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FIRST-PERSON: ‘Letters to God’ is uplifting

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–If you wrote a letter to God, addressed the envelope “To God” and then mailed it, where would it end up?

I’m not sure what would happen to such a letter in real life, but in an upcoming film, the letter and others like it end up being read by others and changing the hearts and lives of an entire community — all because of the faith of an 8-year-old-boy who has cancer and writes his prayers on paper.

Inspired by a true story that involved a Nashville, Tenn., family, “Letters to God” opens in theaters April 9, and its maker (Possibility Pictures) is hoping churches get behind it just like they supported the 2008 film “Fireproof,” when congregations bought out entire theater screens and showed that hit to members and guests.

In fact, the director of Letters to God, David Nixon, was a co-producer of Fireproof and “Facing the Giants.” So, is Letters to God as good as Fireproof (one of my all-time favorites), perhaps even better?

It’s close, but I’ll let you decide. Families who have gone through cancer battles no doubt will be particularly touched by Letters to God, and in the screening I attended, plenty of tears were shed. With a $3 million budget — paltry by Hollywood standards but six times the budget of Fireproof — Letters to God is an entertaining and uplifting movie without any of those “cheesy” moments sometimes seen in faith films.

It tells the story of 8-year-old Tyler Doherty (played by Tanner Maguire), an energetic and optimistic young boy who has a severe form of brain cancer. Bald because of the chemotherapy, the innocent Tyler writes letters to God and drops them in a mailbox, putting his letter carrier in a dilemma. After all, what is the Postal Service protocol on delivering such a letter? In the movie, the carrier (played by Jeffrey S. Johnson) — battling with alcohol addiction — begins reading the letters, which change not only his life but, when delivered to others, people in Tyler’s life as well.

Tyler’s letters are not so much prayers for himself as they are for people around him — for his widowed mother, who is feeling overwhelmed; for his older brother, who is jealous of all the attention that Tyler gets; for his best friend Samantha (Bailee Madison), who can’t bear the thought of Tyler dying.

Letters to God was written by Patrick Doughtie, the father of Tyler Doughtie, the inspiration for the film. A member of Grace Baptist Church in Nashville, Patrick Doughtie took a screenwriting class after his son’s death and began writing a story wanting to memorialize Tyler’s strong faith. Interestingly, Doughtie chose to write himself out of the script and change the spelling of Tyler’s last name. Much of the movie is fictional, but Tyler’s reliance on his faith and the church’s involvement in the family’s struggles — both of which happened in real life — are central to the plot.

“Without this church family, I know our family wouldn’t have gotten through some of the things we got through,” Patrick Doughtie told members of Grace Baptist at a January screening, referencing not only emotional but also financial struggles. “We lost our car, we lost our house.”

Possibility Pictures is billing the film as a “movie with a mission” and suggesting that churches not only buy an entire theater screen on opening weekend — perhaps dedicating it to someone who had or has cancer — but also to turn their congregation into a “Community of Hope,” a refuge for the one in three families who are touched by cancer. (Visit www.letterstogodleaders.com for more information).

“People that would never come to church” might “go see a movie,” Nixon said.” He said he is praying that, via the movie, God “will start to affect [non-churched moviegoers] and change their perception, so that not only will they come to the Lord, but they will get their whole life turned around.”

Letters to God is but the latest top-quality movie among what are often dubbed “Christian films,” and more are on the horizon. Sherwood Baptist Church — which made Facing the Giants and Fireproof and is not involved in Letters to God — will begin filming its next movie, “Courageous,” this year, with a 2011 scheduled release. Although Letters to God is the first film by Possibility Pictures, the company already has plans for another two movies in its goal to become the “DreamWorks of faith-based movies.” Additionally, Brookwell McNamara Entertainment, a secular production company, is filming a movie about Bethany Hamilton, the Christian surfer who lost an arm during a shark attack but went on to win pro competitions.

Christians have long hoped for the day they could see more wholesome, quality, faith-based entertainment on the big screen. Perhaps that day is here.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. For more information about Letters to God, visit www.letterstogodthemovie.com. Letters to God is rated PG for thematic elements. The film has no profanity. The read the true story behind “Letters to God,” visit visit http://bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=32473

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  • Michael Foust