Sherwood Pictures: The New Evangelical Tool

by Kristen Elliott

Looking at the major influences of the 21st Century, visual communication and the visual arts are some of the biggest factors in shaping today’s popular culture. Visual Communication and Visual Arts are a major influence because technology is the single thing that pushes everyone and everything to be better. When looking at technology, film is one of the most powerful mediums simply because of the way film speaks to people. Film has the power to use people and certain situations to portray a lot of messages with their storyline that can inspire people on how to live their lives. Films bring inspiration, and one little company that brought a whole new perspective on the film world and that started a movement in the 21st Century. And this company is Sherwood Pictures.

Sherwood Pictures is a production company has the sole purpose of creating films that portray these messages in that relatable way. The heads of this company, the Kendrick Brothers, wanted to adhere to the social expectations of the 21st century and use all technology, especially film, to spread the gospel to all audiences in all situations. The Kendrick Brothers have released many films, but when taking their films to the big screens, only three films made a long lasting impact on Hollywood and opened up a pathway for other independent Christian films to make it big in the world of Hollywood. And these three films are: Facing the Giants, Courageous and Fireproof.

These films have similar messages, and these messages they portray similar themes when it comes to different ways of showing the gospel to many people in many situations can go through many trials and errors, but come and find strength in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his Gospel. And, these films and their strong lessons are often used in an educational setting to show students that they are not alone when going through a certain situation, and that there is one great conclusion, Jesus and His Gospel. One small church created a huge impact through using influences of the 21st century, and this is one of the main foundations that Sherwood Pictures focuses on.

Sherwood Pictures and the idea of making Christian films started as a mere idea when Michael Catt, pastor of Sherwood Church, met Alex Kendrick at a youth camp when Kendrick was making a visual media project that night for a camp event. Sherwood Church was in need of a Media Minister, and Kendrick slowly filled that position, and just two years after that, the other Kendrick brother, Stephan, joined the team[1]. The Kendrick Brothers expressed their ultimate dream of making Christian films that could help people increase and support their faith. They wanted their films to have that very easy teachable aspect so that the sole purpose of their films bringing that focus back to family-friendly films.

Looking at all of films that Sherwood Pictures have made over the years, the top three to make a big impact on Hollywood’s industry. These three films have similar themes and similar characters, the situations and internal struggles are different, but the goal of the films are very similar and shed a light on the foundation of Sherwood Pictures, and that is to create family-friendly films that have a message connecting to the Gospel and creating a positive image for Christianity as a whole. These three films are Facing the Giants, Courageous and Fireproof.

Facing the Giants is a film that is about a football coach who struggles with the idea of victory both on and off the field. We see in this film the constant internal struggle that Coach Grant Taylor goes through because he can’t give his wife the one thing that they both have been wanting for a long time, and that is the gift of a child. With this struggle, Grant transfers those struggles and anger towards his players on the field. The rest of the film is about hard work and many tests of faith that this team goes through and slowly starts to come together as one.[2] The message that this film portrays is that even though one goes through many struggles and trials within their lifetime, that person will always have their family and support systems to support them, and the biggest support system we have of all is our Father in heaven. The film also emphasizes the fact that forming relationships within your faith and within groups that you create. Within this film specifically, we see that the group is a sports team, and the film is creating the narrative that a sports team is a common group where relationships are formed and where true connections with certain people can be made simply based on the experiences and situations that one could be put in. These connections lead to full support.

The second film that Sherwood Pictures made that impacted Hollywood in a major way is the film of Courageous. This film is about a group of men that work on the same police force, and how this group of men comes together when one of their own has something horrible happen. After this horrible tragedy strikes, we see the group of men including their families, come together to study the Bible and teach themselves how to be loving fathers by signing an oath that they keep only with each other.[3] In this film, we see that despite the sudden tragedy that strikes this small community of coworkers, they come together as one to help their own throughout the grieving process and show him the unconditional love that we are all taught. And throughout this grieving process, we see the main character transform into a completely new person simply because he has decided to live his life within a new light. This transformation shows that tragedy, even though it does bring dark times, can change you for the better. This also teaches us that God works in mysterious ways, and everything that He does is simply for a reason.

The third film from Sherwood is Fireproof. Fireproof is a film about a firefighter, Caleb, and his wife, Catherine, and their decision to divorce. But, Caleb’s father convinces him to do this 40-day love challenge with his wife so that they could possibly fall back in love with each other. [4] This film teaches us that love is a great thing, but it is also a daily struggle that all humans experience. And even though we struggle daily and relationships require hard work and it all depends on if you want to put in an effort to your relationships so you can show the other person that you simply care so much about them. And after all of the hard work you and the other put into the relationship, the end result is so worth it because that person has changed your life in some small way or another, and then you end up creating a kind of love that you have that is a foundation for the relationship. Also, emphasizing the mini-message that love conquers all.

