History Has Been Made
How Lives Were Changed at the 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival
Independent Christian Filmmaking Comes of Age
The 2009 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival was an event of firsts. Each of these firsts pointed to the growing maturity of the independent Christian film movement and its mission to build a Christ-honoring replacement industry outside of Hollywood. For the first time in history, a Christian film festival offered the largest single cash prize in America to a single filmmaker. The message was clear: Christians will invest in their future. For the first time in history, the finalists and award winning films at this year’s festival included feature films that were also making headlines for significant cultural impact. In fact, FIREPROOF, the winner of the SAICFF Jubilee for Best Feature Film, was the top grossing independent film in the United States for 2008, at $33 million in box office receipts. Also, with more than 2400 people in attendance at the SAICFF and 550 at the Christian Filmmaker’s Academy, interest in Christian filmmaking appeared to reach a historic high.
The Festival was also noteworthy for the unified vision and message of the participants. From Dean Jones to Kirk Cameron to Stephen Kendrick to the Grand Prize winners, a message was communicated that the time has come for Christians to get out of Hollywood and develop theologically sound films with high production values, films which breathe a distinctively Christian worldview. For the first time, filmmakers were able to offer their films for sale through a downloadable media platform during the festival event. For Christian filmmaking to survive it must be economically viable, and the success of a number of films, as well as new distribution mechanisms, point to greater financial success in the future. Finally, the maturity of the filmmakers and their films, as evidenced by a greater hunger for theological precision, improved story-lines, and advanced production values, spoke to the fact that the independent Christian film movement is beginning to come of age.
The Widow’s Might Wins Audience Choice, Best of Festival, and $101,000
The “Best of Festival” Jubilee Award — with its $101,000 cash prize — went to The Widow’s Might, a feature length comedy adventure that tells the fictional story of how aspiring filmmakers came to the aid of an elderly widow who faced losing her home due to rising property taxes. The 101-minute film was written and directed by 19-year-old John Moore of Kaufman, Texas, with David Heustis and Jeff Moreland serving as producers.
SAICFF judge Geoff Botkin explains the significance of the film for the independent Christian film movement: “Every film ever made represents more than the story seen on a two-dimensional screen. Films represent a very three-dimensional experience of dozens of artisans who work together in a specific purpose. Their combined effort reflects strong theological motives and cultural beliefs about life. The Widow’s Might represents a rich cultural understanding of the objectives of the SAICFF. The film was made by a young man who worked and planned under the guidance and counsel of his father, and with a deliberate sensitivity to lessons learned at the CFA. The filmmaker involved not only his entire family in the process, but other entire families who worked together with spiritual goals in mind. The filmmaker set ambitious goals for himself and his team. The filmmaker rigorously scrutinized his script for theological soundness. The filmmaker demonstrated the kind of practical humility necessary for a creator who acknowledges that his derivative creativity comes not from himself but a sovereign Creator. The general theme of the film impressed judges who believe that families can work together as salt and light in the community, applying God’s Word to all of life.”
The Significance of The Widow’s Might to Independent Christian Filmmaking
Geoff Botkin explained: “The Widow’s Might is a groundbreaking film, even though it is a first feature film from a young director. It is one of the most original high-concept features in recent film history. The story is innovative in ways that can inspire the next generation of filmmakers, many of whom are looking for ways to break out of tired cinematic clichés, especially the weak theological clichés of the Christian ‘altar call’ movie. This film attempted and achieved a wholesome family message, illustrating the difficult-to-capture functional family environment. Its message addressed a very complex theological issue which is a defining issue of our generation: a form of taxation that asserts the state’s presumed authority over God’s. The clash over sovereignty between man and God is a topic Christian filmmakers will be exploring for decades to come. The film employed a clever story line to make rich use of complex subplots, including an illustration of the abusive use of media. Finally, the film used aesthetic elements to set new standards for taste and humor, charting a delightful course for tomorrow’s filmmakers who will make a clean break from patterns of discourse that have taken American culture in the wrong direction for several decades.”
