Overthinking Faith-Based Films
Faith-based films enjoy something of a mixed reputation. Fans love them for representing their lives and their values, while their detractors critique them for their bad quality and lack of artistry.
Regardless, faith-based films are only growing in box office gains and critical reputation. So we are not likely to see them going away anytime soon.
I've had the opportunity to write quite a few articles about the faith-based film industry and faith-based filmmaking in general for various online publications. So I thought I would compile a bunch of them together for a rundown on my thoughts on faith-based filmmaking and the industry.
1. Where Are All The Great Christian Films?
2. What's the History of Faith-Based Films?
3. What Are Examples of Faith-Based Films Getting Better?
1. Where Are All the Great Christian Films?
Whether you're a Christian or not, chances are you know that Christian films have a reputation for being pretty bad. I grew up as a Christian and if there's one thing that I can say is that most of my friends and I were also always unsatisfied with the state of Christian filmmaking. I always loved the fact that it represented my faith onscreen but I always thought the quality left a lot to be desired. Why couldn't somebody make good movies that dealt with Christian topics or topics from a Christian perspective? It seemed like there was a deeper problem going on.
Last year a friend asked me to write down my thoughts on why Christian films were still struggling to achieve artistic greatness in the film space. The result was one of my most widely read articles ever. My argument was that Christian films can be broken down into three separate categories: Christian Industry Films, Christian Hollywood Films, and Christian Arthouse Films. All of these kinds of Christian films have different problems, but, ironically, they all have the same solutions.
Check it out at The Unexpected Journal.
2. Reel Redemption - An Interview With Tyler Smith
If you want to understand faith-based films, you need to know their history. Recently, film critic and podcaster Tyler Smith (of More Than One Lesson and Battleship Pretension) made a documentary called Reel Redemption that breaks down the history of American cinema's complicated relationship with faith and Christians in a clear and compelling way that is perfect for newcomers and experts alike. In the latter half of the film, Tyler dives deep into an analysis of the modern Christian filmmaking landscape in a way that is more nuanced and fair-minded than probably any other that I've seen.
I got a chance to interview him for the online magazine, Religion Unplugged. There, we talk about the history of faith-based films and the nuanced analysis that he has of the genre's strengths and weaknesses, as well as his hopes for the future.
Check it out here.
As for the documentary, it's streaming now on Faithlife TV. I don't care if you don't want another streaming service. Get the free trial for the service and watch this and cancel afterward if you have to. It's that good.
What Are Examples of Faith-Based Films Getting Better?
In the previous articles, both Tyler Smith and I talk about our hopes for the future of faith-based films. We both hope that faith-based films can have more nuance and depth. We both want faith-based films to reflect the truth of Christian truth and experience while also having artistic excellence and portraying the raw authenticity of human experience.
Happily, there are signs this his happening. I got to write for Religion Unplugged two articles about recent faith-based film outings that show great strides.
The first is a review of the faith-based film I Still Believe. This biopic about the Christian singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp subverts the typical Christian film trope where God miraculously solves the problems of the protagonist by making the dramatic question be how you can believe in God when he doesn't answer your prayers. The movie is played like a young adult romance film and has many of the typical strengths and weaknesses of that genre, but it is powerful in the ways that it leans into that unique struggle that believers have to reconcile their faith with the tragedy of human experience.
Read that review here.
Secondly, I got to interview Writer-Director Dallas Jenkins for his new TV series about the life of Jesus The Chosen. Depictions of Jesus have typically been problematic because they are either so faithful that there is nothing in the portrayal to excite the imagination, or so imaginative that it doesn't resemble Jesus at all. With The Chosen, Dallas Jenkins seems to have successfully cracked the code for doing both.
You can read the interview and review here.
The faith-based film genre is big and it's growing. As it continues to grow there will continue to be much to discuss. Given the fact that faith is such a big part of so many people's lives, that's a good thing. Hopefully, this genre can continue to improve so that this part of human experience can be explored in all its beauty and truth.