Ken Burns to Receive Christopher Life Achievement Award

Ken Burns may be America’s premiere documentarian, but he’s also one of its greatest storytellers, tackling, over a career spanning nearly four decades, such diverse subjects as the Civil and Vietnam Wars, baseball, jazz, national parks, cancer, Prohibition, the Roosevelts and radio.

He’s a mainstay of PBS, which gives a place of prominence to his elegant documentaries, some of which are (occasionally very) long series. They’re serious works on serious subjects, offering oral and visual histories based on interviews and research.

Now, The Christophers — founded by a Catholic priest and dedicated to encouraging people to make a positive difference in the world — are presenting Burns with The Christopher Life Achievement Award at the 69th annual Christopher Awards ceremony on May 17 (click here for info on the other winners).

Several of Burns’ projects have been honored with Christopher Awards, including “The Statue of Liberty,” “The Civil War,” “Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony,” “Jazz,” “Horatio’s Drive: America’s First Road Trip” and “The War.”

Interestingly enough, among the previous winners of The Christopher Life Achievement Award is author/historian David McCullough (“1776,” “John Adams”), who, in January 2017, also received the first Ken Burns American Heritage Prize, handed out by the American Prairie Reserve.

Said Burns at the time:

The Prize we present together to David acknowledges the historic role that the Great Plains played in helping to shape America’s character. It’s that same character, courage and fortitude which David’s tremendous work elucidates. This indomitable American spirit is alive and well today, in David and in the men and women in many arenas whose work reminds us that our lives serve a greater purpose.

In honoring Burns, Tony Rossi, The Christophers’ Director of Communications, said:

One of the most admirable aspects of Ken Burns’ approach to filmmaking is that he doesn’t approach history as dry facts. Instead, it’s about stories, human connections, and the emotions and experiences that bind us together by transcending time and place.

And while Ken knows that America and its citizens have sometimes fallen short of their own ideals, his films ultimately convey a spirit of hope that we learn from our mistakes to become better as a people and a nation.

For that reason, The Christophers are honored to present Ken Burns with our 2018 Christopher Life Achievement Award.

Contacted for comment, Burns had this to say:

I cannot think of a greater honor than receiving this life-time achievement award. The Christophers have long celebrated what is unique about each person and inspire us to contribute to the public good.

In our work, we look to tell the larger arc of our country’s history through the stories of individuals. By recognizing the actions of individuals I think we can better understand the issues of the past and the present, and hopefully do so in a way that is respectful of people’s lives, even when we tackle topics that are often hard to understand.

I’m inspired by The Christophers’ work and encourage others to embrace their belief that everyone can make a difference.

Burns’ next major project for PBS is “Country Music,” coming in 2019 — which was announced way back in 2014. Great things take time!

From Burns’ Website:

Country Music will chronicle the history of a uniquely American art form, rising from the experiences of remarkable people in distinctive regions of our nation.  From southern Appalachia’s songs of struggle, heartbreak and faith to the rollicking western swing of Texas, from California honky tonks to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, we will follow the evolution of country music over the course of the twentieth century, as it eventually emerged to become America’s music.

It will be directed and produced by Ken Burns; written and produced by Dayton Duncan; and produced by Julie Dunfey.

Speaking of taking your time, also in Burns’ pipeline is a two-part, four-hour profile of boxer and activist Muhammad Ali. Production began in early 2016 for a 2021 premiere.

From an early 2017 story at Deadline.com:

In the announcement, Burns described Muhammad Ali as “maybe the most iconic figure of the 20th century,” explaining, “He arrived at exactly the right moment, amidst the tumult and upheaval of the 1960s, and he shaped his times with his powerful voice, mesmerizing presence, and achievements in the ring.”

“But beyond the astonishing athletic gifts and mountain of charisma, there’s a very complex, dynamic man whose life story has yet to receive the comprehensive treatment it deserves.”

