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‘Facing the Giants’: A 1-year retrospective

ALBANY, Ga. (BP)—Like “the little engine that could,” it was last fall’s little movie that could, chugging over the mountain of Hollywood releases with an all-volunteer cast and only one camera.

“Facing the Giants” eventually ran for 17 weeks in more than 1,000 theaters. It took in $10 million in its first three months, a paltry sum by Hollywood standards.

But Facing the Giants wasn’t about Hollywood’s standards. Instead, the film championed family values and Christian virtues — all on a $100,000 budget.

The movie chronicles a Christian high school football coach’s struggle to overcome obstacles by trusting and honoring God in all circumstances. While he and his wife face infertility and his football team faces yet another losing season, they learn to believe God for victory. The coach is played by Alex Kendrick, associate pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga.

“Most people hear the movie made $10 million at the box office and think we’re rolling in the dough,” said Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood Baptist, whose media department wrote and produced the film.

“The movie didn’t make any money theatrically,” said Catt, who will serve as president of the 2008 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in Indianapolis. “We are, if you will, the last people on the food chain.” More than $5 million was spent on post production, promotional screenings and advertising, Catt recounted, and local theaters got 50 to 60 percent of all monies from ticket sales.

“Our goal was never to make money. Our goal was to get the Gospel out,” Catt said.

That goal is being met.

“Now that the movie is in 57 countries, 10 languages and on every continent, we’re hearing from Russia, Iraq, Australia, South America, China. Every day we’re getting e-mails,” Catt said. “The movie has been shown on the Disney Cruise Line and on the Turkish airlines.

“The overwhelming majority of responses have been positive,” the pastor said. In the 10,000-plus e-mails received to date, “people have thanked us for making the movie, told us of answered prayers and given us their story of how God used the movie in their own spiritual pilgrimage.”

“We’ve heard from more than 3,000 people who have come to Christ because of the movie,” Catt said.

Facing the Giants has garnered national and international exposure on Fox News, Fox and Friends, CNN Headline News, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, Good Morning America, the Today Show, Glenn Beck, Hannity and Colmes, The Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and The Washington Post. Interviews with Catt and Jim McBride, Sherwood Baptist’s executive pastor who had a role in the movie, recently aired on television in New Delhi.

Undergirding the motive to share the Gospel through films was research from a national poll showing that movies influenced culture more than churches. That’s when Sherwood Baptist leaders founded Sherwood Pictures and began producing family and faith-friendly movies.

Facing the Giants was the church’s second film, following 2003’s “Flywheel,” the story of a crooked used car salesman who surrenders his life to Christ. The movie cost $20,000 to produce and, like Facing the Giants, was filmed with one camera and was edited on a Macintosh computer using Final Cut Pro software. Flywheel played for six weeks and outran 12 Hollywood movies in the local Albany theater. And for four years the film has generated weekly e-mail from those impacted by it. It will be re-released Nov. 13, with audio and subtitles available in Spanish and a dozen other languages.

Both movies involved numerous Sherwood Baptist members. The crew for Facing the Giants was 500 strong, consisting of homeschooled students, stay-at-home moms and retired senior adult men who volunteered their labor during the six-week shoot. All actors were church members except for University of Georgia head football coach Mark Richt who volunteered his time for a cameo appearance.

In an interview with a reporter from the Dove Foundation, Kendrick answered criticisms that the movie presents an unrealistic view of how God works: “What I struggled with was every simple move of God in the movie — we’ve seen in our church or community. In other words, we really have seen a team that was 0-3 make it to the state championship. We really have seen a kid kick a 51-yard field goal. We really have seen a couple who struggled with infertility and were told by their doctor, ‘It’s impossible for you to have children,’ and after praying they really had their own biological children. As a matter of fact, we know a coach who was given a car by the school because they appreciated him so much and he needed one, so all of those elements in the movie we have seen happen in real life. I don’t know why some Christians say it’s not realistic. I don’t know any miracle that is realistic. I don’t think if it’s realistic you can even call it a miracle.”

Kendrick told Baptist Press one of the most important elements in producing Facing the Giants was prayer. “We bathed everything we did in prayer,” he said.

As a result of the movie, Catt said, Sherwood Baptist is “entrusted with a blessing and a responsibility. As in the parables of the ten talents, when you are faithful with the talents you have, you are given more responsibility. We’re blessed to be in a position of influence. This is something we take very seriously.”

The church’s commitment to share the Gospel and to be stewards of their resources has garnered numerous accolades and notable accomplishments, including:

— After the opening weekend, the movie was ranked number 1 of all movies in theaters by Yahoo movie users.

— Sports Illustrated ranked Facing the Giants in the top 10 sports movies of 2006.

— The DVD is now shown internationally to churches, schools and prisons for its inspiring message and positive effect on viewers. In addition to Spanish, it is available with both audio and subtitles in nine other languages.

— More than 5,500 churches and ministries have bought site licenses to show the movie publicly and are now using it for ministry.

— The DVD was ranked sixth in the nation in top DVD sales after its opening week, Jan. 30 — Feb. 4.

— VideoBusiness.com listed Facing the Giants number 1 in DVD movies for rent that had limited theatrical release.

— A 288-page paperback based on the movie, and carrying the same name, was released in September by Thomas Nelson publishers.

— The Georgia House of Representatives and Senate adopted a resolution honoring Sherwood Pictures and the church for the success and positive impact of the movie.

As for future projects, the church is working on a film titled “Fireproof.” It’s the story of a couple headed for divorce and how faith in Christ heals their marriage, projected for release next fall.

“We’re responsible to be true to our audience as we continue to make movies,” Catt said. “We want to be distinctively Christian. We don’t want to tell people to be good; we want to encourage people to be righteous. We will not — we cannot — compromise the Gospel to be successful.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va. To obtain a site license to show “Facing the Giants” in a public setting, go to www.facingthegiants.com.

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  • Norm Miller