Faith in Reel-Time

“Stone wall! Stone wall!” shouts Alex Kendrick as he exhorts his exhausted football team to finish strong and to prepare their defense with the passion and perseverance of Nehemiah rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. Cameras are rolling for the pivotal scene in the movie Facing the Giants. The crew and cast have been shooting for almost six weeks, and all these people, except for five professionals, are members of Sherwood Baptist Church, working as volunteers.1


In 2002, media pastor Alex Kendrick read a George Barna report citing cinema as most influential with the present generation, and soon he felt called to the ministry of Christian film. Prepared to leave his church staff post if necessary, he approached his senior pastor, Michael Catt, who caught his vision and became convinced that Sherwood Baptist could use movies to “reach the world from Albany, Georgia”2—so Sherwood Pictures was formed.3


Alex and his brother Stephen turned to their church’s own experiences for plot material: A football team roused to victory by revival; an infertile couple who had two children after relinquishing their childlessness to God; a school who bought a car for their football coach.4 Kendrick explained that the film was about surrendering to God what was seemingly impossible and that shooting the film reflected this belief. Thus no camera was aimed or line rehearsed without prayer. Some thought Kendrick was crazy: Film students in New York and L.A. have movies gathering dust. What made Kendrick believe that this film could gain visibility? His response: With God all things are possible. And none of what happened with the film makes sense except that God got involved.5


They wanted to use a song from the popular Christian group, Third Day, so, for permission, they contacted Third Day’s label, Provident Music. At first, they refused with the blanket statement that churches were incapable of making movies. In the end, Provident agreed to conduct a routine viewing. After the president and his entire staff screened the film, Provident told Sherwood that they could use whatever music they desired and asked their permission to send the film to their parent company, Sony, which picked up the film under Samuel Goldwyn Pictures. “We never knocked on Sony’s door. We prayed and asked God if he would do this, and he did!”6


For Kendrick, writing, directing, acting, and editing this movie was remindful of the disciple Peter’s stepping out of his boat and walking on water. The enormity of it overwhelmed him, but he and the church prayed continually. It was this complete reliance on God that Kendrick believes made it work. In its eighth week of public screening, 715 people wrote Kendrick to say that they had committed their lives to Christ after seeing the movie, and thousands more wrote that their lives had been changed. In theaters for 16 weeks, Facing the Giants, a movie with a $100,000 budget, grossed over $10 million.7


Kendrick reflected, “We had this desire to use the medium to reach people. Basically, we took the view that Jesus would go out to the marketplaces, to the seashores, to the synagogues, and he would tell parables and stories to engage the people and then present truth to them.” So Sherwood followed His lead as they understood it, and perhaps they will inspire other churches and small, independent, Christian filmmakers to join them in this form of witness. Certainly, there is no shortage of secular Goliaths in the land; giants that God’s people might face by means of film.


Of course, none of this should divert church attention from the centrality of the preached Word. There is no substitute for the pulpit proclamation of the gospel. But there is no good reason to suppose that God has limited His Church’s communication to homiletics or that He would have the Church neglect the artistic giftedness of her saints in spreading His whole counsel to the world.




Footnotes:

1 “About the Film: Behind the Scenes,” Facing the Giants Website, http:// www.facingthegiants.com/dvdabout_bts.php (accessed April 11, 2007). Sherwood Baptist Church is located in Albany, Georgia, USA. The five professionals included a cinematographer, a sound person, and a lighting expert. They used high-definition video that was edited on a PowerMac G5 before being transferred to film. The film was shot entirely in and around Albany, and the cast often used their own clothes as costumes.

2 “Trailers, Clips & More: Videoclips,” Facing the Giants Website, http:// www.facingthegiants.com/dvdmedia.php (accessed April 11, 2007). Alex Kendrick thought he would have to quit his job as associate pastor, but Michael Catt asked him to stay on.

3 The Kendrick brothers wrote and produced another film for Sherwood Pictures called Flywheel, which was released in 2003. It premiered at the local Albany theater. It was sponsored by private supporters and made with a budget of $20,000. The movie can be downloaded for free at http://www.flywheelthemovie.com/.

4 Phil Boatwright, “The Most Inspiring Film You’ll See All Year: Facing the Giants,” Family Movie Review: Filmmaker Interviews, October 2006, http://preview.gospelcom.net/ interviews/kendrick.html (accessed April 12, 2007).

5 Alex Kendrick, Dr. Mark Newman, interviewed by Bob Crittenden, Faith Radio: Meeting House, October 27, 2006, reviewed as a Podcast, http:// www.faithbroadcasting.org/. Even “setbacks” fanned the flames of public interest. When the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) rated the film PG instead of G for “thematic elements,” Kendrick did not object, thinking it was due to the topic of infertility. However, both Sony and Provident called MPAA, asking for clarification. The MPAA said it was due to the film's advocacy of Christianity. Kendrick, Provident, and Sony were floored, but Kendrick declined to appeal the rating. Still, a reporter picked up the story and interviewed him about it. Almost instantly, Good Morning, America, Fox News, CNN, and Time magazine were seeking a word from Kendrick. Then the American Family Association heard about it and encouraged Christians to email the MPAA demanding a change—and over 140,000 sent messages to the rating board. Under pressure, the MPAA changed their story, with a new version appearing in the Los Angeles Times. Congressman Roy Blunt joined the chorus of the indignant, and, in the end, Sherwood Pictures received a massive amount of free advertising. See Alex Kendrick, “Interview: Facing the Critics,” by Mark Moring, Christianity Today Website, September 26, 2006, http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/interviews/alexkendrick.html (accessed April 11, 2007).

6 Kendrick and Newman, Ibid.

7 A pressing (and valid) question among Christian circles has been, “Just what will Alex Kendrick do with all that money?” The majority of it will go towards investing in Sherwood Pictures’ artistic craft and Kendrick’s movie ministry. The other portion will go towards the local Albany community, where construction has already begun on a sports park. See Michael Foust, “‘Facing the Giants' Tops $10 Million at Box Office ahead of DVD Release,” Baptist Press, December 29, 2006, http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?ID=24684 (accessed April 12, 2007).


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