Movie News & Reviews

Is calling a movie faith-based counterproductive?

Joseph Fiennes (left) and the apostles fish fruitlessly at night on the Sea of Galilee in “Risen.”
Joseph Fiennes (left) and the apostles fish fruitlessly at night on the Sea of Galilee in “Risen.” Columbia Pictures

A recent stream of movies with religious elements –“Risen,” “The Young Messiah,” “Miracles From Heaven” and the upcoming “God Is Not Dead 2” – have been hitting theaters. There was a time when any movie that touched on religion would be lumped under the “faith-based’ category.

Those working on such projects now see the tag as limiting.

Although “Risen” deals with the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the main thrust is a crime story procedural. Those behind the movie see that as a way of bringing in believers and nonbelievers.

“Obviously, we want the faith community to feel that they’re represented in the right way. But if you’re not a believer, all the action and great dramatic moments offer so many other reasons to be entertained by ‘Risen,’ ” Mickey Liddell, “Risen’s” executive producer, says in a news release about the movie.

Despite its deeply religious roots, Joseph Fiennes, who plays the Roman Tribune who investigates the disappearance of Christ’s body from the tomb in “Risen,” doesn’t see his film as being primarily faith-based. He sees it as having a broader message.

“Redemption is a big theme, whether you are religious or not,” Fiennes says. “The big takeaway is how we looking at these events through the eyes of a nonbeliever.

“The conservatists will say, ‘Don’t see it because it flies in the face of Scripture.’ Then you get the other side who say it’s preachy. What I’m really happy about is that we have reached a balance where he can get everyone in the room – faith-based, cinefiles – to enjoy a wonderful film. If you know your Scripture, you won’t be disappointed.”

Bishop Thomas Dexter “T.D.” Jakes Sr. sees both sides of the faith-based discussion because not only is he the pastor of The Potter’s House, a nondenominational American church with 30,000 members, but he’s also in the film business. He’s one of the producers of “Miracles From Heaven.”

Use of the phrase faith-based for Jakes depends on the movie.

“One type is a faith-based movie done by faith-based people for faith-based people, and one that’s done for the general market,” Jakes says. “If you define faith-based films as being this Pollyanna, Sunday school type story, then ‘Miracles’ is not that. It is a gritty, real look at a human being struggling to get their child well against all odds.

“My only concern is that when we categorize this film as faith-based, it will limit the audience this film deserves.”

He puts “Miracles From Heaven” in the latter category because while the movie touches on religious elements, it is aimed at a broader audience because it deals with a lot of other elements, especially family. Most of the movie focuses on the fight by a Texas family to deal with their daughter’s incurable disease and her miraculous recovery.

Jennifer Garner, who plays the the mother in “Miracles From Heaven,” had numerous conversations with the producers, writers and director about the religious elements in the movie.

“It’s one thing to play a family for whom religion is their backbone. That is something I can definitely relate to,” Garner says. “It’s another thing to be making a movie where you are preaching and saying to people this is what you need to do. This is what you need to believe.

“We were so careful and, hopefully, it comes across that we are not telling people what to do. We are trying to portray a family in their moment of crisis and how faith helped them.”

Some movie releases come much closer to the faith-based tag.

“The Messiah” is aimed more at those who want faith-based movies because it looks at the early years of Jesus, a story based on a limited number of Scriptures.

Then there is “God Is Not Dead 2,” where religion is the driving force, even to the point of where it will be argued in a court case.

When it comes down to it, whether or not the movies are described as faith-based depends largely on how much the filmmakers are looking to preach outside the chorus.

Rick Bentley: 559-441-6355, @RickBentley1