Category: Faith and Family on the Internet

BASED ON: Sundance/Windrider — ‘Luce’ and ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’

Tim Roth, Kevin Harrison Jr., Naomi Watts in ‘Luce’/Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Larkin Seiple

Our producer-at-large Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a USC film-school grad, does a regular feature here called BASED ON, looking at literary works adapted into TV or movies.

Luce, directed by Julius Onah, based on a play of the same title written by J.C. Lee. The two also wrote the screenplay. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind written and directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor, based on a memoir of the same title by William Kamkwamba.

Last month, I attended the Windrider Forum, an ecumenical Christian gathering of filmmakers and theologians held during the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The year 2019 marked the first time the two worked in concert: Windrider moderating panel discussions, and the Sundance Institute (the film education branch of the film festival) supplying the filmmakers.

A Nigerian New Wave dominated the week’s proceedings. Chiwetel Ejiofor spoke of faith and reason elements in his environmental drama,The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.

Grand Jury prizewinner Chinonye Chukwu stated her intentional staging of the execution scene as a crucifixion in the harrowing death row original drama, Clemency.

Julius Onah detailed his semi-autobiographical tale in Luce. All made reference to varying degrees of how their faith upbringings informed their films.

Luce began as an Off-Broadway play written by J.C. Lee and was adapted into a feature film with the assistance of Julius Onah. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. plays the title character, Luce Edgar. He’s a high-achieving high school student in every way imaginable: star athlete, straight A student and leader in various extra-curriculars.

As the story unfolds, however, we learn of Luce’s horrific back-story; warring marauders conscripted into child soldiering during the Congo’s civil war.  Peter (Tim Roth) and Amy Edgar (Naomi Watts) are the overly generous parents who adopted him at the age of 10 and assigned him the best of therapists to work through his trauma. And he did. Or did he?

Octavia Spencer plays Luce’s history teacher. While he scores high marks in her class, it’s a recent writing assignment that raises her hackles. Luce chooses a violent revolutionary to research. That curious choice coupled with the teacher invading Luce’s privacy (she discovers a stash of banned fireworks in his locker) exacerbates a previously hidden penchant for lying and deceit.

My filming-going priest-friend, a professor of Catholic literature at the University of Portland, observed Luce derives its title from Lucifer, the prince of deception and lies.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind spins more of a family-friendly adaptation of a true story. A village in Malawi, similar to many villages in Malawi, suffers from a drought. A young boy named William Kamkwamba (Maxwell Simba) read about windmills during his truncated stay in primary school. After much opposition from his villagers, his father (Chiwetel Ejiofor), included, he is eventually able to reinvent windmills into his context that produces water to flow into once-barren fields.

Maxwell Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor, ‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’/Netflix

The movie captures well the need for subsidiarity, as the absence of this principle leads to an overweening federal government that cares little about the village’s local predicament, and, in fact, acts as a deterrent to human entrepreneurship.

Somewhat lost in the movie, however, is the critique of indigenous religions, which the author terms “magic.” They believe prayers alone can bring about an end to their dust bowl. Instead, it’s the monotheistic communities and Catholicism, in particular, that see a God who created the natural world in a certain order, and scientific inquiry is really the impulse of someone uncovering the natural order.

Reading the book, I was reminded of the tale of St. Boniface, apostle to the Germans in the 8th century. To show the power of Christ, he demonstrated that trees were not to be worshiped and so cut down the Thunder Oak of Thor. The God who breathed into life the natural world was the one to be worshiped. Any creations of the natural world of his fell under the dominion of humans and could be used as they saw ethically fit. Hence, electricity, running water and the Christmas tree.

Image: Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Larkin Seiple (‘Luce’); Netflix (‘Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’)

Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.

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The ‘Movieguide Awards’ on Hallmark Celebrates Films and TV That Lift the Spirit

James Faulkner, Jim Caviezel ‘Paul: Apostle of Christ’/Photo: Movieguide®

Not sure why Hallmark Channel chose to air the Movieguide Awards the night after the Academy Awards — ensuring they’d be swamped in a flood of post-Oscar coverage — but this is one ceremony where love and light take center stage.