In November 2017, Ken Burns accepted the Muhammad Ali Voice of Humanity award from the Society of Voice Arts & Sciences, at the 4th Annual 2017 Voice Arts® Awards at Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Fredrick P. Rose Hall.

Take a look:

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Courtesy Ken Burns, PBS

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‘The Baxters’: Production Underway on Roma Downey’s Online Series

Production is underway in Los Angeles on “The Baxters,” a scripted family drama set to premiere late this year on Roma Downey’s LightWorkers platform.

Based on “The Baxter Family” 26-book series by Karen Kingsbury, the streaming series of six half-hour episodes stars Downey and Ted McGinley (“God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness”) as the heads of a family with six adult children.

From Variety:

“We have assembled a talented cast and creative team to lead ‘The Baxters,’ LightWorkers’ first premium scripted digital series,” said Downey who is president of LightWorkers Media. “We look forward to bringing this beloved story to life for a whole new audience.”

LightWorkers Media, the company behind the uplifting, positivity-focused platform, is a joint venture of MGM TV, Downey and her husband, Mark Burnett, who’s also the head of MGM TV and Digital. Downey is producing “The Baxters” with Will Packer (“Uncle Buck,” the new “Roots”) and his Will Packer Media shingle.

But you don’t have to wait to enjoy the other fare offered at LightWorkers (click here), which recently included a feature story on our feature-length documentary “The Dating Project.” After a one-night run in theaters across the country on April 17, it’s set to come out on DVD in June, and perhaps then on a digital streaming service.

Image: Courtesy LightWorkers

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.

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Bishop Barron, the HS Kids and YouTube: A Match Made in Heaven

Today, the loveliest thing happened on YouTube and Twitter. Betcha don’t hear that often, right?

Students, alumni and faculty of Bishop Sullivan High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, created a YouTube video in an attempt to reach L.A.’s Bishop Robert Barron.

The plan was to share it on Twitter and encourage influencers to retweet it, in hopes that Barron would agree to be the final judge of a video contest in the school.

Take a look:

Published on YouTube April 11, the video was tweeted out on April 12.

Responses came in quickly, including this one from Catholic University of America Associate Professor of Systematic Theology Dr. Chad Pecknold, who got a shout-out in the video:

We also RTed it, hoping to eventually get some of these kids as college interns!

It didn’t take long for the students to get a response from their target:

The teacher responded (including a thank-you to Fr. Goyo Hildalgo, one of our favorite priests (and a great Twitterer), from St. Rose of Lima in Simi Valley, California, just north of Los Angeles (BTW, we follow Mr. Goerke now):

And then the school, with some video gratitude:

Of course, Bishop Barron really got his start as a public evangelist on YouTube, which is owned by Google. Late last month, Barron visited Google’s headquarters, the Googleplex, in Mountain View, California, to deliver a talk called “Religion and the Opening Up of the Mind,” in which he discussed the connection between our desire for quick answers and the question of God. More on that here.

Then, Barron visited YouTube HQ in San Bruno, California (prior to the horrific shooting there), and posted this video summarizing his Googleplex talk.

As the “bishop of the Internet,” as the Bishop Sullivan students called him, it’s fitting that Barron visited Google and YouTube, and that the students used YouTube and Twitter to ask him to judge a video contest.

The next time someone tells you that social media is an unredeemable swamp, remember this day.

Image: Courtesy World on Fire (YouTube screenshot)

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Father Mike Schmitz on ‘The Dating Project’ and ‘The Culture of Netflix and Chill’

Father Mike Schmitz

Word is beginning to circulate about the new documentary “The Dating Project,” in which Family Theater Productions has partnered with Paulist Productions and MPower Pictures. Hitting theaters around the country on Tuesday, April 17, as a one-night Fathom Event, it follows five singles — two in college, and one twentysomething, thirtysomething and fortysomething — trying to find love in today’s dismal dating culture.

