Category: Christians working in Arts and Media

‘Paul, Apostle of Christ’: Herald of the Better Christian/Catholic Film

The new movie about St. Paul from ODB Films, the filmmakers who brought you Full of Grace, comes to theaters on March 23, just in time for Palm Sunday on the 25th. Let me answer the big questions right away:

Is it good? Yes.

Is it biblical? Sort of.

It’s historical and extra-biblical, meaning it takes historical events and passages from the Bible that we know occurred. Then, the movie depicts them, along with scenes and events created by the filmmakers that are not in Sacred Scripture but could have happened.

Is it heretical? No.

Not to my understanding, and not to any of the priests and theologians whom I have asked about the movie. Now, if you are one of those people who feels that depicting anything from the Bible that is not explicitly in the Bible, you will have problems with the film. But, to paraphrase St. John the Apostle, if everything that Christ did was written down, there would not be enough books in the world to record it.

How is the message and the portrayal of faith? The message is powerful, and faith is portrayed as meaningful and positive, but also real.

Which means some people doubt, some struggle, some even fall away. Even Paul questions. But – spoiler alert – the ending message of faith, hope and love is all the more powerful for it. For those who are offended by saints depicted as actual human beings, be warned. However, Paul in the New Testament writes about the good he wants to do but does not do, and the bad he does not want to do but does anyway.

Should I see it?  YES.

It is a striking, contemplative look at one of the most influential people in all of Christianity.

Paul, Apostle of Christ, however, is significant for another reason as well: I believe it embodies the next step of faith–based films, and this is a good thing!

I say this because, while still being low-budget (especially by Hollywood standards), it is a professional-looking movie, with real, recognizable actors: Jim Caviezel (Passion of the Christ, Person of Interest), James Faulkner (Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones) and Olivier Martinez (Revenge & S.W.A.T.). It also delivers a powerful story with quality writing, AND it still manages to deliver a message rather than just showing a sermon on screen.

Have you ever felt in the past that saying you liked Christian films was like confessing to a guilty pleasure? When someone, especially a non-believer, asked if you liked certain famous, faith-based movies, did you feel like you needed to justify yourself if you said “yes”?

For example, you would admit the acting isn’t great, the writing is heavy-handed, and the production value was just above amateur – but hey, the message was fantastic! Well, I think that day is disappearing, where audiences are no longer turning out like they used to just because a film mentions Jesus and stars Kirk Cameron or Kevin Sorbo. (God bless you, Kirk and Kevin, for being trailblazers in this field!)

Critics and fans have been asking, when will faith-based films be … well, good. In all honesty, there have been such high-budgeted fair which often featured a known star or two. These are films like Risen and Miracles from Heaven, and they did deliver a higher-quality experience However, the budgets were much, much bigger, therefore much riskier and that gave rise to the question– if a film like Moonlight could be made for $2 million and be Academy Award-worthy (it won the best picture Oscar in 2017), why couldn’t faith films be the same?

And, where were the Catholics in all this Christian content?

Well, we find our answer in Paul, Apostle of Christ. Made for a slightly larger budget than God’s Not Dead 2 and War Room ($3 million apiece, per and for a bit less than recent release I Can Only Imagine, here is a modestly priced movie, made by Catholics, that still delivers in quality on every level.

Now, to be clear, this film is more of a chamber piece, literally, where Paul spends most of the story in a chamber, his prison cell. However, a chamber piece usually means a film that largely shows people talking in rooms. There are no car (or chariot) chases or harrowing escapes, and this film does not focus on some of the more action-packed moments of St. Paul’s life.

Instead, it shows Paul as an old man, who is a prisoner of Nero and awaits the eventual day of his execution. It opens with the Gospel writer, St. Luke, arriving in Rome to find the Christian community there. He wants to connect with Paul to guide him in helping the faithful, who are now facing intense persecution under the emperor.

Despite the lack of big action scenes, the film still manages to touch the heart by asking, arguing and addressing some of the big issues that Christian faced back then and still struggle with today. For example, what it does it mean to believe when the powers of the world seem stacked against you? Also, how do you find hope and love in a world so ruled by fear and hate? More importantly, if you can find these graces, how do you live them?

