Jesus Movie Gets a PG; Church, Film Raters Levels Apart

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark A. Kellner, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Albany, Ga., bills itself as a great place to live and work. Procter & Gamble and Cooper Tire each have around 1,300 employees at their operations in the city about a 3 1/2-hour drive southwest of Atlanta while the Phoebe Putney Hospital complex has around 3,400 workers.

Though each is a going concern, none are known for making national headlines by taking on the world's entertainment epicenter, Hollywood.

But Sherwood Baptist Church, a self-described "contemporary Southern Baptist Church with traditional values," has locked horns with the Motion Picture Association of America, after the association gave a PG rating to "Facing the Giants," a movie that opens tomorrow in about 430 theaters nationwide.

The folks at Sherwood Baptist say the family-friendly film is being punished for being too faithful to its faith-based message.

According to a statement from the promoter, "Although the movie has no foul language, sex scenes or extreme violence, the [MPAA ratings] board balked at the numerous references to Jesus Christ in the film."

The rating stunned industry outsiders and insiders.

"It just amazes me that it can be PG because of faith," accomplished NFL coach Dan Reeves said in a telephone interview last week.

Earlier, Kris Fuhr, marketing vice president at Provident Films, a unit of Sony Pictures, told Scripps Howard News Service religion columnist Terry Mattingly that "it is kind of interesting that faith has joined that list of deadly sins that the MPAA board wants to warn parents to worry about."

But while coaches and marketers may be surprised, screenwriter Stephen Kendrick saw the MPAA's decision as a way to get attention for this small film made with $100,000 raised by the Albany congregation, whose Sunday School classes provided the film's "catering services."

Mr. Kendrick along with his brother, Alex, wrote and produced the film in their job as media pastors at the church.

The story centers on the six-year losing streak of a Christian high school's football coach, financial and family crises, and the application of faith, prayer and determination to surmount these challenges. As the ratings controversy loomed, the church was seeking a way to bring the film's message to national attention.

"In May of this year, we started praying that God would let there be a breakthrough in the media for 'Facing the Giants,'" Mr. Kendrick said of the film's PG rating, "then the media hit two weeks later. To us, it was an answer to prayer."

The publicity, which included Mr. Mattingly's syndicated column and notice by DrudgeReport.com, created an unexpected reaction. While Provident Films, the Sony unit, was working with distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films to place the picture, local church congregations and businesses across what Sherwood senior pastor Michael Catt calls "flyover country" were banding together to bring the movie to their towns.

Mr. Kendrick said Provident and Goldwyn Films would book a theater if 1,000 tickets were pre-sold, and groups in about 27 cities did that, he said. One bank in Texas offered to buy 3,000 tickets to give to customers, he said.

"We've been shocked and excited at the response," Mr. Kendrick said.

Adds Mr. Catt, "Hollywood measures everything by the bottom line, and the key is, if people want this kind of entertainment, they have to go out and support it. We think we've got a very positive, encouraging and hopeful movie."

Mr. Kendrick said the church got into the motion picture business its first effort was a locally produced tale, "Flywheel," that now is in Blockbuster stores for rental after a 2002 survey by evangelical researchers the Barna Group reported that movies were more influential on culture than was the church. …