The actual ceremony — full name Faith & Values Awards Gala — took place on Feb. 8 at the Universal Hilton Hotel in Universal City, California, with the theme Movies and TV That Transform, and aired on Feb. 25 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Movieguide is a nonprofit ministry dedicated to “redeeming the values of the entertainment industry by influencing industry executives and by informing and equipping the public about the influence of the entertainment media,” and, as the name suggests, reviews movies with an eye to the faith and values audience.

As part of the Gala, Movieguide founder Dr. Ted Baehr presented highlights from the organizations 2018 Report to the Entertainment Industry about what kinds of entertainment moviegoers and TV viewers actually prefer (hint: it’s often not the stuff that wins Emmys and Oscars). More on that here.

The hosts were actress and Fuller House star Candace Cameron Bure and her daughter, actress Natasha Bure.

Here are the nominees and winners (in bold):

The Visionary Award for Furthering Entertainment With Faith & Values

  • Bill Abbott, president & CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, and Michelle Vicary, executive vice president, programming, Crown Media Family Networks, for their work with Hallmark Channel.

Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring Movie

  • God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
  • The Grinch
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • Paul, Apostle of Christ
  • Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Epiphany Prize to the Most Inspiring TV Program of 2018

  • Billy Graham: An Extraordinary Journey
  • Daredevil (Season 3, episode 13)
  • Elvis Presley: The Searcher: Part I and Part II
  • Manifest (pilot episode)
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 5, episode 22)
  • Medal of Honor: ‘Hiroshi Hershey Miyamura’
  • A Shoe Addict’s Christmas
  • When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing

Faith & Freedom Award for Movies

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Chappaquiddick
  • Incredibles 2
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Little Pink House
  • Paddington 2

Faith and Freedom Award for TV

  • Daredevil” (Season 3, episode 13)
  • Little Women
  • Manifest (pilot episode)
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 5, episode 22)
  • Medal of Honor: ‘Hiroshi Hershey Miyamura’

Best Movie for Families

  • God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
  • The Grinch
  • I Can Only Imagine
  • Incredibles 2
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Paddington 2
  • Paul, Apostle of Christ
  • Peter Rabbit (2018)
  • Ralph Breaks the Internet
  • Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

10 Best Movies for Mature Audiences (in alphabetical order)

  • Ant-Man and the Wasp
  • Chappaquiddick
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • Little Pink House
  • Mission: Impossible – Fallout
  • A Quiet Place
  • Skyscraper
  • Solo: A Star Wars Story
  • Unbroken: Path to Redemption
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Christie Peters Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for Movies

  • David A.R. White, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
  • Dennis Quaid, I Can Only Imagine
  • J. Michael Finley, I Can Only Imagine
  • James Faulkner, Paul, Apostle of Christ
  • Jim Caviezel, Paul, Apostle of Christ
  • John Krasinski, A Quiet Place
  • Emily Blunt, A Quiet Place
  • Samuel Hunt, Unbroken: Path to Redemption
  • Merritt Patterson, Unbroken: Path to Redemption

Christie Peters Grace Award for Most Inspiring Performance for TV

  • Emily Watson, Little Women
  • Henry Simmons, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 5, episode 22)
  • Chloe Bennet, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Season 5, episode 22)
  • Joanne Whalley, Daredevil (Season 3, episode 13)
  • Candace Cameron Bure, A Shoe Addict’s Christmas
  • Jean Smart, A Shoe Addict’s Christmas
  • Lori Loughlin, When Calls the Heart: The Greatest Christmas Blessing

$15,000 Kairos Prize for Most Spiritually Uplifting Screenplay by a First-Time or Beginning Screenwriter(s)

  • Nathan Leon, Grace by Night

$15,000 Kairos Pro Prize for Most Inspiring Screenplay by an Experienced Filmmaker

  • Paul Cooper, Mingo Road

Image: Movieguide®

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

‘The Dating Project’ is THE Movie You Need for Valentine’s Day

Boston College singles Matt and Shanzi, “The Dating Project”/PureFlix/MPower/Family Theater Productions

This Thursday is the first St. Valentine’s Day since the April 2018 release of Family Theater Productions’ groundbreaking documentary The Dating Project. It’s a frank, heartfelt look at modern dating, based on the work of Boston College professor Dr. Kerry Cronin, who’s been trying to reintroduce the nearly lost art of dating to her students.

