this film won the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival, one of the industry’s most important honors. Some, it seems, are even working overtime to make sure no one sees “Bella” — its messages are too reflective of a worldview where people actually sacrifice for each other, find fulfillment in caring, and feel the joy of redemption.
The New York Times, for instance, calls it a “saccharine trifle.” The Detroit News says it’s as “simple-minded, heavy-handed and as subtle as a gorilla in a tutu.” Desson Thomson of The Washington Post tried a different tack. His review is titled “As Time Creeps By,” and it begins: “When you know, practically from the beginning, what’s going to happen at the end of a movie, what do you do with your time in between? Offer to buy everyone in the theater popcorn while you sit this thing out? Check cell phone messages? Catch up on lost sleep?” Which prompts me to ask: Did he wander into the wrong theater? Everyone I know who has seen the movie was completely swept up in the mystery and brilliance of this marvelous film. (READER NOTE: Usually, when The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Detroit News trash a moral movie, it’s code that you should go see it.)
Contrast these malicious reviews with others, and you see how determined some are to kill this life-changing film. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Mack Bates, for example, wrote: “This is, first and foremost, an actors’ showcase, and the entire ensemble delivers,” and Roger Ebert said it’s a “heart-tugger with the confidence not to tug too hard.”
The reviewer for The New York Times, interestingly, makes some surprising admissions in his negative account — noting, for example, that “Bella” has a “bear-hugging embrace of sweetness and light” and that “the response to it suggests how desperate some people are for an urban fairy tale with a happy ending.” The response he refers to, of course, is the popularity of this magical film. It’s sad that this professional film critic has become so numbed by the drivel and cultural sewage produced en masse by the entertainment industry that he doesn’t understand average Americans are crying out for media that offers “sweetness,” “light” and happy endings.
That’s why we need to vote with our feet — and fill every seat of every showing of “Bella” this weekend. Go to bellathemovie.com/theater/ and see where it’s playing in your area, and take as many people as you can. In fact, you can do even more: Go to helpbella.com and “adopt” a theater as a fundraiser or event. With enough word of mouth, we might even be able to make it the top film going into the Thanksgiving weekend.
Don’t wait for the DVD, folks (although you should buy that, too, when it comes out). Go to see “Bella” on the big screen this weekend. Let’s get America to sit up and take notice.
Christian filmmakers ended Wednesday a three-day training event at which they discussed their belief that Walt Disney Co. has strayed from its founder’s family-friendly legacy.
On the first day, speakers from the Christian Filmmakers Academy told a group of aspiring Christian filmmakers gathered in San Antonio, Texas, how Disney’s “lack of discernment” has fashioned the media conglomerate into “an engine of cultural decline after Walt’s death.”
“What we really see is a decline in the ethics and standards of where [Walt] Disney was coming from,” said academy founder Doug Phillips, according to Reuters.
“We are making the case that there is a departure toward politically correct filmmaking that has a negative effect on family,” he added.
In the past, Phillips acknowledged that while Disney has communicated the cultural elements of “historical Christendom,” it has also contributed to the “‘cute-ification’ evil through his clever portrayal and glorification of witchcraft and necromancy.”
Over the past decade, Disney has come under increased scrutiny by Christians for its anti-family media.
Back in 1996, Evangelicals and conservative Christians were concerned over a Disney policy extending employment benefits to homosexuals, “Gay Days” at the company’s theme parks, and anti-religious movies released through its subsidiary Miramax.
According to Reuters, the groups objected to films like “Priest,” “Dogma,” and “Pulp Fiction.”
The American Family Association, a pro-family group, called for a boycott on Disney that did not end until 2005.
The Southern Baptist Convention followed suit in 1997 and adopted a resolution to boycott Disney for not reversing its “anti-Christian and anti-family trend.” The Convention ended the boycott in 2005, but passed a resolution calling on the entertainment giant to offer films and other products that support “traditional family values.”
Last week, Radio Disney came under fire after it asked Christian movie producers to remove the phrase “Chosen by God” from radio ads for the recently released movie The Ten Commandments.
“Young filmmakers need to understand that they carry heavy responsibilities,” academy faculty member Geoffrey Botkin had expressed in a released statement.
“Their productions will influence and even change cultures,” he continued. “They must be far more careful than the young Disney to manage their gifts, talents, resources, and content. There are lessons from his legacy they must know.”
