Giant-Killing in Georgia

Posted: Sep 29, 2006 11:45 AM

Facing the Giants opens this Friday in 441 theaters, and it’s safe to say that the expected crowds won’t be drawn there because of the independent film’s high production values.

Producer/writer/director/star Alex Kendrick and his brother Stephen did very well with a mere $100,000 total budget, which would just about cover a Steven Spielberg crew’s weekly deli bill.

And it’s really a matter of perspective. The Facing the Giants team ate well, as evidenced by the dozens of names listed under “catering” at the end of the film. We’re talking real, down-home Georgia church folks’ food, lovingly made and delivered.

The film, shot in Albany, Georgia, is about a high school football coach and his wife and how they, their team and their town go through a crisis of faith. To say that viewers tend to be moved by this unassuming flick would be like saying that Chariots of Fire is a nice little film about some runners. It packeth a punch.

Giants got a boost earlier this year when the Motion Picture Association of America gave it a PG rating for “thematic elements,” which turned out to be its overtly Christian Gospel message. After much angst, the MPAA altered its stance, saying that the “thematic elements” are not the Jesus stuff but instead involve a discussion of infertility (which is handled delicately). But the uproar gave the film some priceless publicity for a few weeks, and the PG might attract teens who otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead at a G-rated movie.

Those unfamiliar with the work of the Kendrick brothers and Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, should be forewarned that their films start in a very disarming way, with the viewer wondering why they didn’t spring for maybe another camera or two or some higher-priced talent.

Then the plot takes off with its theme of redemptive faith, reaching new levels until the viewer is swept along. Unless you’re utterly heartless, you’ll be hard-pressed not to like this film, despite its artistic cheapitude, which, for the money, gets remarkable results.

Watching the Kendricks succeed on a shoestring brought to mind the advice that Robert Duvall’s cowboy in the recent made-for-TV Western Broken Trail offers to his nephew, who is worrying aloud about how their profits have slipped in order to rescue several Oriental girls and one American gal from a life of sexual slavery:

“Never measure wealth by how much money you have.”

Just so, Facing the Giants has more meaning and surprises than many films with budgets that are 500 times larger. The football action, shot by director of photography Bob Scott, whose credits as a cameraman include Friday Night Lights, Any Given Sunday, The Replacements and Days of Thunder, is very watchable and suspenseful. Even the crusty suits at Sam Goldwyn Films think so, which is why they are distributing it nationally, partnering with Provident Films, a new Christian film distributor.

The movie has advance support from communities that have agreed to buy at least 1,000 tickets. As of last week, sponsors of 29 Facing the Giants Booster Clubs from Harrisburg, Illinois (pop. 9,628) to Shreveport, Louisiana (392,302) had pledged to pack the house after viewing advance copies of the film. In some instances, 100 donors bought 10 tickets each.

The Kendricks’ previous full-length feature, Flywheel (2003) also backed by their church with volunteers and money, cost only $20,000. It’s the uplifting and unexpectedly inventive story of a used car salesman who finds out the answer to Jesus’ question: “What profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

University of Georgia football coach Mark Richt was so impressed by Flywheel that he agreed to do two cameo appearances in the new venture.

If the Giants movie succeeds in widening the Kendricks’ appeal, we might see Flywheel take another spin at new audiences.

Then the brothers could put some real money into their next production, say a cool quarter million.