Tuesday, April 27, 2010

“Family” Films vs. “Christian” Films - What’s the difference?

I've been reading lately about the Christian film industry. I think it’s important to distinguish between “family films” and specifically “Christian films” as genres. . . As for definitions, I’d say “family films” are films that

  1. I could take the kids, my parents, AND my grandparents to
  2. All of us would enjoy and
  3. I wouldn’t be embarrassed or have to walk out.
    (Thus, the FAMILY could watch and enjoy)

“Christian films” - by my own definition - are OFTEN a subset of “family films” (but not always). They’re films that present a Biblical worldview, meaning (among other things):

  • absolute truth exists
  • Biblical morality is shown as the norm; immorality is shown as out-of-the-norm (Right is right and wrong is wrong. Where “gray areas” exist, they’re shown to be less than the best)
  • ultimately, evil is punished and good is rewarded - or at the very least, evil doesn’t win out at the end
  • sin has consequences (People are hurt, lives are sometimes shattered, people may die - as a result of sinful decisions & actions. Sometimes people are hurt through no fault of their own).
  • the traditional family structure is seen as important (Although sometimes divorce is a reality, it’s not shown as the easiest, quickest, best solution to marital problems)
  • authority figures are respected & obeyed by the “good guys” (For example, laws aren’t broken by the good guys in an “end justifies the means” mentality)
  • the story is one of redemption (defined very broadly)

There’s probably more that could be said on this; I'll need to think through it more.

I’d say that all family films could be watched & enjoyed by Christians but not all Christian films could be watched & enjoyed by all families. In fact, some families would be thoroughly offended by anything that was distinctly Christian. After all, there are devout Muslim and Hindu and secular families who watch films; they’d probably be offended by “Fireproof” or “Facing the Giants” - but they could watch “Leave Me” (a GREAT 4.5 minute film with a theme of love and commitment) or “The Butterfly Circus” (a GREAT 20-minute film with a theme of hope) and enjoy them - or at least not be offended.


Anonymous said...

Labels are a necessary evil, I suppose. I think the most important genre is the "great" Family film and the "great" Christian film. In fact, leave the Christianity latent and just make the film incredibly sublime. When I hear about a new "Christian Film" I just assume it will be preachy, which is the death blow. Good preaching comes naturally out of a pulpit, and good art out of a film.

Coffee Snob said...

Agreed. I hope you scrolled down & read the previous 3 posts on art, aesthetics, & film - but especially this one:

Unknown said...

Thanks for the invite to continue the conversation. The title of this article is something I've been thinking about lately, though from the opposite perspective.
I find it disturbing reading so many 'Christian' movie critics these days offended by proselytizing 'Christian' films. It is offensive to be about using this medium to seek and save that which is lost/down trodden/captive if it is done in poor standards, I agree. But when has the Christian message ever been about pleasing tastes? I am not ashamed of the idea the message will be 'preachy' - I am hoping it will be exactly that, not because I don't fear what 'critics' say but because I do fear what unbelievers miss witnessing great art with no eternal hope or direction. I believe it more 'offensive' couching our message in art than proclaiming it openly and honestly, with humble, sincere confidence. Three years ago, a 'Christian' movie came out I found embarrassing. It used new testament scriptures in old testament dialogue - UGH! supreme 'cheesiness' I yelled... yet later, my girl friend was greatly moved by it and since I've seen it used in several Woman's bible studies to uplift and encourage. Paul had grace to see even with regards to some who abused him, "...at least the message of the gospel is being preached."

Jake Olson said...

I like what you have to say here. I think your definition of a Christian film is a pretty solid one.

I will say that the desire to have films where "ultimately evil is punished and good is rewarded" is one point that a lot of people in the Christian-Filmmaker-Hater crowd cite as a problem with Christian films. They say that Christian films have happy endings where the hero gives his life to Jesus and everything in life turns peachy.

I think there's validity to that criticism because that is so inconsistent with the real Christian walk. Often we walk through years of pain and questioning before we see "evil ultimately punished" sometimes we never see certain goods rewarded in this life time. See Psalm 73 "for I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked..."

I'd say it's good that a Christian film doesn't show the opposite to be true.

There's a great interview with a Christian film maker here http://sonlightpictures.com/slp-podcast-index.html (episode 6, second half) where he wrestles with these issues and shares why his film "Impostor" doesn't have such clean edges.