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‘The Passion’ finds a place among Templeton nominees

LOS ANGELES (BP)–A week after the Oscar nominees were announced -– with only scant attention given to “The Passion of The Christ” –- the Mel Gibson film was among the headliners on another Hollywood award list.

The Passion was one of five films nominated for the John Templeton Foundation Epiphany Award Feb. 2 in Los Angeles.

Other nominees in the film category are “America’s Heart and Soul”; “I Am David”; “Ladder 49”; and “The Reckoning.”

For the past 10 years, the Epiphany Awards have focused on projects deemed to be “entertaining and well-produced” and “moral, redemptive, spiritually uplifting and inspirational” as well as fostering “a great increase in man’s love of God or man’s understanding of God.”

Nominees in the television category are “A Christmas Carol”; “Doc: Happy Trails”; “Love’s Enduring Promise, Patrick”; “The Question of God”; and “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story.”

Ted Baehr, founder of the Christian Film & Television Commission, helped conceive these prizes with noted philanthropist Sir John Templeton, now 92.

“We’re weren’t just looking for moral films like ‘The Incredibles’ or ‘National Treasure’ but films that were really outstanding and presented a relationship with God,” Baehr said in a telephone interview. “We want to acknowledge and reward filmmakers who bring us closer to a love relationship with a living God.”

Baehr’s organization, which produces a bi-weekly MovieGuide with movie reviews and recommendations based on spiritual principles, selects nominees for the Epiphany Awards at the end of each year.

Winners receive a $50,000 cash prize in each category.

The Passion of The Christ, which grossed $340 million nationwide last year, is a frontrunner in the competition.

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences did not nominate The Passion for any top awards, Baehr said he does not feel it was excluded on purpose.

Recently, The Passion was awarded a People’s Choice Award, taken by a national poll of voters, not actors.

“There must be a foreign country to submit The Passion as a foreign language film,” Baehr said. “There was no Aramaic country to submit it. It would have had to be in the foreign language film category. Many actors in the Academy don’t vote for documentaries because it takes their jobs away. The same is with foreign language films, too.”

But The Passion is perfect for the Epiphany Award film category, Baehr said.

“These prizes are intended to encourage spiritual wisdom, knowledge and growth,” he said. “We hope that by honoring these movies and television programs, millions of people will be uplifted and inspired to be enthusiastic about the further study and worship of the Creator.”

Each year at the Epiphany Awards ceremony, Baehr gives a report on statistical analysis based on MovieGuide reviews during the previous year –- an analysis that consistently demonstrates to studio executives and filmmakers how family friendly, spiritually uplifting content can significantly increase the profitability of their movies.

Since the inception of the Templeton-backed Epiphany Awards, Baehr said, the number of movies produced with spiritual themes has increased by 45 percent.

“When we started this there was only one movie in Hollywood that met this criteria,” Baehr said. “It was just pathetic at that time.”

“Sir John’s vision is targeted toward thought leaders, to help change their vision,” Pamela Thompson, vice president of communications for the Templeton Foundation, said in a news release. “We appreciate MovieGuide’s courageous leadership in this regard. For many years they have been commending and rewarding films that showcase values like integrity, courage, loyalty and honesty.”

Winners will be announced Feb. 24 at the Thirteenth Annual MovieGuide Faith & Values Awards Gala and Report to Hollywood at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, hosted every year by the Christian Film & Television Commission.

In addition to the film and television categories, awards also will be given to the Ten Best Family Films and the Ten Best Films for Mature Audiences of the year, called the “Teddy” awards.

The Grace Awards, meanwhile, are given to the Most Inspirational Acting in Movies and TV. Nominees for the Grace Awards in the film category are Paul Bettany in The Reckoning; Jim Caviezel in The Passion; Irma P. Hall in The Ladykillers; and Joaquin Phoenix in Ladder 49.

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  • Kelli Cottrell