April 14, 2008
Even the nickname – Tinseltown – evokes the image of cheap glitter, which is why Doug Phillips wants to supplant the sequined secularism of Hollywood with movies that promote a thoroughly Christian worldview.
And he’s willing to put money where his mouth is. Phillips is founder of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, which in January will award $101,000 – the single largest film festival prize in the world – to the best Christian film of 2008, one that promotes a clearly Biblical message with artistic excellence.
Phillips secured festival sponsorships with the NRB Nework as well as Samaritan Ministries to help fund the prize money (about $200,000 in all), not simply because he wants to put Christian filmmaking on the map but also to hopefully wipe Hollywood’s influence off the globe.
“Hollywood is great at production values... where it’s bad is that it’s terrible with its worldview and ideas,” Phillips said from his office in San Antonio, Texas, the festival’s host city since 2004. “It’s like a poisoned lollipop that you give to a child. It looks and tastes great but inside is poison. So our vision over the long haul is to build a replacement industry.”
Christians who think Hollywood is softening toward their views should not be swayed by corporate attempts to “Christianize” movies, Phillips warned, citing the 2005 release of The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and upcoming Prince Caspian – both based on books in the Chronicles of Narnia series written by C.S. Lewis.
“Prince Caspian and The Dawn Treader (the third book/movie in the series) are becoming increasingly darker, more 21st Century teen rebellion and the occult,” Phillips said, explaining that the mission and maxim of the SAICFF is that “every frame be captive to being obedient to Christ.”
Phillips, who produces his own films/documentaries through his Vision Forum Ministries, stressed that he is not anti-media. In fact, he thinks media matters immensely.
“Media is important for the culture, which is why we want to see Christians break up the monopoly of Hollywood,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we necessarily want Bible verses slapped into scenes. We want more to take out the nudity and grossly-offensive language.”
The SAICFF doesn’t handcuff its festival entrants to a specific movie genre; just so every movie promotes a Christian worldview.
“Our films... are not about a particular topic or just about evangelism or outreach,” Phillips said. “But a Biblical worldview must be implicit.”
For example, the festival would frown upon any film promoting Marxist or evolutionary values, he said.
Casting of the movie also is important. Phillips pointed to the 2005 film End of the Spear as an example of poor casting, because the actor playing the lead role was a homosexual activist.
“Our official position is the filmmaker has a duty to determine to the best of his ability that there be no impediments to the gospel witness,” he said. “I haven’t said that every member of the crew or actor has to be Christian – that might be the position I take for my own films – but I have said that as to the key characters... make sure they’re a Godly witness. We live in a society that makes idols out of actors.”
Breaking the rules – or the 10 commandments of film submission, as listed on the SAICFF website – could mean missing out on big money. The $101,000 tops the next most lucrative film festival, in Tokyo, by more than $20,000. Two of the best-known festivals, Cannes and Sundance, are more about gaining prestige than money, Phillips said.
Much of the SAICFF strategy is to develop Christian filmmakers who will impact the culture in a bigger way than does Hollywood.
“We recognized this wasn’t being done, so we had to do it,” Phillips said, explaining that he anticipates interest in truly authentic Christian worldview moviemaking to increase in the next decade, not only because of the festival but because young, filmmakers will rise from the ranks – often out of the homeschool movement.
“I would say that in the next 10 to 15 years you’re going to see a lot of home educators who are doing small-budget films moving up to larger-budget films. They’re going to be great filmmakers in the future,” he said.
And he plans on the SAICFF to help lead the charge.
“Purse strings of liberal filmmakers have financed anti-Christian values and moral decadence through film for decades,” he said. “They have had their day, and now is the time for a Christian reformation in filmmaking.
“This world-class grand prize sends a message that Christians are serious about investing in those independent Christian filmmakers who are willing to work outside of Hollywood, and to produce competitive films of technical excellence, with a presuppositionally biblical message.”