Fireproof, after all, was made by Sherwood Baptist Church, a congregation that also made the 2006 surprise hit "Facing the Giants."
This weekend, Evans' dream will hit the big screen when "The Grace Card" -- made largely by volunteers from Calvary Church, a Nazarene congregation in Memphis -- is released. It apparently is the first church-based, nationwide theatrical release inspired directly by Sherwood's films.
I watched a screener of it, and it is impressive. The acting is as good as that in Fireproof, and the story, which spotlights the racial tension between a white cop and a black cop, is gripping. With the exception of Louis Gossett Jr., you probably haven't heard of any of the actors, but you likely will walk away impressed. Sure, there are things I would have changed in the film, but that's true in just about any movie.
It is part of a growing church-based film-making movement that started at Sherwood, a Southern Baptist congregation in Albany, Ga. (Sherwood's next film, "Courageous," will be released in September.)
Evans -- an optometrist who directs Calvary's yearly passion play -- studied and essentially copied Sherwood's model for movie-making. (No need "to re-invent the wheel," he said.) He relied on a largely all-volunteer cast and crew, mixing in a few professionals who were paid. He asked the cast and crew about their faith and accepted only Christians who were committed to the project.
Provident Films, the same company that released Fireproof, is handling The Grace Card.
"People are really hungry for movies that inspire them, movies that have a message," Evans, a graduate of Southwest Baptist University, told Baptist Press. "I call it entertainment with a purpose. You don't want people to come to theaters and feel like you're forcing medicine down their throat, so we're very careful at what points we place our message. There has to be entertainment, but we want people to walk out of the theater saying, 'I'm not extending grace like I need to. I am not forgiving people like I need to.' ... It's a niche that's evolving that was started by Sherwood, and I think other people are realizing that there's a demand for this caliber of wholesome, faith-based entertainment with a purpose."
Evans estimates that volunteers contributed about 15,000 total hours to the project. Other churches helped as well, with about 50 congregations in the area sending members to the auditions. It was filmed in 30 days and received help from the Memphis Police Department.
He is a movie buff, but his only major experience in directing was with the church's passion play, which he launched about 15 years ago but which grew each year -- with more animals and more cast added each spring -- to the point that the combined cast and crew now tops 250 people. Preparation begins three months out. Every year, he writes a script set in modern times that is woven in with the biblical story. One of those scripts became the basis for The Grace Card.
Already, he says, the movie has had an impact on people who have watched screenings across the nation. The film spotlights "Mac," a white cop who struggles with racism and gets paired up with a black cop, "Sam," a bivocational preacher.
"We've heard many people say, 'Our son is just like that guy' or kids say, 'My dad is just like Mac in the movie. He's angry at everybody and blames everything on other races.' I believe it will help relationships across the country, as we're already hearing from the screenings. So many movies today don't have a clear message, and if there is a message in the movie, it's often not one that we want to promote to our children or churches.
"... Oftentimes, if people will just extend a hand of grace as we give a few examples of that in the movie, it can make significant changes. Our prayer is that it will have an impact on people across our country, and even other countries. Feelings of hate and resentment are universal."
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. For information about "The Grace Card," visit TheGraceCardMovie.com. It is rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. It has no foul language or sexuality.
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