Paul, Apostle of Christ brings that drama to the big screen in a subtle but beautiful and effective way.

I would recommend going to the theaters to have this film help you start your Holy Week.

Image: ODB Films/Sony Affirm

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘Paul: Apostle of Christ’ Star Jim Caviezel Talks Christian Persecution

Yesterday (March 20), at the Dallas premiere of “Paul: Apostle of Christ,” The Hill reporter Rick Manning caught up with Jim Caviezel, who plays the Apostle Luke in the new movie, hitting theaters on Friday, March 23.

Faith marketer Matthew Faraci shot this Facebook Live video of Manning asking Caviezel about the persecution of Chrtistians, and got this stunning answer. Click here for the original Facebook video (which is going viral), and below — with permission from both Manning and Faraci — is what happened:

Click here for more information on “Paul: Apostle of Christ” — which is excellent, BTW — and buy tickets.

Image: ODB Films/Sony Affirm

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘I Can Only Imagine’: Star Madeline Carroll Is Having a God Moment

Madeline Carroll turned 22 on Sunday, and she got a great birthday present — a $17M opening weekend for her movie, “I Can Only Imagine.”

Inspired by the life story of Bart Millard of the band MercyMe, who penned its hit Christian-pop song, also called “I Can Only Imagine,” the film — directed by the brother team of Andrew and Jon Erwin (“Mom’s Night Out,” “Woodlawn”) —  exceeded the expectations of the secular movie world.

From IndieWire:

Among contemporary Christian community titles, only “Heaven Is for Real” had a better opening, scoring $22 million when it opened in 2014.

The film even earned a positive review from a critic at

I can only imagine why distributors Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate made the decision seemingly to hide, from most critics at least, their new faith-based film I Can Only Imagine. It became a surprise hit this weekend, making around $17 million, way over-performing estimates and earning an A+ CinemaScore audience rating. Apparently they had no faith themselves, at least as far as reviews go. Does this sound like a film where you try to keep critics at bay, especially since the precious few who did see it have it in positive territory over at Rotten Tomatoes?

I decided to find out for myself and caught it over the weekend at a commercial theater. I can only add to the good vibes it has been getting since that opening, with a bigger expansion coming later this week. It lifts the genre.

J. Michael Finley plays Bart; Dennis Quaid plays his abusive father, Art; Cloris Leachman plays Bart’s grandmother, Memaw; and country star Trace Adkins plays MercyMe’s manager, Brickell.

Carroll — whose short life contains a lengthy modeling and acting career, beginning in childhood — plays Shannon, Bart’s high-school girlfriend and eventual wife.

As she hit her teenage and early-adult years, though, the devoutly Christian Carroll began to run into issues — being asked to do things she just couldn’t.

At a recent press roundtable with me and other faith-based press, she said:

I had someone say this to me the other day, and I feel like it’s so much Shannon’s perspective. They said sometimes God’s dream for us is a lot bigger than our dreams for ourselves. It really hit me, because I feel like that, especially the past year for my life, it’s definitely been that. God’s dream for my life has been a lot bigger than my dream for my own.

It’s too hard. This industry is too hard to do what I’m trying to do. And it’s rare to say no to something. You’re in the minority if you’re saying no to a project; you’re crazy. And so I definitely face so much opposition.

But I love when someone said that to me the other day. Because I can’t believe that God gave me this part and gave me this opportunity.

There’s always someone more qualified to be an actress, there’s always someone more qualified for the part, there’s always someone who’s prettier, a better actress. And so the fact that I got the opportunity of being this woman is very… I recognize that it’s special and I recognize that it was a blessing from God to get to do it.

Carroll also said that she was on the verge of giving up acting, when the part of Shannon came along.

I was gonna give up acting, yeah. I was like this is it, I’m done, and so heartbroken. But I was like I don’t think this is what I’m meant to do anymore.

Turning down role after role after role, and my agency would get upset with me, angry because I wasn’t going to do nudity and stuff like that. I just stuck to my guns, but it got so hard, because I was like, “God, I’m making these choices for You. I’m stepping out. I’m doing something different. And I’m just not seeing You anymore.”