“We never saw this coming!” said John Moore. “The greatest lesson we have learned at this event over the years is to press on; keep moving forward; always pursue excellence. The production was very tough, but it brought our families together, and we’re even closer now than ever. . . . I dedicate this award to my father, the most inspiring man I have ever known.”
They Came From Nepal, Egypt, and China, From Africa and Central America, and From Many of the Fifty States
This special moment in the history of independent Christian filmmaking was enjoyed by Christians from many of the fifty states and from diverse nations around the world. One enthusiastic citizen of Shanghai, China, wrote the following . . .
“Greeting from Shanghai, China. Just returned to Shanghai yesterday afternoon after 22 hrs traveling. Thank you so much for all the thing you done for the Kingdom business. I returned to SH with full blessing and fire. [The Botkin family] definitely impacted and blessed a lot of people’s life and we are one of them. It’s so amazing to participate the meeting and to know I have so many alliance. Hoping soon we could have “SHICFF” — Shanghai Independent Christian Film Festival hold in Shanghai. Why not?”
The Von Trapp Children Kept the Fifth Commandment
For three nights the audience at the 2009 SAICFF were transported on what has been described as “one of the happiest melodic journeys of our lives.” Receiving standing ovation after standing ovation, The Von Trapp Children wove a seamless fabric of complex, but pitch perfect harmonies in a collection of musical favorites from around the world, including notable songs from The Sound of Music, the film that brought the story of their family to millions.
The performances were thrilling, but the Christian testimony of four great-grandchildren intent on praising Christ and honoring the memory of their great-grandparents was even more so. The message of these children both on and off the stage is simple: Deep gratitude to the Lord for the heroic legacies of their ancestors; an evangelical and Bible-based Christianity; the blessing of family and the encouragement of home education; and the power of the winsome presentation of beautiful music to lift hearts and communicate important stories that bring generations together.
Christian Filmmaking Becomes More Profitable With Downloads
For the first time in history, a film festival was able to work with a sponsor to offer all finalists and semi-finalists filmmakers the ability to sell their films as downloadable media off of the Internet and during the event. SAICFF founder Doug Phillips had this to say:
“Historically, film festivals have been disinclined to encourage sales of DVDs of competing films during their festivals. Up until now, no festival has offered films for sale as downloadable media during their event. The reluctance to do so has been based in part on the concern that attendance will decline if people can just watch the films without attending the festival. We took a different view. And with the birth of Behemoth.com, we were able to implement our vision. Our approach was to invest in the filmmakers by giving them an immediate way to see a financial return on their investment. And it worked. As we predicted, the movie sales did not diminish the ticket sales. In fact, this year we saw ticket sales increase dramatically, even with a healthy number of movie downloads during the week of the event.”
Phillips continued: “Platforms like Behemoth.com are great for the movement. These filmmakers work very hard on their craft and often they see little return. And for our movement to succeed it must be competitive and economically viable. But that means getting healthy, Christ-honoring media to families, which is exactly what vehicles like Behemoth.com accomplish.” Phillips added: “The realistic hope of profitability is one of many signs that the tide is beginning to turn for Christian filmmakers.”
“I wouldn’t trade this for an Oscar . . . “
“I wouldn’t trade this for an Oscar,” remarked Dean Jones upon receiving the special Lifetime Achievement Jubilee Award at the 2009 SAICFF. Jones has played in 46 films and 5 Broadway shows over his career of more than half a century, including 10 films with Disney, 6 of which are on Variety’s all-time hit list. His best-known role is that of racecar driver Jim Douglas in The Love Bug. In more recent years, he has appeared in such films as Beethoven and Clear and Present Danger. The special presentation in honor of Mr. Jones followed on the heels of the world premiere of Abraham and Isaac, a short film by Crown Financial Ministries (www.crown.org), which brings to life the biblical epic of Abraham’s call to give up his own son. Jones plays the lead role of Abraham in the new film. Doug Phillips explained the reason for the award: “Dean has touched the hearts of millions with his talents and gifts through film, but at the age of 78 he is best remembered today as a follower of Christ, a defender of the family — a man who is finishing his race strong by using his gifts to draw men all over the world closer to the Lord.”
