Reuters has an interesting piece up on a panel at the Tribeca Film Festival called "What Would Jesus Direct?" The gist of the piece is that Hollywood has long ignored the large Christian market, which The Passion of the Christ tapped into to the tune of some $370 million in the United States. Michael Flaherty, whose production company was behind The Chronicles of Narnia and Because of Winn-Dixie, two family films with moral messages underlying their entertaining surfaces, noted that people in the "faith community" are looking for films that are "uplifting." The article goes on to quote Jonathon Bock, head of a company that specializes in marketing movies to religious audiences, as comparing the potential for low-budget films with a faith theme -- "Godsploitation" films -- to films targeted at African-American audiences. 



p>I can see the point of all this debate: after all, as Bock noted, a lot of Americans go to church on Sundays, and Conservative Christians have been demanding family-friendly fare out of Hollywood for a long while. Make the right kind of faith-based films, and you could get a lot of faithful butts filling seats and munching popcorn. Where Hollywood needs to be careful is in assuming that "faith" equals "Conservative Christian", or even Christian at all. The crossover appeal of a film like Narnia, for example, is that the religious undertone is so completely understated, and that the fantasy and adventure are at the forefront. My kids dig the Narnia books (and this movie) even though our family is decidedly more "spiritual" than Christian. Films like Narnia appeal to folks on multiple spiritual paths because they aren't too preachy, and they can be interpreted in different ways depending on your family's faith.

On the other side of the religious coin, I'm not sure there's as much of a market for strictly New-Agey films, at least not yet. I saw The Celestine Prophecy twice last week (not because it was that smashingly good or anything, it just worked out that way); the first time there were less than 10 people in the theater total, and the second there were just over 20 -- not exactly the kind of numbers that get the trade tongues wagging. Not that the film might not yet grow some legs; after all, author James Redfield initially self-published this fictional spiritual journey, and it went on to become on of the best-selling books of the decade. The Da Vinci Code, buoyed by conspiracy theorists and the tireless negative publicity of the Vatican (will those guys never learn that the more attention they give the film, the more it makes people like me want to see it just out of spite?), not to mention a hefty publicity campaign, will probably fare significantly better, though it may not quite live up to lofty expectations.

What do you think, readers?

1.Should Hollywood focus more on films for the faithful?

2. Do you mind if a film has a moral undertone, so long as it's not obvious or preachy?

3. What are your suggestions for books with a moral or spiritual message that would translate into entertaining films?

[ via Movie City News ]