Amazing Grace: The William Wilberforce Story, which premiered this past Friday ranked number 10 at the box office its opening weekend.
The film, which tells the story of Britain’s great abolitionist, raked in $4.05 million while the number one movie, Ghost Rider, took in more than $20 million.
On a per-theater average, however, Amazing Grace came in third among the top twenty movies. Amazing Grace only opened in 791 theaters compared to the other top 10 movies which were viewed in any where from 2,000 to 3,000 theatres.
Many anticipated that the movie would reach a large audience to create awareness on Wilberforce’s deeds as well the modern day slave trade. The success of the film’s opening box office results is being argued.
The film highlights the years of struggle that the British member of Parliament had in abolishing slavery across the empire. After being rejected numerous times and after losing much of his health, Wilberforce was finally able to end slavery - a feat which eventually affected the Americas as well.
The filmmaker, Michael Apted, wished to give credit to a man largely unheard of by the general population. Many are not aware that this battle against the slave trade began with Wilberforce.
In addition, the movie emphasizes the Christian faith that drove the evangelical politician’s abolition efforts.
However, many have criticized the film saying that is has taken out too much of the Christian message in favor of reaching a larger audience. Several also contend that its opening rank at the tenth spot is not that significant, and has negated the purpose for taking out much Christian content.
Still, others applaud the great humanitarian steps that Christians have taken to make an impact on the world.
“With Amazing Grace, modern evangelicals have an opportunity to remember the great cloud of witnesses that surround us – the brave and passionate Christians of generations past who worked tirelessly to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and free the enslaved,” said Ken Connor, Chairman of the Center for a Just Society, in a recent column.
Bristol Bay Productions, part of Walden Media who brought The Chronicles of Narnia to life, took the Wilberforce story to the big screen.
Amazing Grace is still playing nationwide in theatres and may have a broader distribution in the coming weeks.
The United States is the most deeply religious country in the western world, but movies and television programs are portraying a different picture, Christian media groups say.
Ever since the Protestant Film Office closed its advocacy offices in Hollywood in 1966, media portrayals of Christianity have become increasingly negative, even to the point where regular churchgoers seem almost nonexistent.
“Christians who are intelligent, educated, modern, sophisticated in modern urban America are nonexistent as far as modern television and movies are concerned,” the late Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries, said in a broadcast aired on the “Coral Ridge Hour” Sunday.
“If you go back 30 years or more, Christianity was almost always portrayed by Hollywood and the media in a very positive and affirming way,” Kennedy said. “Today, that is a rare exception.”
Dr. Ted Baehr created the Christian Film & Television Commission to redeem the values of mass media. He said that within six months of the Protestant Film Office shutting down in Hollywood, movies went from some of the greatest stories ever told such as “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins” to sex and Satanism.
“The head of 20th Century Fox ... said if you take the salt from the meat, the meat is going to rot,” Baehr noted in Sunday’s broadcast.
“And the meat rotted within three years,” he said of Hollywood films after the church pulled its office.
Most evangelicals agree and believe anti-Christian attitudes are increasing in the country. According to a Barna Group study in September 2007, 91% of the nation’s evangelicals believe that “Americans are becoming more hostile and negative toward Christianity.”
And media’s negative portrayals of Christianity have played a major role in influencing Americans’ views, Christian media leaders say.
The same Barna Group survey showed that 16- to 29-year-olds perceive Christianity more negatively than positively. Nine out of 12 perceptions of Christianity were negative, according to the study. Some of the negative views included Christianity being judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.
The answer to the anti-Christian barrage in media, bestselling author Randy Alcorn says, is not getting overly defensive but asking whether there is a balance.
“If a professing Christian is portrayed as being a hypocrite ... okay, well, that’s life. There are hypocritical Christians,” Alcorn said on the “Coral Ridge Hour.”
“But if that’s all you ever see and you see people who are sexual predators who are quoting the Bible ... in real life, how many sexual predators are quoting the Bible? And yet there have been several films where it’s been this person who appears to be scarred and really a perverted person because of a religious upbringing.”
Hollywood often argues that they’re just giving the public what it wants or that it’s reflecting what’s already out there in society, the Christian media leaders point out.
