Hollywood Uplink – March 2007: What are “Faith and Family” Movies?

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March 2007

        Issue: 16:3

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What are “Faith and Family” Movies?
by Dick Rolfe, co-founder – The Dove Foundation

Recently a new term has been added to the entertainment lexicon. The movie classification “Faith and Family” is being bandied about throughout the industry. Many experts tie this term to a paradigm shift that resulted from the success of mega hits, “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Some also credit the 2005 Film Profitability Study commissioned by The Dove Foundation which documents the relative financial success of family-oriented movies (G and PG) over more explicit films (PG-13 and R). Whatever the impetus, Hollywood has discovered a market segment which, like a vein of gold, was there all along, but never properly mined. This new “gold rush” has a brief history. The studios are still trying to figure out exactly what the terms “faith” and “family” mean and how they translate into box office gold.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment launched its “FoxFaith” label in October, 2005 to distribute a growing lineup of morally-driven, family programming. DVD titles include a wide variety of fare like “The Passion of the Christ,” “The Sound of Music,” and comedies like “Cheaper by the Dozen,” “Fat Albert” and “Garfield, the Movie.” Animated children’s series like “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Roach Approach” now called “Bug Rangers” round out the selection of movies for the entire family.  FoxFaith has expanded to include theatrical releases. According to the FoxFaithMovies.com website these titles must have “overt Christian content or be derived from the work of a Christian author.” Recent films under this banner include adaptations of Christian novels, “Love’s Abiding Joy” by Janet Oak, “The Last Sin Eater” by Francine Rivers, and “The Ultimate Gift” by Jim Stovall.

Sony Pictures began pursuing the “faith and family” market by forming a joint venture with Christian music label, Provident-Integrity Entertainment, to release the faith-based film, “Facing the Giants,” with a miraculous 1,000 percent profit.  According to Fritz Friedman, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Publicity at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, “The success of ‘Facing the Giants’ both theatrically and on DVD clearly indicates that there is a vital and robust market for faith-based films.”

New Line Cinema ventured into the faith-based market with its release of “The Nativity Story.” While the movie was proclaimed as a faithful portrayal of the Biblical account of Mary and Joseph, it failed to reach the box office revenue hoped for by the film’s producers. As a result, studio officials have expressed some caution about making more religious movies but some signs are indicating that they have not completely given up on this market segment.

Walt Disney Pictures has always been connected with wholesome family entertainment, except for a lapse into more “adult” fare a few years ago. Under the new leadership team of Bob Iger and Dick Cook, the focus is once again on family fare. The partnership between Disney and Walden Media produced the box office mega-hit adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ Christian allegory, “Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”  The next installment, “Prince Caspian” is in production and due in theaters the summer of 2008.

Gener8ion Pictures’ “One Night with the King” and Sony Pictures’ “Second Chance,” starring Christian music legend, Michael W. Smith, rounded out the selection of recent films with a clear faith message.  And, If there’s any doubt as to the profitability of faith and family entertainment, consider that former Miramax co-founders, Bob and Harvey Weinstein are committed to moving in that direction with Christian partner, Impact Entertainment. They announced plans to release at least 6 faith-based movies in the upcoming year.

The word “faith” is used by Hollywood as a safe euphuism for Christian. There are three categories of movies that fall under the banner of “faith.” The most obvious are Bible epics like “The Passion of the Christ,” “One Night with the King,” and “The Nativity Story.” Next are biographies of real people whose faith was an integral part of who they were and what they accomplished. “Mother Theresa, Angel of Mercy” and “Amazing Grace, the Story of William Wilberforce” are good examples. The third category includes fictional stories of people who exemplify faith in their everyday lives. “Love’s Abiding Joy,” “Because of Winn Dixie” and “Second Chance” demonstrate that type of film.

A fourth category of faith-based films spills over into the “family” category. These are movies made by filmmakers whose personal faith is reflected by the films they make. These movies are often referred to as “family-friendly” because they appeal to people who, regardless of their own faith, exercise discrimination over the types of stories they are willing to subject themselves or their children to.

Micheal Flaherty, CEO of Walden Media, (“Chronicles of Narnia,” “Charlotte’s Web,” “Bridge to Terabithia,”) and A-list producer, Ralph Winter, (“X-Men,” “Mighty Joe Young,” “Inspector Gadget”) and Ken Wales, (“Christy,” “Amazing Grace”) are examples of men whose personal faith translates into the morally sound, redemptive films they create.

As for the term “family;” it more accurately identifies the audience than it does the movie genre’. It extends beyond doctrine to a moral construct that is embraced by most caring families. Dividing movies into Comedy, Drama, Action, Mystery, and Family, ignores the fact that family members enjoy comedies, dramas, action and mystery stories. However, families prefer their entertainment not be riddled with the “shock and awe” of exploding or naked body parts, or “F-bombs” and other offensive expletives, or crude portrayals of sexploitation. 

Hollywood is just beginning to grasp the fact that the appetite of the “faith and family” audience has barely been tapped. The future is bright, as long as the pot at the end of the rainbow (box office) is full of gold and the way to insure that relies on families like yours who will continue to support these wholesome films at the theaters and by bringing them into your homes on DVD and by supporting organizations like The Dove Foundation®.

The Dove Foundation® is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.  Our mission is to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of wholesome family entertainment.  We are supported primarily by donations from families such as yours who want to move Hollywood in a more family-friendly direction.  All donations are tax deductible.
Copyright © 2007 The Dove Foundation®. All rights reserved.