View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship
By Mary Adamski
[ FAITH AND FILMS ]
A pastor who took up movieQuestions of faith can be resolved
producing comes up with a film
based on Christian values
If your child spends an hour in church with you each Sunday, that will add up to about 800 hours by age 17. In those same years, the child would be exposed to 40,000 hours of visual media, primarily television and movies.
Former Presbyterian pastor-turned-movie-producer Bob Beltz shared those statistics with a group of Oahu pastors Tuesday. Beltz spoke of his company's goal to make movies that present positive social values and spiritual content in the face of escalating doses of sex, violence and foul language.
Beltz is an associate producer with Epiphany Films, a Hollywood-based company that produced its first feature-length movie this year, "Joshua," based on a novel by Joseph Girzone. He spoke at a preview staged at the New Hope Christian Fellowship auditorium in hopes of starting a buzz among local church congregations about this movie with a Christian theme.
Beltz told the audience of 50 people he hopes their word-of-mouth publicity will generate crowds for the movie's one-week run here. It opens Friday at the Varsity Twins.
He said the effort to produce films with a moral theme is "fighting a battle" in the current entertainment culture.
He said small independent companies like Epiphany Films face tremendous odds in getting their films distributed. "Of the 200 major theatrical films produced each year, 95 percent are produced and released, and thus controlled, by seven studios. There are about 30 people making the decisions on media.
"Christians abandoned Hollywood 60 years ago," Beltz told the pastors. In its early days, the movie industry made an effort to be guided by religious mores of churches, but "in the cultural revolution of the '60s, the church withdrew. I guess it decided Hollywood was evil.
"In the post-Sept. 11 climate, Hollywood was more receptive to a positive theme. It struck a chord that what people needed was hope," he said. "We are trying to send the message that the church will support a movie like this."
Even for someone who never read the series of "Joshua" novels, it doesn't take many minutes to recognize that the mysterious, low-key, compassionate stranger who wanders into a small Midwestern town is Jesus. A woodcarver-carpenter, Joshua doesn't preach, but becomes a friend to an array of people and energizes the dysfunctional community with a Baptist church-rebuilding project.
The 21st-century Jesus is portrayed by Tony Goldwyn -- a villain in "Ghosts" and "Pelican Brief." If there's a villain in "Joshua," it's Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham as a tightly wound Catholic priest who feels threatened by this potential cult leader.
My favorite bit is not the two miracles -- I can't stand the crescendo of "significant event" soundtrack music -- but Jesus in an electric guitar duet with a teenager. Christian and country musicians including Michael W. Smith, Third Day, Brooks and Dunn, Anointed, and Grammy winner Jaci Velasquez contribute music a younger audience will consider significant.
Beltz, formerly pastor at Cherry Hills Community Church in Denver, said he entered the movie industry after 30 years in the ministry.
The film company owned by Anschutz Corp. has a second Joshua movie, set amid current Middle Eastern conflict, in the works, as well as plans for a series based on "The Chronicles of Narnia" by C.S. Lewis.
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COURTESY TOUCHSTONE PICTURES
The lives of Graham Hess (Mel Gibson, right) and his brother, Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) are changed in the film "Signs" after they find a pattern of circles and lines carved into their crops.
Questions of faith can be resolved
with optimism and with frequent
prayer to provide insurance
The recently released Mel Gibson hit "Signs" is more than just a sci-fi thriller about an invasion by extraterrestrials who supposedly create those mysterious circles that appear in the middle of grain fields.
The movie is about a minister who lost his faith because of a tragedy. It triggered or revived a host of questions in my mind about God's will and the theory that everything that happens is meant to be, that everything works together for good -- even the bad stuff. Or, as it's put in the movie, "Is it possible that there are really no coincidences?"
Gibson's character says there are two kinds of people. The first group believes in signs and miracles. They believe that whatever happens, someone is watching over them and everything will work out OK, so they live with hope.
The second group believes that when something good happens, they were just plain lucky, nothing more. They believe that whatever happens to them, they're basically on their own, so they live in fear.
Because he has lost his faith, Gibson's character believes we're all on our own. Events convince him that certain things he viewed as bad or negative were allowed by God or "meant to be" to help lead someone out of trouble. And the minister's faith is restored upon this dramatic realization. I don't see how anyone can put such a spin on things. How can God "allow" the horrific death of a good person for a "greater purpose"?
COURTESY TOUCHSTONE PICTURES
Hess' mysterious crop circles and lines.
The question of God'S allowing bad things and working them together for good has always plagued me since my son was born with severe physical and mental defects. Well-meaning Christians have rationalized this by saying that God allowed my son to be born that way so I could learn patience, long-suffering, selflessness, just fill in the blank. And the topper was this: that it was so I can encourage others who have similar experiences.
So, in other words, God allowed my son (and other children with birth defects) to suffer with handicaps so others might benefit from my ability to encourage them? Big whoops. Isn't it a bit much for one boy to sacrifice and suffer just so others could become better people? How unjust.
Another rationalization I heard is, "You're special because God chose you to be his mother." But what about the other disabled children who have been abandoned or abused and neglected by parents? Why did God choose lousy parents for them? The Bible says God loves all of us the same, so why would he favor one handicapped child over another?
If you believe in the upside of this chosen-person argument, you have to believe the downside. I never got a satisfactory answer after nine years of studying the Bible and asking questions of religious experts.
COURTESY TOUCHSTONE PICTURES
Graham tries to calm his children, Morgan (Rory Culkin, left) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), who think that tin foil hats can stop aliens from reading their minds.
What if it isn't a matter of God, but a matter of attitude? Choosing to be an optimist, to have hope, to look for the good in situations, vs. choosing to live in fear -- the easier way out, because you won't be disappointed that way.
But who will get the most out of their lives? The optimists. Being an optimist doesn't mean nothing bad will happen; it's making lemonade out of lemons. It's deciding that you can't wait for everything to be perfect and guaranteed of satisfaction before you allow yourself to be happy.
I don't know the Truth. No one does. Right now, trying to be an optimist works for me. But for insurance, I still pray.
Pat Gee is a Star-Bulletin reporter.
She can be reached at email@example.com
Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.