And I was like, “Okay, if this isn’t what You want, then I’m good to go. I’ll do whatever else that You have, whatever it is. Because I can’t take this anymore. It’s too hard.” …

And so I had this whole meltdown in my bathroom.

The next day, she got a text message from a director who remembered her for something else, and then, a couple of months later, “I Can Only Imagine” came along. She discovered that the Erwins had her in mind for Shannon, but couldn’t get in touch with her.

She said:

How ’bout that? How ’bout that? And so it was definitely a God thing, and completely revived my calling and my career and my dream.

How about that, indeed?

To learn more about “I Can Only Imagine,” click here for the official Website. There are no nude scenes, profanity or sexual situations, but the film does candidly portray Bart’s difficulties with his hard-drinking, sometimes violent father.

Image: Courtesy Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Habemus Papam! Pope Francis’ Election: March 13, Five Years Ago

On March 13, 2013 — a k a 3/13/13 — Argentinian Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected Pope Francis: the first Francis, the first non-European pope in many centuries, and the first ever from the Western Hemisphere.

It was quite a day and night. Here’s how it unfolded, in videos.

First of all, how is a pope elected? Here’s the answer, courtesy of an excerpt from the “Popes 101” episode of our Web series “Catholic Central”:

The climactic moment that the white smoke belched from the Vatican smokestack:

How Raymond Arroyo and his crew at EWTN saw it at the time:

If you have a little over an hour and a half, here’s the whole shebang:

And lest you forget one of the unexpected stars of the day, a remembrance of the Sistine Seagull:

Habemus Papam! We have a pope!

Image: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

CBS’ ‘Living Biblically’: Hope in the TV Wasteland

A man loses his best friend and then finds out he’s going to be a father. He decides to turn his life around, so, for guidance, he relies on … the Bible.

That’s the premise of a CBS series that premiered last week. Episode 2 airs tonight at 9:30 ET/PT. The pilot is available to view online here; episodes can also be streamed on CBS All Access.

The series premiered to less-than-stellar ratings, but did as well as an earlier series in the same slot. Since one of the executive producers is Johnny Galecki, star of CBS’ hit “Big Bang Theory,” the network might be inclined to give it a chance to find an audience. The other executive producer is Patrick Walsh, a self-described lapsed Catholic (who’s still a big Pope Francis fan).

Jay R. Ferguson stars as movie critic Chip Curry, whose trip through the Testaments is aided by two guides: Father Gene (Ian Gomez) and Rabbi Gil (David Krumholtz), who quotes Thomas Aquinas in the course of the three episodes CBS provided for preview.

A.J. Jacobs, the author of the nonfiction book the series is loosely based on, “The Year of Living Biblically” is Jewish, but aside from taking the basic premise of a New York journalist devoting a period of time to living by Biblical precepts, the CBS show is entirely its own thing, It’s much more influenced by Walsh’s own Catholic upbringing.

In the three I saw, faith is treated humorously but respectfully; there’s no attempt or apparent intention to demean or mock Christianity; and those who know little or nothing about the Bible may learn a bit.

I found it charming and good-natured. Here’s what my pal Kathy Schiffer had to say at the National Catholic Register:

Unlike so many network shows that are outright hostile to faith, “Living Biblically” lets Catholics in on the fun, without flaunting sex and obscenity, and without besmirching the faith of the viewer. I’ll take it!

Thanks, CBS! So, give this show a try, and we’d love to know what you think in the comments, either here or on Facebook.

Image: Courtesy CBS

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Our Producer Priest’s Top Oscars Picks

With political controversies and scandals likely to be talked about — and addressed from the stage — during the Academy Awards on Sunday, March 4, viewers could be forgiven for firing up the Netflix or playing board games instead.

But the irony is, in a movie year where off-topic speechmaking and awkward acknowledgements of Hollywood’s current peccadilloes might turn people off, some of the movies nominated are really good — and even one is friendly to Catholicism.

