This past weekend, I was able to attend a film festival sponsored by Project 168 (168film.com). It was founded in Hollywood 15 years ago by John David Ware as a platform for discovering and developing Christian filmmakers and artists.
I discovered 168 last fall by participating in its annual create-a-screenplay-in-a-week contest. My screenplay took the first prize, but the real win was in getting connected to an amazing community of talented artists who also…drum roll, please…love Jesus.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s an exciting resurgence in the last ten years of Christian movie-making. “Faith-Based” films (such as War Room, God’s Not Dead, Fireproof) have been an incredible blessing to the Church, as well as a potent outreach into the secular world. “Faith-Friendly” movies like Miracles From Heaven and Hacksaw Ridge almost always do well at the box office. (Too see how I distinguish between these types of movies, click here. And also here.)
It my belief that as long as God gives us Christians time and space to work our craft (please put down your missiles, North Korea), that a time is coming – and soon – when Christian filmmaking will not only be as good as what Hollywood produces, but will actually be leading the way in terms of the quality of artistry and story-telling. After all, we worship the Great Artist himself. We have a good model to imitate.
What I saw this weekend at the 168 Film Festival only confirms this belief of mine all the more.
Like at any film festival, we spent the bulk of our time watching movies – enjoying nearly three dozen short films that were produced for Project 168. Some were “speed” films – meaning they had to be churned out in one week (168 hours, hence the name), and others were “non-speed”. (I was privileged to lend a little acting to a beautiful piece produced by Laura Woodworth called “In Tune”.) What stood out for me was the remarkable quality of the work we saw. These were not Mom & Pop productions, where you occasionally had to turn your head away in embarrassment.
I’ve long wished that we could step up our story-telling as Christian artists, meaning less emphasis on being “preachy” (and I’m a preacher, so I’m entitled to say that) and more emphasis on beauty and subtlety that evokes thought and wonder, as well as a willingness to dive deeper into the moral complexity of our sinful hearts. I saw ample evidence of growth in that arena as topics like sex trafficking, divorce, teen suicide and caring for Alzheimer’s victims were considered. No Amish romances here.
Another encouragement was to see movies where the makers displayed an impressive command of the technical wizardry of filmmaking. Another helpful aspect of the Film festival were several workshops and seminars devoted especially to helping artists stay ahead of the technology curve and cultural trends. For example: Whereas now the pecking order of artistic media importance is 1. Cinema 2. TV 3. Internet, in ten years time, all that will be turned on its head. “Going to the movies” will be sent to the back of the line, and become a very specialized, niche form of entertainment, while the Internet will surge ahead to the top of the market pack. We see these trends happening as we speak.
The next step for Project 168 is a big one – to move towards the making of full-length feature films. And John David Ware led the way (as a good leader should) by sharing with us a feature he directed called Unbridled, which continued the trend toward excellence in all the boxes I have mentioned.
Christian artists are swiftly cutting any gap that has existed between secular filmmaking and that emerging from a faith-worldview. I am encouraged by what I saw this weekend. And humbled to be a small part of a large, growing community of talented, passionate, dedicated artists. The future is truly bright for the Church recapturing its artistic swagger in Hollywood. Keep praying for and supporting and encouraging those who serve Jesus in this wild and crazy mission field.