A Comment on Kirk Cameron’s “Saving Christmas” Trailer

Yesterday, while playing working on the internet, I came upon the press release for Kirk Cameron’s upcoming film, Saving Christmas.  This morning, thanks to a link on Cameron’s Facebook page, I was able to see the trailer.

I typically don’t comment on films based only on the trailer, but I felt compelled this morning to scribble down a few thoughts.  And I hope that these thoughts are read through this lens:  I like Kirk Cameron.  I really do!  I appreciate Cameron’s public stand for his faith in Hollywood.  I enjoy watching his Way of the Master witnessing encounters.  I did not like Fireproof very much, but I thought Cameron did a decent job in the lead role, and that he is definitely a camera-friendly actor.

But the trailer for Saving Christmas…  oh, the trailer…

Patience, grasshopper. The link will come in time.

For the past few months, I’ve been watching films made for the faith-based audience with a critical eye, and while I’ve appreciated that many people of good faith lie behind these efforts, I’ve found myself largely disappointed with the finished products (you can see my reviews here, here, here, and here).  I’ve come to the conclusion (and I’m not the only one – by any stretch of the imagination) that while we Christians are getting more proficient technically, we continue to spin our wheels as storytellers.  We produce largely didactic films that are aimed squarely back at us – the Christian sub-culture of America.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with making movies for ourselves, but there are two problems with what has been happening with Christian-marketed films over the past few years.  First, the films we make for ourselves are as healthy for us as a steady diet of marshmallow peeps.  Sure, a peep every now and then won’t kill you, but if that’s all you are eating, you will not be very healthy at all.  Second, we’re not also making films that hit outside the sub-culture, thus doing ourselves a huge disservice and frankly – not being obedient to the evangelistic nature of the Gospel in the expression of our art.

And so, with that being said, here’s the trailer.

So, here’s the deal.  Kirk Cameron is in a unique position.  He is an outspoken Christian in Hollywood who can actually push film projects forward.  He has his own production company (CAMFAM studios) that has partnered with Samuel Goldwyn to help get his films out to the public.  He is – more or less – a household name.

And yet here he goes – down that same didactic trail – once again.

And I just don’t get it.

I don’t get why someone like Kirk Cameron doesn’t try to take his radical faith, and express it in a way that would not only build up the people inside the church bubble, but challenge them as well.

I don’t get why he doesn’t take his clout in the subculture and challenge believers to express their faith in more creative, less didactic ways.

I don’t get why Cameron won’t trust God to use the ambiguity of well-made art just as well as He can use the clarity of well-prepared preaching.

I don’t get why he won’t make a film that would interest someone outside the sub-culture.

It’s not a matter of courage.  You can’t argue against the fact that Cameron is a brave man.  He’s courageous enough to work the streets sharing his faith – even to some pretty rough folks…

He is principled enough to stand in the public square and say exactly what he believes to be true, even though it can be one of the most career-damaging things a celebrity can do these days…

He took a very public stand on purity, that in his films (and in life) he would not kiss any woman other than his wife, and – of course – he was mocked for taking such the stand…

And yet, here he is, with a film that predictably looks like just another salvo fired in the Christmas/culture wars.  And it looks like it will come ready-packaged with all the things that make “faith-based” films so laughable to everyone – except to those in the sub-culture.

By watching the trailer, I sadly predict these things about Saving Christmas:

1. It will be on-the-nose message-heavy with a plot that will feel like it was tacked onto the message.

2. It will have awkward and predictable attempts at humor.  For example, does the trailer really have a black guy at the end saying, “Can I get an amen!” while all the (mostly) white folk in the background awkwardly answer “Amen!”?  Seriously?

3. There will be no ambiguity.  It’s not going to raise any questions among the faithful – but it will just reinforce the sub-culture’s beliefs.  Rub my back, and I’ll rub yours!

4. It will be a completely safe film for it’s faith-based audience, and the only challenge will be to go on ahead and celebrate Christmas the way you want to celebrate it, even in the face of what we American Christians laughably call “persecution”.

And here’s the rub with what will probably happen with this film:  It will be seen by very few – if any – people outside of the Christian sub-culture.

Get that?  Non-believers will not go see this film.  Not because of Kirk Cameron (although for some, Cameron might be the one that keeps them away).  The bigger issue is that they won’t go see this film because they don’t take our films seriously.

And isn’t that a shame?  Christian-made films should be so well-made, so well-written, so well-acted, so thoughtful and haunting and beautiful and compelling – that people can’t stay away.

But so many of the extremely talented people who are working hard to make “faith-based” films are so bound up in making films to please the sub-culture, that I just can’t imagine how it will happen.

And that’s the pity of it.

Now back to play work.

Edit:  I read an interview with Kirk Cameron where this exchange takes place:

What is your favorite movie?

KIRK: “I’m not really a movie guy.”

What? Kirk Cameron isn’t a movie guy?? I burst out laughing at the realization once again that people aren’t always what you expect them to be. 

KIRK: “My kids watch movies. But normally I just see half of one on a flight, and I usually don’t have headphones, so I only catch every other line anyway. I’m more of a book lover, actually. Most people think of me as a story guy, I mean, I make movies. But I really like non-fiction better. Although Pilgrims Progress is my favorite novel.”

He laughs when he says his mind works more in blueprints and charts and graphs. Who knew that one of the world’s biggest Christian Hollywood stars doesn’t even watch movies? Give him a book on systematic theology or the dating of Revelations and he’s happy.

The fact that Cameron isn’t “a movie guy” doesn’t give me a great deal of hope.