Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Christians embracing and influencing Hollywood

Culture: You can tell by the snarky sub-line by David Cohen "Christians embrace formerly evil biz" this is something that isn't looked upon fondly by Hollywood types.

New Line isn't alone in going after the "faith community" audience. A small but growing portion of the majors' slates targets the faithful. At the same time, the religious community is taking a hard look at how it can up its influence with the film business. "The church is increasingly recognizing that film has become a major way, if not the major way, of telling our stories as a society," says Rob Johnston, professor of theology and culture and co-director of the Reel Spirituality Institute. "If 63% of all Americans saw 'Finding Nemo' in its first year out, then that story is influencing how we understand reality, and if the church is to be relevant it needs to join the dialogue." This wasn't always the case, says Johnston. For decades, many of the faithful dismissed movies as escapist and possibly harmful. Today, though, even comic-book tentpoles get a warm reception from the faithful, and studios are only too happy to provide Bible study guides to go with those movies. Southern California Christian colleges such as Biola U. -- which formerly banned its students from watching movies -- and Azusa Pacific now have film programs and are sending aspiring professionals to Hollywood. Christians also are interacting more heavily with movies through Web sites from the fairly objective HollywoodJesus.com to the hellfire-and-damnation review site Movieguide.org. "That's a very important shift that's happened in the last 10 years," says Johnston. " 'The Passion' is one important indicator of the change that's going on. 'Narnia' is another. 'Bruce Almighty' is another." The decision of Christian leaders and many of their parishioners that movies matter has created a vast "psychographic" of people who want films that are family-friendly and/or explore spiritual themes. "You can call the Christian community a niche market," says Boyter, "but we're talking about 150 million-plus who go to church every week, so it's a rather large niche. '' Craig Det-weiler, chair of the Film, Television & Radio program at Biola says, "Hollywood has rediscovered the sweet spot of the marketplace between Los Angeles and New York. "They've discovered that the flyover district has plenty of dollars and plenty of interest in going to the movies if Hollywood will serve them."
You can't change anything by sitting out, Christian groups/leaders are seeing results because of increased involvement. Cohen gets a bit weird mixing in the Da Vinci code as a movie made for religious types.
By sheer market power, that audience is beginning to influence what movies get made. Disney and Walden were happy to stress the Christian allegorical aspects of "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," helping spur socko B.O. and homevid sales. In fact, the homevideo divisions have taken the lead in responding to the Christian aud . Warner Home Video repackaged vintage titles "The Nun's Story," "The Shoes of the Fisherman" and "The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima" in a "Films of Faith" box, with an endpaper that will look just fine next to a King James Bible. And Fox even plans to launch a dedicated "Fox Faith" label. On the feature side, Sony is moving ahead with plans to film more Dan Brown stories after the "Da Vinci" triumph. "Da Vinci," perhaps even more than "The Passion of the Christ," shows that there is a market for such films. Mel Gibson's film got enormous support from church groups of all denominations. But Sony's thriller, which questions the very divinity of Jesus, bowed to boffo B.O. despite active resistance from the Catholic Church -- not to mention a slew of bad reviews.
But the overall tone is there is a huge market for wholesome movies with religious overtones that you shouldn't run away from or make to mock the majority of people in America.

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