As he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Jubilee Award, Mr. Jones offered hopeful words regarding the rising independent Christian film movement: “There is a curtain on stage, and it is down in front of all of us tonight. And I believe it is going to rise soon, and there will be Christian people that have expertise in Christian filmmaking who become an antidote to the horrors of our culture today . . . A change is coming. It’s a matter of time until one or two or ten of them in North Carolina or Utah or Texas catch hold of Walt [Disney]’s pattern and bring some quality work to the fore. . . . [They] are going to be doing films that will once again give an occasion for the children and dads and moms to gather together in a theater or around a television and see something that brings them together, that teaches them to love one another — films of quality, films of morality.”
Dean Jones Emerges as an Elder Statesman for Christian Filmmaking
In a lecture for students of the Christian Filmmakers Academy (CFA) held during the festival, Mr. Jones urged the students to make Christ-honoring films outside Hollywood: “If you want a job, do what I did: work for other people for 50 years, but the odds of you getting swallowed up by the blasphemous, godless, decadent, deadly spirit of today’s show business are thousands to one . . . But there’s a better way. And the pattern will still work: the pattern of keeping control out of the hands of the godless spirit of the age; of setting standards of excellence; of developing your own means of distribution.”
CFA founder Doug Phillips observed: “Dean Jones is emerging as the elder statesman of independent Christian filmmakers. With a robust Hollywood career behind him, he recognizes the dangerous influence of Hollywood and is urging the next generation of filmmakers to take a different path — a visionary, Christ-centered path outside of Hollywood, one that allows Christian filmmakers to call the shots and make films that honor Christ because they embody a biblical worldview. His work in St. John in Exile — and most recently in Abraham and Isaac — are two examples of how he is modeling this new vision.”
FIREPROOF Goes Home with Jubilee for Best Feature
The top honor in the “Best Feature Film” category was awarded to FIREPROOF, a film starring Kirk Cameron that explores a firefighter’s struggle to save his failing marriage. FIREPROOF — which was written, produced, and directed by Alex and Stephen Kendrick of Sherwood Pictures — was the highest-grossing independent film of 2008 with over $33 million in box-office receipts, beating out such films as Woody Allen’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona (starring Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz), and Milk (starring Sean Penn). The film also received recognition as runner-up for “Best of Festival.” Stephen Kendrick, who was on hand in the Alamo City to receive the award, noted, “Sherwood Pictures is thrilled that FIREPROOF has won ‘Best Feature’ at a film festival that not only seeks to honor the pursuit of high production values, but also morally responsible filmmaking.”
Also speaking at the 2009 SAICFF was noted actor Kirk Cameron, who played the lead role in FIREPROOF. Although no award was given at this year’s Festival for best actor, Kirk won the hearts of attendees with his riveting performance of a husband fighting for his marriage — a truly memorable performance laced with nuance and depth. Addressing a crowd of around 2400 attendees, Kirk communicated a Christ-centered, inspiring, and principled message of hope to the families and filmmakers present.
Stephen Kendrick Blazes a Trail for Principled Filmmakers
Both at the Christian Filmmakers Academy and before a sold-out crowd at the 2009 SAICFF, FIREPROOF producer Stephen Kendrick electrified audiences with his dynamic message of Christ-centered, no-compromise filmmaking. Drawing from story after story of God’s faithful provision for the vision of a local church, of the power of prayer, and of the need to avoid every appearance of evil when producing a Christian film, Mr. Kendrick modeled an uncommon humility and spiritual fervor to both the professional and young filmmakers present at this year’s event.