But what Americans want and what’s out there are rarely captured and put on the big screen, they contend.
Although about 40% of Americans go to church or synagogue every week, that is almost never seen on film, said Michael Medved, nationally syndicated conservative talk show host.
If Christians are portrayed in films, “what you tend to see is religious believers who are crooked or crazy or both – which appears very regularly in Hollywood film,” Medved noted.
What’s in the movies doesn’t give a complete picture of American life.
“There are other parts of life that could be reflected,” said the late Kennedy, “but they’re not.”
My husband used to work for a businessman who consistently made decisions that kept him in control, but cost him money. It quickly became obvious that he would rather lose money than surrender even the slightest bit of control of any aspect of the corporation, including the day-to-day operations. Just so, Hollywood consistently makes movies with a liberal ideological bias that guarantees a box office failure because they offend the sensibilities of the general public. This is true, despite the fact that the top-grossing movies are generally the ones with the broadest public appeal and cleanest content.
Sadly, the public’s choice often narrows down to a movie guaranteed to offend or one that will insult their intelligence — and sometimes a single movie will do both. Far too often, movies patronize the audience, disdain traditional values, and depict clean-cut citizens as stupid and naive. Regrettably, the assaults on values include mocking and stereotyping Christians as well as conservatives. Christian, “right-wing,” or patriotic Americans are consistently portrayed as hateful and mean-spirited. Jim Hubbard, head of the American Patriot Film Festival, says that Hollywood is “openly hostile to millions of Americans” and that “there’s a huge cultural gap between middle America and the Hollywood left.”
On the opposite side of the movie-producing coin is the bias that keeps the liberal establishment from promoting or rewarding the movies that bring in audiences and rack up profits. It has been obvious for years that Hollywood filmmakers would rather distribute a dud of a film with a liberal bias than promote a popular, money-making movie with conservative themes. Likewise, they would rather promote a movie that garners praise from like-minded critics rather than one that appeals to conservative values, even when a creative and clean movie would guarantee a blockbuster hit. But, as Govindini Murty wrote in an article published this past weekend by the Los Angeles Times, Hollywood’s “left-wing ideological rigidity is having a deadening effect on free speech and creativity.”
It’s like President Bush said in his convention speech before the 2004 elections, “If you say that the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, you are not the candidate of conservative values.”
Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, is a prime example of a conservative, Christian movie that Hollywood blackballed — both in production and in awards, even though it became a top box-office draw. Currently, War of the Worlds — a Tom Cruise movie — is a Hollywood favorite being promoted everywhere, yet it is a disappointment at the box office. Could be the public is not interested in paying good money to hear anti-American and anti-war diatribes; it’s bad enough to hear liberal polemics over television; to sit through it after paying to be entertained is another matter entirely.
Movie critic Ted Baehr points out that even a movie that is considered a box office failure, like Cinderella Man, a movie praised for its positive portrayal of family and Judeo-Christian values, has made more money than any other drama released by Hollywood this year; plus, it has made more money than four of the most popular of the year’s failures (Kingdom of Heaven, Fantastic Four, Bewitched and Land of the Dead).
We also hear about high-level Hollywood meetings wondering how to punch up audiences for events like the Academy Awards that used to be big draws, but have failed to attract large numbers of viewers in recent years. Could it be that audiences are tired of offensive liberal elites bashing everything they hold dear — patriotism, values, decency, dignity, clean entertainment and creative excellence? Could it be that clich’s, tired plots and repetitious diatribes about the U.S. — from the president to the military — are getting old? Could it be that Americans don’t think it is entertaining to have their values and beliefs trashed every time they go to the movies? Could it be that Americans agree with movie-critic Michael Medved’s description of Hollywood as “an alien force that assaults our most cherished values and corrupts our children”?
There might be a glimmer of hope in the newest movies lighting up the marquees this summer. Two immediately come to mind: Madagascar and Batman Begins. Conservative critics are praising both as creative, fun movies that promote values. Earlier movies, like Shrek 2 and The Incredibles, also were considered good choices for family entertainment. Hollywood’s family-values movies generally are children’s movies that the whole family can enjoy. I’ll join in the chorus of praise and be hopeful, too, when an adult drama with strong family values like Cinderella Man gets the box office take that it deserves.
Janice Crouse, Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, would rather read a good book than watch a movie.
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