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From 'Fireproof' to 'Courageous': Fatherhood Comes to the Movies

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The story of a small-town church making a big movie

The makers of the hit movie Fireproof are back.  This time they are addressing one of the most important issues for a struggling culture: fatherhood.  The new movie is titled Courageous, and is schedule for release in the fall of 2011.  But the producers of this movie do not operate with industry standards.  They have something more powerful at their disposal, which is the secret of their success. 

Highlights

By Billy Atwell
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
6/18/2010 (1 decade ago)

Published in Movies

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - On the poor and humble streets of Albany, Georgia you would not likely find a thriving ministry with international impact.  Albany is more popularly known for unemployment reaching up to 12% and crime rates well above the national average.  But along one of those broken and struggling streets sits Sherwood Baptist Church

Sherwood, as it is commonly referred to, was founded in 1956.  Today the church has 3000+ members, 20 active ministry programs, an 82-acre sports park that's open to the entire community, a Crisis Pregnancy Center, and supports local ministries in providing food and substance abuse resources.  Not to be forgotten, Sherwood is also home to Sherwood Pictures, the church's movie-making ministry that has made huge waves in recent years.

Sherwood Pictures has produced some of the most influential and popular Christian movies in the last decade.  Flywheel (2003), Facing the Giants (2006), and Fireproof (2008) are all products of Sherwood Pictures, with Fireproof being the most successful after international demand and ranking as the number one American independent film in 2008. 

I was invited to see the filming of scenes from the newest Sherwood Pictures production, Courageous.  Courageous is about five men who struggle to be the fathers their children need and their wives hope for.  Each man has a different cross to bear, but they join together as accountability partners and brothers in Christ.

In addition to witnessing the filming and production, I got to meet with some of the producers, writers, and actors behind this movement.  The experience of being on a real movie set was new to me, but I doubt it will be recreated because the set of a Sherwood Pictures production is very different from a typical movie.

First off, I was corrected when I asked who the star of the film would be.  "We don't have stars in our films," said Pastor Michael Catt, senior pastor of Sherwood.  "We have leads."  Whether they have a lead or an ensemble cast, they ensure the message of the film shines through, not a person.  I hadn't been on set for more than a couple hours before I was stunned with how these people thought.  Christian or not, I expected that Kirk Cameron, the "lead" in Fireproof, or an actor of that caliber would be viewed as a star; as someone that will draw an audience by their appeal and popularity.  Sherwood members think differently.  The Lord is the star of their films, and it's their job to let the His Truth shine through. 

Since the movie's theme will be about fatherhood, many of the leads in the film's ensemble cast are men.  They worked tirelessly to get each scene right.  Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register and I stood marveling as we watched a 26 second scene get shot for over two hours in the hot and humid Georgia sun. 

But behind the scenes something much more inspiring was going on.  I watched as I saw three of the actors' wives gather for a brief moment of prayer.  They put their hands on each other's shoulders as if they were keeping each other upright.  In a sense they were.  These women loved their husbands very much and seemed to be praying not only for their strength to continue their work, but for the success of what they were working for.  It was a powerful moment that I bet I would never see on a typical Hollywood set.

The love Sherwood has for the Lord is clear, but something else caught my attention, as it did with other people I traveled with: there were a lot of Catholics present.  To a Catholic audience, this may sound like no big deal, but when we are talking about a Southern Baptist church in the heart of the south, the tension over inviting Catholics to participate in spreading the word of a good cause can be surprisingly thick.   

There is recent precedent of some Protestants decrying collaboration with Catholics.  The Manhattan Declaration, an ecumenical document addressing life, marriage, and religious liberty was rejected by some, including popular Calvinists R.C. Sproul and Alister Begg.  They even wrote statements-though they read more like anti-Catholic proclamations-explaining their adamant rejection of collaborating with Catholics whenever that unity alludes to a common Gospel belief.  Sproul and Begg obviously agree with Catholics on these issues, but they stepped away from a powerful tool of unity anyway.

Some would expect-or even hope-that Pastor Catt would exclude the Catholic audience.  But they obviously wouldn't know Pastor Catt.  "When society is a cest pool and we're drowning, you don't reach down and say are you a Baptist, are you a Methodist, are you a Penecostal?  Because I can only save a Baptist, I can only speak to Baptists-that would be as narrow-minded as the Pharisees," said Pastor Catt in an interview with Matthew Warner, a blogger for National Catholic Register.  He went on to say, that when you start to deviate from the central message of what you're trying to accomplish, you lose the essential message. 

Catholics and Protestants don't have to agree on everything to work together.  We just need a common orthodox Christian framework, and to agree on the issue at hand.  In the case of Courageous, fatherhood is an ecumenical issue that can bring together a variety of orthodox Christian backgrounds.  While Pastor Catt understands that there are legitimate issues to debate, "we have one thing we know we have in common: we're family."

What struck me most about Courageous were not the moving previews they showed us, the ecumenism, or the hard work-it was the prayer.  Co-producer Alex Kendrick said something that moved me.  When asked why it took Sherwood Pictures almost two years to begin another film, he said, "Because we hadn't prayed about it yet."  Again, I was floored. 

Alex Kendrick, his brother Stephen, Pastor Catt, and the entire membership of Sherwood prayed before they decided to make another film.  After millions of dollars in sales, international distribution, and accolades from critics, I expected that making movies is what this church is meant to do.  But Alex Kendrick reminded me that success is not an immediate indication of a calling.  We're called through prayer, not money or credibility.  

Sherwood Pictures would have just as easily shut down after Fireproof if the Lord called them to do so.  But after enough time and discernment had passed, the church leadership and the congregation pulled together and began raising money and disciples to make this idea for a new movie come alive.  With the sweat and tears (literally) of volunteers in the church, loyal donors, and a staff of supporters, Courageous is set to be released in the fall of 2011.

As if I wasn't already flabbergasted and personally moved enough by the prayerfulness of this church, I was able to sneak in one last interview before driving to the airport.  Kris Fuhr, Vice President of Theatrical Marketing for Provident Films, a division of Sony Music Entertainment working on Courageous, spoke about why the film will be released so long from now.  I mentioned my expectation that the film would be released on Father's Day of next year, rather than months afterward. 

"We wanted to do that, but we decided it wasn't best," said Fuhr.  "It was going to be too difficult on the men working on the film that we weren't comfortable."  She explained that it would do no good to make this movie and talk about how important active fathers are, and yet have those involved overworked and away from their families for several months.  So after more prayer the production team decided to move the theatrical release back to the fall of 2011. 

To describe all the stories of good, Christian people I met on set would be exhaustive.  To tell of all the instances where God's hand clearly saved the crew from serious setback would be arduous.  But there is clearly something powerful happening in Albany, Georgia and I was happy to be a part of it; if even for just a few days. 

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Billy Atwell is a contributer to Catholic Online and BreakPoint, and is a blogger for The Point. From the perspective of a two-time cancer survivor he encourages those afflicted with pain and struggling with faith. You can find all of his writings at his blog For the Greater Glory.

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