Producer brings Baptist to the movie screen

by Phil Boatwright, posted Thursday, January 24, 2002 (17 years ago)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (BP)--"I felt very, very strong that, for young people in particular, this would be an important movie."

So says film producer Denise Di Novi of her new Warner Bros. Film release, "A Walk To Remember." "It was a different experience for me because I really felt guided to make this film."

A veteran of several major Hollywood films including "Heathers," "Little Women," and "Message in a Bottle," Di Novi has also produced director Tim Burton's most successful films ["Edward Scissorhands," "Batman Returns," "Ed Wood," and "James and the Giant Peach"].

Now, Di Novi has taken it upon herself to find ways of introducing three-dimensional Christian characters into her recent and upcoming projects. Last year she inserted a Believer into the main set of characters on her primetime TV series "The District." Soon after, she came across Nicholas Sparks' novel "A Walk To Remember," wherein the central figure is also a dedicated Christian. The story centers on a teenage Christian girl -- a Baptist, no less -- and the effect she has on fellow classmates, especially the popular bad boy.

In her forties, wife and mother of two, and a dedicated follower of Christ, Di Novi feels strongly that the time is right for such a film.

"I've noticed in my church and in meeting kids that there is a new spiritual awakening with young people," she said. "I think they are really searching and wanting to make a spiritual commitment."

"But often teenagers don't get support or guidance within our culture," she added. "I felt this book ["A Walk To Remember" by best-selling author Nicholas Sparks, also a Christian] was supportive of the commitment that kids are making."

Resentful of the clichéd portrayal of people of faith found in countless films and TV shows, Di Novi devotes much of her producing efforts to making both filmmakers and filmgoers understand that Christians are more than props to further a plotline.

"I think there is a stereotype that if you are a Christian you're judgmental, you're prejudiced against people who are not Christian," Di Novi said. "I hope this movie breaks down some of that thinking."

"I have a television show on CBS on Saturday nights and we have a born-again Christian character played by Sean Patrick Thomas, who was in 'Save the Last Dance,'" she noted. "With that character I'm trying to show that stereotyping does not apply."

Asked if teens would come away from "A Walk To Remember" understanding what faith is, Di Novi responded, "Well, we were very careful about not hitting it too hard. I didn't want the movie to feel like a Bible lesson. Hopefully, it's a gentle message for kids who did not go to Sunday school and did not have Bible study."

Di Novi points out that this is not a "church" film. It attempts to honestly portray the moods and attitudes of teenagers, no matter their religious convictions. "It's a love story. I hope we found the right balance here for Christians and non-Christians."

Indeed, "A Walk To Remember" is not about altar calls or proselytizing. But it does address an issue long neglected by the entertainment industry: the religious convictions of millions of Americans.

"Although not everyone involved with the project was a Christian, there was a feeling of community that we were making a movie about faith and about spiritual commitment," she said. "All of the young actors felt they were doing something important because so many movies that they perform in are derogatory or negative or demeaning to young people."

Even though the book was a popular bestseller and a winner with teens, Di Novi came up against many obstacles in her effort to get "A Walk To Remember" onto the screen.

"At times it looked like the movie would never get made. But with each new adversity, suddenly, I felt God's hand making it possible," she said. "In the end Ed Gaylord and Hunt Lawery of Gaylord Entertainment co-financed the movie with WB. They felt as strongly as I did that this movie had to be made."

Both Di Novi and "A Walk to Remember" are paving the way for Christian portrayals in the movies. Her film is helping Hollywood -- and secular audiences -- get an honest look at what it means to be a Christian.

"There have been movies made by Christian production companies targeted solely for Christians," she said. "I was very happy to see those movies get made, but I think this is the first major studio release with a Christian theme."

She is enthusiastic that Christians will be seeing other dramas where they are placed in a positive light. "I'm finding television is a more open place for spiritual themes," she said. "I have a deal with CBS and I have three shows in development. I don't know which ones will reach the air, but they all have Christian characters and Christian themes. One of them is based on another bestseller by Nicolas Sparks, 'The Rescue.' In terms of feature film scripts, I also have two or three that also have Christian themes or characters. We'll see. It's a tougher road in the movie industry."

"A Walk To Remember" opens in wide release Jan. 25. The question remains, will members of the Christian community support her efforts? If her show "The District" continues to gain ratings, and Christians flock to see "A Walk To Remember," chances are we may see other positive portrayals of Christians in the media.


(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: DENISE DI NOVI.

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