Change of Heart? H'wood Honors Fam Films

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Many Christians have been so disgusted with Hollywood's output over the last few decades, they won't even go to the movies anymore.

Because, as those who are movie fans well know, much of what's on the silver screen these days debases, degrades and depresses like few other media can. And much of "entertainment" television is just as bad.

But while many religious believers complain about the content of Hollywood films and TV productions, Regent University -- the Virginia Beach-based Christian university -- is taking a different tack: coming right to the busy heart of Hollywood to praise and honor films that are both positive and redemptive.

Candlelight Forum Shines on Redemption

Dozens of Regent's film students and faculty journeyed to Hollywood March 31, first to tour CBS Studios and have a big dinner there where Regent alumni and other professionals working in Hollywood could mix and mingle with today's students.

That was followed the next night of April 1 by Regent's annual Candlelight Forum, where some 600 people gathered this year to put a bright spotlight on the work of those who are trying to minister to humanity's spirit rather than work in the darker realms of film and video.

The event was in the Directors Guild building on Sunset Boulevard where many in the movie biz first see the latest films.

Kathy Lee Gifford was hostess, and -- entering with a mighty Tarzan yell -- Carol Burnett made a surprise appearance to honor Tim Conway as he received a lifetime achievement award.

Walden Media Shares Info on Upcoming Productions

Walden Media's executive vice president Chip Flaherty showed up to talk about the latest from Walden, which produced the hugely popular Chronicles of Narnia, and is following up with the sequel Prince Caspian in May, which Flaherty described as, "just as sweeping and as beautiful as Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe, and we are very, very proud of that."

And Nim's Island with Jodie Foster is in theaters right now -- a comic tale, but still packing a punch when it reveals the power of forgiveness.

Still ahead is C.S. Lewis' more adult tale, The Screwtape Letters. Flaherty said, "It's a dark concept, but brilliantly and beautifully told by Lewis, in which a senior devil is giving instructions to his nephew in terms of how to take the soul of The Patient: a human being on earth."

Picked out for special recognition this year by Regent were those who put together the award-winning, pro-life independent film Bella. It tells the story of two broken-hearted down 'n outers comforting one another in the streets of New York City one day and working out a deal that saves a soul and redeems another.

Many folks didn't even get a chance to see the little independent film in theaters, but it's out on DVD May 6.

'We're Called to be Faithful to God; That's Our Success'

Leo Severino was one of five Bella co-producers who all felt God simultaneously calling them away from worldly pursuits to honor God with their lives. They started a company called Metanoia Films and produced Bella.

As Severino put it, "Mother Theresa, she once said, 'we're not called to be successful. We're called to be faithful to God; that's our success.' And at the same time, that light clicked on in us. And we just felt ourselves getting pulled out of the darkness into the light. And that's why we called our company Metanoia, which is the Greek word that means this radical transformation, turning from darkness to light."

Severino made a pact with his fellow filmmakers on Bella to only make movies God himself might watch: "Films that our Lord would be proud of. That he could sit and watch and from A-to-Z he won't have to cover his eyes or plug his ears. That's the hope."

The star of Bella -- Eduardo Verastegui -- was a Latino superstar singer, actor and sex symbol, who turned his back on it all to serve the Lord. But God resurrected Eduardo's acting for Bella. His hope? "That when people leave the theater they will leave wanting to love more and judge less ... wanting to forgive more and complain less."

Good intentions aren't good enough, though, when it comes to producing art that's both redemptive AND successful. CBN News asked Walden's Flaherty the secret.

He said, "We're always talking about the ride home when we're looking at a script. Would there be positive discussions that come from it? Not some squirming, double-entendre question when your daughter asks 'What did that mean?' and you're like 'Oh, good Lord, why did I even take her to this movie?'"

A new breeze could be blowing in Hollywood these days. While dark dramas like No Country for Old Men dominated the Oscars, Juno was also getting a load of attention ... and ticket sales.

It may have been about a spunky teen pregnant out of wedlock, but it spoke out strongly for saving life and having hope for eternal values like family and life-long love.

'God's Cooking Something in the Hollywood Kitchen'

Michael Patrick, the dean of Regent's School of Communication and Arts, said of Juno, "Our children are asking 'Can two people really love each other and stay together?' And it speaks positively to a generation, that there is hope in relationship, despite all the chaos that is around us. And that's the kind of redemptive film that I think is an encouragement to the culture."

All these gentlemen see a big future for art that touches the heart and spirit in positive, redemptive ways. As Metanoia Film's Severino put it, "God's cooking something in the Hollywood kitchen."

Walden Media's Flaherty said, "Let's not curse the darkness, let's light a candle. Let's not complain about the movies that are out there, but let's start to make movies that we believe will connect with families."

And Regent's Patrick stated, "Truth resonates. And when you speak the truth, whether you are a Christian or you're not a Christian, that truth will resonate. And that's the power of storytelling. That's why Jesus, most of the time, told stories."

While sex and violence, cursing and dark themes may still be Hollywood's mainstays, with each passing year, more of those movies are being made that don't just appeal to man's flesh, but instead lift his spirit.

And that's giving hope to the artists pouring out of Christian universities like Regent.

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Paul Strand

Paul Strand

CBN News Washington Sr. Correspondent

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