Along the way, the film, directed by Millennial Jonathan Cipiti, talks to a two of Cronin’s students, a twentysomething woman in Chicago, a thirtysomething woman in New York and a fortysomething man in Los Angeles (which, we’re happy to report, has since married), about the challenges of looking for real love in the hookup culture.

And now, it’s Valentine’s Day. No pressure.

We don’t know a lot about the original St. Valentines (there are three), but we do know that they were all martyred for their love of the Lord. Along the way, that love came to represent love in general, especially romantic love. FTP’s online series Catholic Central explored just that and more in a new episode (more resources here):

If you’re one of those people whose Valentine’s Day is not all hearts and flowers, we think watching The Dating Project (website here) — whether streamed online or on DVD — will be eye-opening and ultimately uplifting. So, in honor of that, I fired off some questions to one of the movie’s producers, Megan Harrington (who’s also a co-producer of the upcoming pro-life film Unplanned, and is now an FTP staff producer) and here’s what she had to say:

What kinds of audience reactions have you heard since the release of the film in the Spring of 2018?

The feedback has been really encouraging from men and women across all age categories. Grandparents ask “How did this happen (state of dating)?” and want to get a copy for their grandkids. Parents who watch it with their children tell us how it opened up an honest and real conversation after. Single people have had an emotional reaction and been inspired. It really is a film for every single person, pun intended.

What’s surprised you about how the film has affected people?

I think what has surprised me is the film’s impact on married people. It has encouraged some to start dating their spouse again, which is awesome.

What more have you learned about the subject matter of modern dating?

I learned so much working on this film, both about myself and the world of modern dating. I believe the oversexualization of the culture has created chaos and uncertainty in what it means to be in relationship. We’ve replaced casual dating with casual sex, and the result is a profound sense of loneliness. I don’t see happier or more carefree people. I see brokenness and people who ache to have a real connection. Dr. Cronin’s “dating assignment” is an opportunity to reclaim the lost art of dating.

The work of Dr. Cronin to help young people relearn the art of dating goes on. Do you have any plans to work with her again on another project?

We would love to work with Dr. Cronin again, but her passion is teaching and I think that is where she will focus all of her energy. What a blessing for those kids who have the opportunity to sit in her classroom. They are receiving an education of the mind and heart, which is an incredible gift.

Did ‘The Dating Project’ accomplish what you hoped it would?

We wanted the film to be a conversation starter, and from the screenings and feedback received, it seems to have accomplished the goal. We hope the conversation continues to grow, and the film reaches colleges and communities far and wide. If you’re interested in group screenings, visit www.TheDatingProjectMovie.com. Yes, that was a shameless plug.

What’s been the most moving thing you’ve experienced as the film has made its way to audiences?

As the film has made its way to audiences, I’ve had an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to be part of this film and work side-by-side for endless hours with the most incredibly dedicated team. I’m grateful to God for introducing us to all the amazing people in the film. I’m grateful to God for every comment about how the film has changed someone’s perspective or direction.

Valentine’s Day is a source of joy for many, and pain for others. If your love life isn’t where you want it to be on Thursday, Feb. 14, is there any advice you can give for getting through it?

Well, my love life isn’t where I want so I’ll share what I’m going to do: eat chocolate and play sad songs. Kidding … about the sad songs. The only way to get through life is to live it. If Thursday is a painful reminder of the past, make it a day to bury those memories and embrace the present by inviting some friends over to watch “The Dating Project.”  And then…say yes to “The Dating Assignment.”

(The Dating Assignment is a literal assignment that Dr. Cronin hands out to students. You can try it yourself here.)

For a little more info, check out Dr. Cronin’s appearance on EWTN’s The World Over with Raymond Arroyo:

Click here to see Harrington herself on Fox News. Below find The Dating Project trailer:

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Image: Pure Flix/MPower/FamilyTheater Productions

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter  and YouTube.