Commenting on his experience at the Christian Filmmakers Academy and Festival, Kendrick noted that he “saw firsthand how Vision Forum is stepping up to fill a vital need right now. Their vision is much greater and far reaching than most people realize. The digitalization of media is bringing a massive flood of new young filmmakers on the scene. My deep concern has been that they can afford the equipment, but may not be morally responsible or theologically grounded enough to use this powerful influence for good. This festival and academy are exactly what is needed right now to steer them toward producing films that are professional, commercially viable, and also fruitful for eternity. A close friend of mine, who graduated Valedictorian from a well-known film school, attended the academy and festival with me. After the week, he commented how much he learned at the academy and how much more honorable and classy the festival was than others he had attended in the past. But more than that, he left with a clearer vision to use his skills for the glory of God rather than for leading others into decadence and vanity. I believe that decades from now, we will see filmmakers who are changing the world who will undoubtedly state that this festival and academy were what God used to help ground them and prepare them for long term success.”
Audiences Deeply Moved by Abraham and Isaac
Through a very special arrangement with Crown Financial Ministries and Vision Forum Ministries, the SAICFF became host to the world premiere of three important new films produced under the direction of Crown Financial Ministries CEO, Chuck Bentley. Doug Phillips commented that “the forging of Dean Jone’s great acting with Crown Financial Ministries’ bold vision to bring to the screen key stories from the Bible has resulted in an exceptional film. Abraham and Isaac is a real treasure. And the response of the audience was simply overwhelming. People loved the films. Some wept. Others were convicted of sin. Still others were moved to a greater appreciation of the love and provision of Christ. Those in attendance knew that they were watching something very special — a series of films that perhaps will someday be viewed as classics that will have touched the hearts of millions. Chuck is a visionary who has blessed the Christian community and the world beyond.”
Following the film, the audience was treated to a very special “behind-the scenes” look at the making of the films with filmmakers Jon and Andy Erwin, actor Dean Jones, and Crown Financial Ministries CEO, Chuck Bentley. Abraham and Isaac is part of Hope and A Future: A Crown Financial Ministries Short Film Series. Crown Financial Ministries, formerly led by financial author and radio host Larry Burkett, who passed away in 2003, got involved in filmmaking in 2007 after witnessing how many third world countries learn through storytelling. “Our goal for the films in the Hope and A Future series is to engage hearts worldwide through the tool of visual media storytelling, sharing God’s financial principles with the world’s population who cannot read, as well as visual learners in the most modern parts of the world,” remarked Chuck Bentley. “Abraham and Isaac is an integral part of our new teaching series, and we are honored to be coming to the Alamo City to introduce this film as part of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.”
Pro-Family Films Dominate the Jubilee Awards
The winners at this year’s festival were noteworthy for more than just a growing trend toward cinematic excellence in Christian filmmaking — this year’s winners covered a wide range of themes touching on a diversity of issues important to the Christian family. Notable among these were FIREPROOF, with its message of covenant marriage, and The Widow’s Might, with its underlying theme of family faithfulness, multi-generational vision, and care for widows.
The award for “Best Biblical Family Film” was presented by the twenty-member Duggar family and went to the documentary Binding Faith for its powerful depiction of an Indian family and their commitment one-to-another in the midst of intense religious persecution. The Terri Schiavo Story, a two-part television series that follows the Schindler family’s long and highly emotional struggle to save their daughter’s life, garnered the SAICFF “Best Documentary” Award. The film, hosted by Joni Eareckson Tada, was directed and produced by Ken Carpenter of Franklin Films. The top honor in the “Best Dramatic Short” category was awarded to The Prodigal Trilogy, a cinematic adaptation of acclaimed solo performer Jason Hildebrand’s monologues based on the Luke 15 parable of Jesus in the Bible. The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, a story about the need for young men to be encouraged by grandfathers in the Faith, took the top honor for “Best Original Score.” For a complete list of winners and to learn more about the films, go here.