All of these films have the same positive messages that highlight Christianity in a positive light. The messages portray that surrounding yourself with a strong Christian community will change your life for the better. Jacob Johnston wrote about these films and their positive messages. He said: “This might be the future of Christian films as an evangelical tool. Instead of just preaching to people, they will show that Christians have the same troubles as non-believers and give an alternative way to handle these problems.”[5] When people think of box office hits with common themes such as Love, Action-filled thrillers, and films with well-known actors, all those films focus on are the themes and the people but not so much on the core message of film. Sherwood Pictures always focuses on the message and not on the gilts and glamour of a regular Hollywood film, making them more special.

These films all have positive messages that they are revolving around. And the messages of these films are what Sherwood Pictures wants to focus on whenever they make a film. The messages they portray are the reasons why these movies made such a huge impact within Hollywood’s industry by bringing a focus back to family-friendly films. “What many of these Christian tribes generally hold in common is that they deem their own communication to be necessary because the mainstream media focus on broad demographic markets, and in doing so, avoid certain crucial aspects of the tribal message.”[6] The different themes that pop up in these films are what form the teaching moments that families can reflect on and also lessons that can be used when reflecting on your own personal faith journeys. Because of this different focus that Sherwood Pictures brings is what made such a huge impact on Hollywood as an industry.

Something that these films do is help many people come to understanding about everything that circles around Christianity. The religious aspect of Christianity is what often scares people away from the concept, but these films make Christianity not very scary by creating situations that are easily relatable to people that have been in similar spots in life and are still having trouble dealing with being stuck in that spot. Films have a way of portraying certain things to catch people’s attention, which is one of the main reasons why the 21st century revolves around film. This is because film is a medium that beings relatability. Joseph Champoux says: “Films offer many opportunities to create powerful metaphorical images of abstract theories and concepts. Directors often try to present their images as metaphors of key ideas they want to emphasize.”[7] Sherwood Pictures uses metaphors in a way to present to Gospel in a modern way so that all people, both Christians and non-Christians can truly understand the true message the film and stir up emotions that the film and stories want the viewer to feel. Emotions are the one thing that helps the audience come to understanding. These three films of Sherwood Pictures revolve around emotions, and the stories they tell rise up emotions to people truly understand the situation and accurately portray the Gospel in a modern way.

Looking at these films and how they have that theological perspective, the ways that the films help either students or people learn things about themselves about the society and possible psychological state that they are currently living in. Film is a medium that uses its persuasive power to meet people where they are at emotionally. Films have a way of bringing their audience in and hook them to the story and the reality it portrays. Christianity and our experiences help people deal with their current reality. When discussing the power of movies, Noel Carrol says: “Taking the realist approach to a film looks at the ideologies and how they are presented in the films and how those portrayals bring power.”[8] Carrol also recognizes that films have a persuading power over people, and one of the things that people love to do with film is engage with them. Carrol says: “The power of movies comprises two factors: Widespread engagement and Intense engagement.” One thing that Sherwood pictures does really well is making the audience of their films engage with their story. Facing the Giants, Courageous and Fireproof were so successful in the box offices because they make their audiences engage in both ways. These films have such a widespread audience because of the intense topics and situations they tackle. The engagement that the audience partakes in is the spark of multiple discussions that not only the films create around the situations portrayed, but a discussion around the idea of Christianity and how we are giving all of our struggles, tragedies, grieving, and present doubts to God. Sherwood Pictures do a really good job of bringing that dose of reality into their films. They do this by making their stories shaped around these realistic situations to bring that sense of relatability to catch the emotions and attention of their audience. Tragedy, injury and family are situations that happen almost every single day, and they affect everyone in some way or another. Through the films, Sherwood Pictures shows people in these situations that there is always an end result and that life will improve, and that Christianity is just a route that one can take.