Should You Give Up Social Media in 2019? Bishop Barron Weighs In

Resolved for 2019: Giving up all social media. Done. Kaput. Gone! … But is that a good idea?

If you work in media, like we do at Family Theater Productions, that’s not even a question. You just can’t. For hearing from the audience, and communicating back to them, social media is vital. Otherwise, it’s just a one-way ad stream going outward, with no feedback — and that’s not good.

We’re active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, both for FTP and for our productions — like The Dating Project and Catholic Central — and every day, we check to see what you’re thinking and saying (and we hope you check in with us).

But for me especially, as Social Media Manager, in the thick of it every day …whoa, there’s a lot of bad out there. I spent many years in mainstream entertainment journalism before I came here, so the craziness and negativity doesn’t surprise me. Every now and then, though, I’m even brought up short by just how nasty people can be.

On the other hand, we get lots of positive, wonderful and helpful feedback as well. Like this comment on YouTube:

And, outside of business, think of all the ways social media has connected people — lost relatives, old and new friends, people in crisis, potential pets and spouses. It’s also brought us shocking, important or heartwarming stories from the furthest corners of the world.

Personally, I think of Facebook as a huge dinner party, with invited friends, nosy neighbors, party crashers and crazy uncles (and aunts).  Twitter is the 24/7/365 rowdy cocktail chatter of the world, encircled by an eternally updating news ticker. Instagram is the beauty (and weirdness) of the world as it is, with a heavy dose of the world as we pretend it is.

Professionally, I’m eternally surprised to learn what you all out there like, and don’t like. Trust me, we listen, and we learn. Anyone who works in media has to have an ear to all the social channels. We can work on projects for years, talk among ourselves about what we like and don’t like, what we think will work — but ultimately, you guys are the ones that decide whether a project is a success.

Media ignores the voice of the audience at its peril. Creators can’t allow the audience to dictate to them — after all, it’s that creator’s unique voice that can make something special and authentic — but at the same time, if they want their creations to be enjoyed and appreciated (and most especially, produced), they need to pay attention. Sometimes it can be bruising, but it’s essential.

But even secular media, including such business-focused sites as Ragan.com, realizes that one has to take a break every now and then. From a post today:

If you have an unhealthy relationship with social media, consider a cleansing “fast.” Give up Snapchat or Facebook for Lent. Break it off with whichever platforms give you grief and little else.

For people of faith, using social media can be especially fraught. For that, I happily yield the floor to Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron, who knows as much as anyone about the rewards and pitfalls of faith in the social square:

Here’s to a happy, healthy and sane 2019, even in social media!

Image: Shutterstock

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

‘The Star’: Producer DeVon Franklin on the Christmas Film’s Future

DeVon Franklin/The Star

Last year, The Star returned Christ to the Christmas-movie season — but when will it be back on the big screen?

Released in November 2017, the Sony Animation feature tells the story of the Nativity from the POV of the animals, along with Mary and Joseph. It’s earned 62.8M worldwide, and it’s available on DVD and for streaming on Netflix and other platforms.

Voice talent for The Star includes Zach Levi as the voice of Joseph; Gina Rodriguez as Mary; Steven Yuen as their faithful donkey, Bo; and Oprah Winfrey, Tracy Morgan and Tyler Perry as the Wise Men’s camels.

Other voice talent includes Patrica Heaton (Edith the cow); Anthony Anderson (Zach the goat); Kris Kristofferson (old donkey); Ving Rhames (Thaddeus the dog); Kelly Clarkson (Leah the horse); Kristen Chenoweth (Abby the pygmy gerboa); and Christopher Plummer (King Herod).

I recently had a chat with Christian executive producer DeVon Franklin, whose next faith-based movie, Breakthrough, is hitting theaters at Easter.

Franklin was pleased with The Star‘s performance in theaters, but said, “Animated films can be released in theaters, but they really find their audience in home video. So, so many people have come to me saying their families have watched it.”

But what about putting Bo the Donkey and pals back on the big screen?

Franklin said, “We were going to re-release it this year, but for a variety of reasons, we’re going to hold the re-release until next year, so that we actually have enough time to plan for it.