More Reasons Why This Was a Historic Year
Geoff Botkin observes: “Today’s aspiring filmmakers have been taught about life, and theology, and film by Hollywood. For many years they have assumed that one day they would make films in Hollywood — until this year at the Christian Filmmakers Academy. At this year’s Academy, more than 500 students looked around the room at other serious filmmakers who were intently listening to lectures about theology, and they grasped the significance of a truly independent Christian filmmaking industry. They realized that a theological framework underlies every movie. They realized that filmmakers can get their theology wrong, and mislead millions of moviegoers. And these students purposed before their peers and colleagues that they want to get it right.
“This new perspective gave birth to yet more historic ‘firsts.’ These ambitious filmmakers also agreed to help one another in a cause that is much larger and more important than their individual plans and personal artistic experiments. These filmmakers want to help one another make the priority projects that will redefine cinematic history and prove that a comprehensively ‘Outside Hollywood’ industry can be commercially viable and culturally significant.”
Innovative and Thought-Provoking Biblical Worldview Messages
More than five hundred students attended the Christian Filmmakers Academy. Many more listened to lectures presented at the 2009 SAICFF. Commenting on Geoff Botkin’s lecture “How to Evaluate a Hollywood Film,” KSLR talk-show host Adam McManus wrote: “When Geoff Botkin warned the 2009 SAICFF audience that the G-rated Walt Disney film entitled Princess Diaries 2 was filled with toxic messages antithetical to a biblical worldview, you could have heard a pin drop. But, in scene after scene, Mr. Botkin revealed how this seemingly innocuous movie wasn’t innocuous at all! Throughout the movie, we hear the princess declare over and over again the politically correct mantra ‘This is the 21st century!’ — a notion no doubt instilled in her in the classrooms of the Ivy League. The message? Throw off the constraints of family, tradition, and religion and find your own ‘truth.’”
Doug Phillips presented students with a worldview-challenging symposium on Science Fiction. He answered the question, “Is science fiction a legitimate genre for Christian filmmakers?” with a resounding “Yes, but only if we reject the philosophical foundations of modern science fiction and replace it with a presuppositionally Christian foundation for ethics and cosmology.” Dr. Voddie Baucham brought a memorable message on masculinity and film entitled: “What Hollywood Teaches About Manhood.”
Action-Packed Stunt Workshop Teaches World Class Moves
Jimmy Broyden’s bio tells us that he came “from 17-year-old drug addict and high school drop out to stuntman, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and father of seven.” But students at the 2009 CFA got to know Jimmy as a wonderful, humble, and talented man who blessed the 2009 Christian Filmmakers Academy students with two hours of power-packed training on stunt coordination.
For many students the combination of the theological training and practical workshops resulted in the best Christian Filmmakers Academy to date. “We hope to train more than three thousand new filmmakers over the next five years,” commented Doug Phillips. “Each year we hope to surpass the last with more innovative, practical, and foundational training than the year before. The inclusion of important classes on cinematography and stunts are just one step in that direction.”
The Movement is Just Beginning’ Join Us Next Year
The staff of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and the Christian Filmmakers Academy want to offer a special note of thanks to the hundreds of people who came together to make this year’s event a historic success. Thanks also to all the attendees who traveled to participate in this year’s festival and filmmakers academy. The film festival was completely sold out, so make sure to book your tickets early for next year’s events.
Donate Now and Help Make Next Year’s SAICFF a Success
Hollywood is constantly about the business of investing in the future of its anti-Christian vision for cultural influence. Through their own production budgets, schools, political organizations, marketing strategies, and even film festivals they are extending their influence throughout our culture. And it is destructive. If you believe that Christians need to do more than simply curse the darkness, and if you want to invest in the future of a movement dedicated to producing Christ-exalting, family-affirming media, then please consider supporting the work of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. Your generous donation can help us continue the work of the SAICFF and to spread the message that filmmakers must take “every [frame] captive” to the obedience of Christ, by helping us train and equip the next generation of Christian filmmakers. To make an online, tax-deductible donation visit us here.