There are Christians in it — and the L.A.-based participant, Chris Meehan, is Catholic — but this is a universal problem, and the documentary is, as the tagline says, for every single person.

We recommend buying tickets in advance, and taking as many friends, relatives, co-workers, teammates, shipmates and roommates as you can, because, if this isn’t your problem, it’s a problem for someone you care about.

Just go to TheDatingProjectMovie.com for information on a theater in your area and to buy tickets.

People of faith may decry the state of secular dating, but as this article from the managing editor of CatholicMatch.com says, we’re no better at it than anyone else.

Honestly, as I see it, the problem with all three scenarios above is the same: people just don’t know how to date. Non-Catholics don’t know how to date. “Normal” Catholics don’t know how to date. And Extra-Catholic Catholics don’t know how to date.

Plus, add to this the fact that dating is not an end in itself — marriage is. Dating is a means to an end. But you have to use that means well and stay right in the middle between two extremes: dating just to fill the loneliness versus hardly ever dating because you think you need to get engaged after the first two dates.

And that’s what “The Dating Project” is all about. It’s based on the work of a Catholic professor at Boston College, Dr. Kerry Cronin, who is trying to restore sanity to a situation in which it’s somehow less awkward to engage in a drunken hookup with a near-total stranger than to ask someone out for coffee face-to-face.

It’s also something that vlogger and speaker Father Mike Schmitz — whose day job is ministering to students at the University of Minnesota Duluth — addresses in his latest video, released today. Inspired by seeing “The Dating Project,” he attacks the culture of “Netflix and chill,” which means anything but watching Netflix and relaxing (unless Father Mike says it).

The film is suitable for middle-schoolers (with their parents) and older. There is a discussion of pornography, but it is not graphic (and if you think your kids don’t know what that is … well, I hope you’re right).

Hope to see you all there. And if you’re looking for lasting love, throw up a prayer that we can all #DateDifferently.

Image: Courtesy Father Mike Schmitz/The Dating Project

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As Faith Films Rise, The Christopher Awards Honor Uplifting Movies, TV and Books

“The Star”: Courtesy AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation

Just in the last month, the faith-based drama “I Can Only Imagine,” which cost $7M to produce, has earned over $58M at the box office. This past Easter Sunday, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live” earned both good reviews and won primetime for the night.

To put it mildly, Hollywood is a bit surprised. From Entertainment Weekly:

“There is this mainstream bubble that is marginalizing these types of films, and we do underestimate them,” explains comScore’s senior media analyst (and box office expert) Paul Dergarabedian, adding that the Easter holiday could inspire countless droves of parishioners to plop down cash at the multiplex at the request of their religious leaders. “The faith-based films may be bolstered by perhaps the most grassroots of all movie marketing, which is at the church level. It’s like having a watercooler discussion at work, but you’re having a watercooler discussion in front of a church. You can imagine that, on Easter Sunday, when the leader of the flock is up there [giving a] sermon, it might be about going to see [a movie like the upcoming Jim Caviezel film] Paul, Apostle of Christ.”

“It’s a mistake to underestimate faith-based movies,” Dergarabedian concludes. “Just because you’re not seeing it in your own backyard, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.”

But if one looks, Christian values can be found in many places, including both faith-based projects and secular ones. The purpose of the annual Christopher Awards is to recognize these efforts.

First presented in 1949, the Christopher Awards were established by Christopher founder Father James Keller to salute media that “affirm the highest values of the human spirit.” Their goal is to encourage men, women and children to pursue excellence in creative arenas that have the potential to influence a mass audience positively. Award winners encourage audiences to see the better side of human nature and motivate artists and the general public to use their best instincts on behalf of others.

All the 2018 awards can be found here.

From The Christophers ‘ Director of Communications Tony Rossi, the producer and writer of the annual awards:

In a world where there’s a lot of anger and division, people need stories like those we’re honoring with Christopher Awards this year. From heroism in war to ordinary acts of kindness, these stories can serve as instruments of grace, helping us to see beyond our differences and celebrate our common humanity.