“But, as an anecdote, my nephew, who is four years old, my younger brother’s son, the only thing he wanted to watch a week ago was The Star. He was like, ‘We got to watch The Star!’ Kids love it.

“If Malachi Franklin loves The Star, that’s good enough for me.”

If your family has loved and seen The Star — or watches it because you read this — we’d love to hear what you think. Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

Merry Christmas, and remember to follow the Star (of Bethlehem, that is) …

Image: The Star …Sony Pictures Animation/DeVon Franklin … TM & © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.

The Joy of Rose on Advent’s Gaudete Sunday

Why is this one candle on the Advent wreath not like all the others?

Advent and its counterpart, Lent, are seasons of penitence and of waiting — one for Christ’s arrival, and the other for His Resurrection. On the Advent wreath, the three purple candles mark the preparation Christians undergo while waiting for the events of Christmas Day.

But, unlike dour Lent, Advent is usually a happy season, full of food, parties, shopping, music and lights. In the retail world, Christmas begins right after Halloween and then kicks into overdrive on the day after Thanksgiving. Many people mirror this, barely putting away the leftover turkey before putting up every Christmas decoration they own.

While this calendar is fine for secular society, it has nothing to do with the Child at the heart of the season. He won’t be here until Christmas Eve, and all the earlybird sales in the world won’t speed that up.

That’s why it’s traditional (though not required) to refrain from putting the Christ Child into a Catholic church’s Nativity scene manger until the appointed moment. Here’s Pope Francis at the big moment:

Some folks don’t even put Him there in their home Nativity scenes until Christmas.

So, why do we need a reminder to rejoice on the Third Sunday of Advent? It’s called Gaudete Sunday (Latin for “rejoice”) – in 2018, on Dec. 16 – and marked by lighting a rose-colored candle on our wreaths and having priests wear rose-colored vestments at Mass (as demonstrated by Kai from our online series Catholic Central, in a clip from an episode on “The Liturgical Year”).

Because the happiness that comes from fun and friends and a full belly is not the same thing as Christian joy.

During a spring Mass in 2013, at Casa Santa Maria in Rome, Pope Francis talked about the difference between happiness and joy:

“To be happy is good, yet joy is something more. It’s another thing, something which does not depend on external motivations, or on passing issues: it is more profound. It is a gift.

“To be ‘happy at all moments, at all cost,’ can at the end turn into superficiality and shallowness. This leaves us without Christian wisdom, which makes us dumb, naïve, right? All is joy … no. Joy is something else; it is a gift from the Lord.”

If joy is a gift from the Lord, then the Lord Himself is our first and greatest gift, and the only one that will never tarnish or break or fade. Gaudete – said “Gow-DAY-tay” – Sunday reminds us that the gift has not yet arrived, but it’s very near.

It takes its name from the first word of the Introit, “Gaudete in Domino Semper,” which is Latin for the beginning of Philippians 4:4-7, Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

So even though you may be having happy times during Advent, Gaudete Sunday is a moment to stop and reflect on the source of true joy. And if the Advent season has brought causes for stress and sorrow into your life, then lighting the rose candle is an opportunity to take heart and refocus on what the Mass of Christ is all about.

Perhaps you’ll have the same revelation that came upon the pinched and petulant title character of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as he stood atop Mount Crumpit with all the Whos’ Christmas goodies piled high on a sleigh, ready to be dumped.

But up from Whoville, divested of all its festive finery and fine food, came not howls of anguish nor shouts of anger but the sound of sweet singing.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow

Stood puzzling and puzzling, ‘How could it be so?

‘It came without ribbons! It came without tags!

‘It came without packages, boxes or bags!’

And he puzzled three hours, ‘till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!

‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.

‘Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!’”

Or, as the Whos reminded us …

Here’s a lovely version of the traditional Advent carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from a cappella group Pentatonix …

Blessed Gaudete Sunday!

(Adapted and updated from a column I originally wrote for CatholicVote in 2013.)

Image: Shutterstock

Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.

Keep up with Family Theater Productions on FacebookTwitter and YouTube.