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2012 Presidential Candidate Santorum on Film, Faith, & the Future

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - ST. LOUIS -- Former U.S. senator and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum was recently named CEO of Echolight Studios, a movie company dedicated to producing and distributing high quality faith-based family films.

With a full slate of upcoming theatrical releases including The Redemption of Henry Myers (September) and an inspirational sports biopic, Hoovey (2014), Santorum and Echolight have high expectations for making significant inroads with not only the faith community but also movie going audiences at large. 

I recently sat down with Sen. Santorum to discuss his jump from politics into movie making, his vision for the Christian movie industry, and his plan to use film to engage the culture for Christ.

You have been a full-time politician for quite some time – a U.S. senator and congressman from Pennsylvania, and a recent presidential candidate.  Now you are getting into the movie business.  How do these two worlds connect for you? 

I would say that my mission in politics – I always considered myself sort of a missional candidate.  I’m someone who got involved in politics because I was concerned about the future of our country and with the values that our country is going to have going forward for my children and grandchildren.  I’ve been involved in politics and tried to shape the future of our country.  And one of the things I realized is that politics can do some shaking but there are forces that have a bigger role in shaping the country -- and I think that is the popular culture.  Politics is downstream from the culture.  As I often say, Washington is a reflection of America.  It doesn’t lead America.  You get a politician out too far ahead of where the American public wants to go and they get snapped back pretty quickly.  And so, these big forces, things like what is going on in the business world, what’s going on in education, what’s going on obviously in entertainment.  We are slaves to our visual video devices.  Young kids are consuming dozens of hours a week in video content, whether it’s games, or television, or movies, music videos, whatever it is, it is a visual generation.  That is how people learn.  That is how people absorb information today.  Unless we are much more engaged in that process, then ultimately, we are not going to shape America in the way that is consistent with our Founders vision of our country.

So, do you see Christian movies as a means to fight the war on culture?

I would say we have to have a voice in the culture.  We (Echolight Studios) are going to make faith and family films.  At the core of that we are going to tell the honest message of faith in people’s lives.    We are not going to do the pastor’s work for him.  We will not be doing sermons in our movies.  Our job is to entertain, to inspire, to get people who want to see the content, that’s the most important thing.  And unless you are producing good, quality content that entertains, inspires, and reaches people then you are wasting your time.  Our job is to get that message across in subtle ways and sometimes not so subtle, but in a way that is always compelling, that is not awkward or stilted, or looks unnatural.  Here’s the thing that always drove me crazy about Christian films.  Faith is natural.  It’s so natural for people but when you see it in films, so often it doesn’t look that way.  It’s kind of stiff.  It leads to the non-Christian eye to say, ‘Well, it’s not part of life.’  When in fact, it is everything as a part of life.  It is so natural.  The key for us is to make sure that we produce content that is natural and is not forced.  It’s not preachy.  It’s not cheesy but is in fact honest and authentic.

Your partner at Echolight Studios, Bobby Downes, noted recently that Christian cinema has come a long way since the late 1990s.  Considering where we stand right now with this genre, where would you like to see Christian film go over the next few years?

I’m excited that because of the work that has been done over the past 15 or 20 years that the industry has developed to the point where you’ve got people who understand how to do quality productions.  These people have skills.  It’s not people (and I don’t mean to say this in any kind of pejorative way) who see this as just a ministry and just a part of their ministry but see it as their profession and vocation.  That’s part of what we want to encourage. We need good filmmakers who are Christians.  When we can start making movies that are overtly Christian and non-Christian audiences can look at it and not be offended, or not be turned off, then you’ve got your craft.  Because the other side can make overtly satanic movies and have people who aren’t into that watch it and not be turned off by it.  We’ve got to do it to where we just need to improve the quality and the art of filmmaking.  I’m convinced the filmmakers are there and what I believe is that the industry will grow when we produce larger volumes of quality content.  Our hope is to be able to get bigger budgets to support that content and grow this industry and thereby grow the ministry.  

What is your strategy with Echolight to engage the culture for Jesus Christ?  Do you have any specific plans for what you would like to do? 

I want to show through art how Christ is naturally part of your life.  It’s not something that is sort of awkward but is something so natural, so part of who you are that it doesn’t come across at all as uncomfortable for people.  That, to me, is the greatest gift we can give – to show how Christ is the center of people’s lives and how He is transforming them.  But do it in a way that doesn’t get people to walk out of the theater.  But to say, ‘Wow, I see that.  I see how that could be me.’  I’m not opposed to saying people who have Christ at the center their life, who have that personal relationship, who are reinforced in their faith.  There are a lot of things that don’t reinforce.  If you do it well we can go beyond that.

At the end of the day, in your role as CEO of Echolight Studios what is your greatest hope for the Christian film industry?

I would like to see this industry grow and grow dramatically.  I think it can.  I really believe that.  I came here to be an engine to that.  I’m just being as blunt as I can be.  If I didn’t believe that this industry was ready to take off and do some really great things and begin to transform itself and the culture then I wouldn’t be doing this.

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