Click here for Variety‘s rundown of all the nominees — which we won’t discuss in their entirety, to your likely relief — but I asked Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a Holy Cross priest, producer here at Family Theater Productions, and a graduate of USC Film School, what his picks were for the winners of the top categories.

Aside from Best Picture, Father Kuna said: “For the other major awards, I liked what the guilds picked, and am going with that.”

His picks are in bold.

Supporting Actress:

Mary J. Blige, “Mudbound”

Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Lesley Manville, “Phantom Thread”

Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Supporting Actor

Willem Dafoe, “The Florida Project”

Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”

Christopher Plummer, “All the Money in the World”

(Note: Plummer came in at the last minute to replace Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty, after Spacey’s own troubles with sexual scandal caused him to exit the film.)

Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Lead Actress:

Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”

Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”

Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Meryl Streep, “The Post”

Lead Actor:

Timothée Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”

Daniel Day-Lewis, “Phantom Thread”

Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”

Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour”

Note: Unlike Father Kuna, I haven’t seen all the nominated films, but I did see this one twice. It’ll be a dang shame if Oldman doesn’t take this. He was astonishing as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Here’s what I had to say back in November.)

Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.”


“Dunkirk,” Christopher Nolan

“Get Out,” Jordan Peele

“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig

“Phantom Thread,” Paul Thomas Anderson

“The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro

Best Picture:

“Call Me By Your Name”

“Darkest Hour”


“Get Out”

“Lady Bird”

“Phantom Thread”

“The Post”

“The Shape of Water”

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

And, for Best Picture, Father Kuna said:

In the newly instituted preferential ballot (rank 1 to 9), I see LADY BIRD being ranked in everyone’s top three.  With every other film, I could see the ranked votes being scattered from like to dislike and everything else in between.

This way of voting could propel a film that not everybody loved, but just about everybody liked, to best picture.

“Lady Bird” is a semi-autobiographical account of the Catholic-school years of a non-Catholic student and her fraught relationship with her mother.

Bishop Robert Barron said:

Now you might say, “okay, a typical coming of age story.” Yet running underneath this complex story of love and conflict is religion, more precisely, Catholicism. Though not a Catholic herself, Lady Bird attends a Catholic high school, with quite a number of priests and nuns on the faculty. At regular intervals in the film, we see Lady Bird and her classmates attending Mass and other religious services—and none of this is presented mockingly or ironically, as we’ve come to expect from most Hollywood productions. When Lady Bird auditions for the school’s fall musical, she discovers that an older priest is one of the drama coaches. This figure is presented very sympathetically as a man who, earlier in life, had been married and had lost a son, and who now wrestles with depression. When he goes away for treatment, he is replaced by a younger priest, who had served up to that point as football coach and who, to the amusement of his students, brings a good deal of fifty-yard-line enthusiasm to his new task.

But by far the most powerful and positive personages in the film are the religious sisters who staff the high school. To a person, they are bright, dedicated, funny, and wise, and provide strong role models for Lady Bird and her classmates. When one of the girls fixes a sign to the sisters’ car announcing, “married to Jesus for forty years,” the nuns privately enjoy the joke as much as the students. The pivotal scene in the film involves a conversation between the headmaster of the school and Lady Bird in the wake of Lady Bird’s truly insulting and objectionable behavior during an assembly. Whereas a more small-minded administrator would simply have dismissed the girl, this canny nun punishes Lady Bird but then invites her to explore her creativity as a writer. Throughout the film, the Catholic Church is an encouraging and illuminating presence.

Click here to read the rest, including his notes on the film’s climax.

I’d be equally happy with victory for “Darkest Hour,” a fact-based story that managed to achieve high drama and present a relatively accurate view of history while also being cracking good entertainment — and, short one mild profanity, perfectly fine for preteens and up.

You may not want to watch the awards — I’ll be doing so in the company of a group of film-loving Catholics — and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t (if I wasn’t at this party, I wouldn’t), but the fact that “Lady Bird” has made it all this way is encouraging.

A win for this faith-friendly, verging on faith-positive, little film would be sweet, indeed.

Image: Courtesy The Academy Awards; Father Vince Kuna; Focus Features; Scott Rudin Productions/Entertainment 360/IAC Films

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.