FIRST-PERSON: Christians have new option for movies

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)--Remember "The Passion of the Christ"? Movie executives sure do. When Christians turned out in force for Mel Gibson’s passionate examination of Christ’s last hours, Hollywood could no longer ignore a group willing to shell out $611 million worldwide for a movie about Jesus.

It dawned on studio execs that there was an untapped market. A new generation in charge of Tinseltown is perhaps unaware of the significant contribution biblical epics once made to studio coffers ("King of Kings," "Ben Hur," "The Greatest Story Ever Told," "The Robe," etc.). More likely, they assumed that there was no longer a market for films that exalt Christ. Oops!

Whatever the reason for the exclusion, films with Christian themes are once again popping up at cineplexes throughout America. And it’s not just well-meaning Christians making these movies for the Sunday evening church services. New Line Cinema just released "The Nativity Story." And now, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is breaking sacred ground by forming a new distribution label to house its growing portfolio of faith-based programming. FoxFaith is an entertainment initiative that will seek out and distribute movies targeted to the Christian community and anyone seeking inspirational entertainment.

“Over the years we’ve developed an entire network of producers and we’re getting more involved at the script level versus just buying a film," Steven Feldstein, vice president of corporate and marketing communications for FoxFaith, told me. "It started years ago with the Frank Peretti movie, 'Hangman’s Curse.' And actually, a little before that. But to the extent of dedicating considerable resources to the FoxFaith initiative, that has really happened in the last couple of years. We had identified the marketplace as underserved and set about to serve it. The success of 'The Passion of the Christ' confirmed what we already knew.”

Alas, one of their first efforts, "Love’s Abiding Joy", which opened in 75 cities on 250 screens, subsequently tanked. Influenced greatly by his dad’s "Little House on the Prairie," writer/director Michael Landon Jr. had visualized this frontier drama from the fourth installment of Janette Oke’s bestselling books. Unfortunately, "Love’s Abiding Joy" was a western with no dirt and a cast of cowboys who, with a modern-day colloquialism, implored their womenfolk to “have a nice day.” Still, those who went were pleased and somewhat surprised to find the leads not only praying at supper time, but demonstrating an unabashed reverence for Christian sensibilities.

Another film FoxFaith distributed, in partnership with Gener8Xion Entertainment, met with more success. That movie, "One Night with the King" had a good Top 10 opening weekend.

Asked if there were any Christians at FoxFaith involved with the selecting of projects, Mr. Feldstein said, “Absolutely. We’re not operating in the dark. And we’ve got an entire network of people who we call upon for their perspective, as well.”

There are plans for a minimum of six FoxFaith films to be theatrical releases per year, each of which will be supported by a comprehensive marketing campaign valued at nearly $5 million and targeting the core audience through television, newspaper, direct mail and other grassroots marketing, publicity and promotional activities. Covering approximately 40 percent of the United States, these FoxFaith theatrical releases will be available in selected markets through Carmike Theaters, AMC and other regional theater chains.

"Stick with us," Feldstein said. "We’ve got so many different projects going that it’s really an exciting time.”

Next up for Fox Faith is "Thr3e," a thriller about a young seminary student caught in the middle of a murder mystery. "Thr3e" opens Jan. 5 and is taken from a novel by renowned Christian writer Ted Dekker. Additional information about specific titles and programs can be found at www.foxfaithmovies.com and foxfaith.com.

So, what’s the future for such a concept as FoxFaith? In 10 years will the company have flourished or be just a mere memory? Like every other trend in Hollywood, that depends on box office results. Christians looking for appropriate movie fare might want to keep that in mind when the name "FoxFaith" appears on a new release.


Phil Boatwright is the editor and film reviewer for previewonline.org

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