Here are the TV and film winners …

Broadcast TV & Cable:

ABC News 20/20:Wonder Boy follows the Newman family as they deal with their son Nathaniel’s rare cranio-facial condition called Treacher Collins, the brutal surgeries he must endure as a result, and their efforts to help the world see his beautiful heart, mind, and soul.

The mini-series The Long Road Home (National Geographic Channel) dramatizes the 2004 ambush of the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division as they started peacekeeping duties in Sadr City, Iraq, the anxieties of their families back home, and the sacrifice and heroism of ordinary soldiers.

In The Christmas Miracle, an episode of the long-running comedy series The Middle (ABC), Frankie Heck’s [played by Catholic star Patricia Heaton] adult son Axl refuses to attend church with the family on Christmas Eve, causing her to confront her own lackluster spirituality and recognize the importance of connecting with God.

The Music of Strangers (HBO) celebrates the unique sounds and individuals that make up cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians from the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Africa, who blend their musical cultures in order to build bridges in a divided world.

POV: Swim Team (PBS) highlights Michael and Maria Quay’s efforts to give their son and other young people with autism the opportunity to achieve goals and gain confidence by channeling their energies into sports in an inclusive and encouraging environment.

Feature films:

With a Nazi invasion of England imminent, newly appointed Prime Minister Winston Churchill [Academy Award-winner Gary Oldman] must rally his unprepared nation and fellow members of Parliament to fight for liberty and freedom in Darkest Hour (Focus Features).

A rebellious and insecure teen, who has a contentious relationship with her mother, strives for independence and experiences moments of grace due to the subtle, unrealized influences of her Catholic education in Lady Bird (A24 Films).

A brave donkey, lovable sheep, and wisecracking dove make up the merry band of misfits on a divine mission to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem for Jesus’ birth in the animated Nativity story The Star (AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation).

Asked by FTP for a comment, “The Star’s” Catholic director, Timothy Reckart, said: “All of us on the team are very grateful to Sony Pictures Animation for giving us the opportunity to retell the Nativity story in a playful, original way, and we are thrilled that the Christopher Awards has honored our efforts.”

Last but not least:

Based on the Christopher Award-winning bestseller, Wonder (Lionsgate) tells the story of a 10-year-old boy, born with facial deformities, who enters a mainstream school for the first time and teaches his classmates and community about compassion, acceptance, and the power of kindness.

The 69th annual Christopher Awards will be handed out in New York City on May 17.

Image: Courtesy AFFIRM Films/Sony Pictures Animation

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.

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Bishop Robert Barron Lights Up RE Congress With ‘Catholicism and Beauty’

Bishop Barron is just too good not to share!

Holy Cross Family Ministries was at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in force the weekend of March 16-18, with Family Theater Productions and our Web series “Catholic Central” and upcoming documentary “The Dating Project,” along with sister organizations CatholicMom.com and Family Rosary.

We got to meet so many great people, both people who love what we’re doing, and people who got to discover what we do.

But, one downside of this is we didn’t get a lot of time to attend many talks and workshops, and no doubt that was true for a lot of folks.

One of our favorites — and yours — is Los Angeles’ Bishop Robert Barron. He gave a packed keynote address on March 17, addressing one of his favorite topics, “Catholicism and Beauty,” talking about icons and the ways the Church embraces beauty in all its forms — painting, music, sculpture, literature, architecture, stained glass, etc.

So, for us, and all of you, here’s his talk in full:

And, by the way, Bishop Barron, with the help of Catholic journalist John L. Allen, has put out a new book called “To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age” — part biography, part philosophy and part Barron’s plan to turn his Word on Fire apostolate into an actual movement.

Buy it here from Word on Fire; and here from Amazon.com (where there’s also a Kindle version, and an audio version via the Audible app).

And here’s a video about it:

Image: YouTube screenshot

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.