The Shepherd – The Must-See Christmas Movie of the Year (and it’s less than 30 minutes!)

I love Christmas movies.

home aloneOn the Friday after Thanksgiving, I start pulling them out, and I watch the gamut with my kids. We always start with Home Alone, and then Elf, and then everything else from Arthur Christmas to The Santa Clause.  Yes, we even watch and enjoy Home Alone 3 (although it stops there… Home Alone 4 and 5 are dead to me).

The movies we watch celebrate the Christmas season by telling stories about presents, Santa, magic, trains to the North Pole, Red Ryder BB guns, and ghosts of various time periods. None of them (with the exception of Charlie Brown) even consider the importance of the birth of Jesus or the idea that Christmas has any holy or sacred aspect at all. Thinking about this even led me to argue that Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is more of a Christmas movie than most Christmas movies a couple of years ago.

But this year, I happened upon a gem of a little movie: a Christmas movie about the birth of Jesus that is powerful, fresh, well-made, and worth every moment of your time to watch.

The film – less than thirty minutes in length – is called The Shepherd, and it was made by Dallas Jenkins (The Resurrection of Gavin Stone). This is apparently the pilot of The Chosen, a series Jenkins is hoping to make about the witnesses of Jesus’ life, and if the quality of The Shepherd is any indication, we need to make sure The Chosen gets made. Watch the end of the video for a pitch from Jenkins about how you can be involved in this endeavor.

Shepherd-SocialThe Shepherd tells the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of one of the shepherds, and while the “eye-witness” conceit may not be original in and of itself, in this case the execution is. The Shepherd succeeds where so many faith-based and Bible films fail – showing and not telling, using the visuals and music to sell the story (and yes, even the message), and making an otherwise oft-told story seem fresh and real.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I don’t give Christian-made films an easy pass, and that if I gush about something, it’s truly gushable. In this case, The Shepherd is absolutely gushable, and if you watch it, it’s liable to become mandatory yuletide viewing in your home as well.

Here’s the film:

So, here’s the link to find out more about The Chosen. Check it out, and you’ll see what I mean. Then come back here to the comment section and let me know what you thought, and then we can argue about Interstellar.

Heck, you can even give me your arguments for Die Hard as the ultimate Christmas movie. I’ll disagree with you, but you can make your arguments.

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The Star – Faithful Biblical Adaptation… Where’s the Faith-based Audience?

The year is 2014.

Hollywood wide-releases two films based on biblical accounts: Noah, and Exodus: Gods and Kings.

noah poster

The Big Christian Audience responds by complaining:

“Why does Hollywood hate us so much? Why can’t they make something that is safe for my whole family? Why can’t they respect the Bible as much as I respect the Bible?”

(See here, here, here, and here.)

 

 

Fast forward to 2017.

starDevon Franklin and the folks at Sony Animation wide release the animated nativity movie The Star on nearly 3,000 screens. When asked about the film, Franklin says:

“We really looked at the scriptures that everyone is familiar with, looked at all the gospels in order to pull the right information about the birth so that when we did the film, those moments would feel authentic…we really tried to honor scripture and that was the number one priority.”

And does the Big Christian Audience respond by running out on opening weekend to support this – a big Hollywood movie put out by a major studio working together with a bunch of Christians – a project that the filmmakers have gone out of their way to “honor scripture” in the making?

Nope.

The Star only made $10,000,000, giving it the dubious distinction as the worst opening on a Sony Animation film ever, and with a budget of around $20,000,000, I doubt that there were many uncorked bottles of champagne in the Sony offices.

People who study this sort of thing think that The Star will ultimately make money, as it could conceivably play up until Christmas (why didn’t they didn’t take advantage of the Christmas season and release it later, I’ll never know), and it will also make a lot of money in DVD sales, streaming, and other post-theater revenue areas. But, this less-than-stellar (see what I did there?) opening will probably not encourage the big studios to try this again any time soon.

The argument could be made that the Big Christian Audience is just fatigued. After all, The Star was released at the end of a trio of faith-based films (Same Kind of Different as Me, Let There Be Light), and that’s a lot of movies to support. Who’s got the time or money to see so many Christian movies? But this argument does not shine very bright. After all, neither of the other two films performed very well, especially when compared to 2015’s mega smash, War Room. It’s not like the Big Christian Audience emptied out its collective pockets to support Pureflix and Kevin Sorbo, so they got nothing left for the poor animated donkey.

They’re just not showing up.

Even when Hollywood tries to cater specifically to the wants of the Big Christian Audience by making a family movie in which the filmmakers go out of their way to be “largely faithful to the biblical narrative”, the Big Christian Audience just stays at home, apparently stewing over the secret agenda of Starbucks cups. Again. Didn’t we already have that hissy-fit?

That’s good and well. After all, the Big Christian Audience is under no obligation to support Christian-made films, any more than they’re under any obligation to support CCM artists, Christian radio, Christian politicians, or anything else labeled “Christian”, and if that were the end of it, there would be no reason to write this article.

But here’s the thing. In a few years, some big Hollywood studio will put out their own retelling of a biblical story. They’ll hire a non-Christian to direct it, and the story will be given a non-traditional treatment that won’t jive with the sensibilities of the Big Christian Audience.

And the BCA will immediately jump on their smart phones and share negative articles about the director’s controversial take on the subject. They’ll take to the social media airwaves to complain about it. They’ll threaten boycotts and cry “persecution” and play the victim, because this is what the BCA does.

They’ll lament, “Why does Hollywood hate us so much? Why can’t they make something that is safe for my whole family? Why can’t they respect the Bible as much as I respect the Bible?”

And a simple, animated donkey will trot into the picture and bray…

The-Star-Steven-Yeun-as-Bo-the-Donkey