These life lessons and emotions that Sherwood Picture’s films portray, the lessons, characters and actions they take become a sort of rhetoric because they persuade the audience that these realities that they enter are situations that are situations that we can all deal with. It also persuades that Christianity is relatable by making Christianity not look like an exclusive club that no one else can join, but they portray Christianity as an approachable group that is accepting of all, no matter what the past consists of or what the current reality is. Film in itself is a sort of rhetoric because film can persuade an audience to think anything by portraying any situation on screen, whether it is fictional or not fictional. Linda Mercadante says: “Film has become increasingly dominant in the shaping of values, goals and characters as Western society looks less to traditional religions for this function.”[9] Facing the Giants, Courageous and Fireproof all have similar themes that are centered around shaping character in Christ. The films always focus on how the Spirit of God can change people for the better and inspire them to be better people and to

These films can impact us in certain ways, and that is why the films are used in an education setting, these films can a medium where the Gospel can be so influential on people’s lives. Films are proven to be one of the most influential mediums of the 21st century, and the Kendrick Brothers and Sherwood Pictures took this medium and recognized the persuasive power that it has over audiences all over and in many different situations, so they took this medium to its full potential. They used film to spread certain messages surrounding and introducing the idea of Christianity to people around the world. These films are examples of how Christian films have been making their impact on the 21st century by showing they can dominate the box office. S. Brent Plate says: “…viewers end up seeing this re-created world on screen and believing in the fiction because such belief is how we humans survive our everyday lives.”[10] Sherwood Pictures creates these films the hope that they can help people make their lives better by simply showing that Jesus Christ can single-handedly change your life. Just like Coach Taylor in Facing the Giants had his football team to support him and help him see his life in a better light. Like Adam who had his fellow squad members to help him heal after his daughter’s death and he learned that God is his true father and the father that he aspires to be. And how Caleb and his wife, Katherine, had to face the tough challenges of love and the challenges of maintaining a relationship throughout the obstacles that they often bring find each other throughout those obstacles. There are ways are people that can help you through the current struggles that are overcoming your life, making the church a resource for all. All of these characters overcame their struggle or tragedy by turning to Jesus of help and making Him their ultimate example of how to live their life in the light of God.

Sherwood Pictures has certainly blazed a path for Christian films and their impact on the 21st century. Facing the Giants, Courageous and Fireproof are three films that major box office impact. The one thing that these films do to make such a big impact on the 21st century is that these films are making Jesus apart of modern society instead of ignoring Christianity all together. For example, Sherwood Pictures is taking advantage of the other mediums of the visual arts and they are spreading the Gospel Sherwood Pictures has created a TV network, radio station, and its own film production crew. All of these communication fields all came to life because of a mere conversation between two men at a Christian youth camp. The impact that Christianity has on the 21st century is all thanks to a little town in Southern Georgia and their pastors. Michael Catt and Alex Kendrick saw a need within their own community of Albany, Georgia and within the world that the media needs to show stories and situations through a realistic lens and not show all the actions and drama and just tell people the raw truth. They wanted to address that yes, people around the world constantly struggle with some of the same situations as others, but instead of turning to substances or to something that will lead down a wrong path, you should turn to God. And, based on the popularity of the three films, people are starting to receive the message.

 

NOTES

[1] Catt, Michael. “Our Beginning” (Sherwood Pictures, GA, 2011) sherwoodpictures.com/how-we-do-it
[2] Boerner, Heather. “Facing the Giants” (Common Sense Media, CA, 2007.) https://commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/facing-the-giants#.
[3] Chen, Sandie Argulo. “Courageous” (Common Sense Media, CA, 2011). https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/courageous
[4] Chattaway, Peter T. “Fireproof” (Christianity Today: IN, 2008). www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/septemberweb-only/fireproof/html.
[5] Jacob H. Johnston. “The Sherwood Method: Creating an Independent Christian Feature Film.” Liberty University Digital Commons (2009) 54.
[6] Rick Clifton Moore. “When Religious Cinema Meet Secular Press Reviewers’ Reactions to the Films of Sherwood Pictures” Journal of Communication and Religion 37, no 4 (2014) 46.
[7] Joseph E. Champoux. “Film as a Teaching Resource” Journal of Management Inquiry 8, no 2. (1999) 7.
[8] Noel Carrol. “The Power of Movies.” Daedalus. 114 no. 4. (1985) 79, 82.
[9] Linda Mercadante. “Using Film to Teach Theology.” Theological Education 42 no. 2. (2007) 21.
[10] S. Brent Plate. “Religion and Film: Cinema and the Recreation of the World.” New York: Columbia University Press. (2011) 15.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Boerner, Heather. “Facing the Giants” (Common Sense Media, CA, 2007.) https://commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/facing-the-giants#.

Catt, Michael. “Our Beginning” (Sherwood Pictures, GA, 2011) sherwoodpictures.com/how-we-do-it

Chattaway, Peter T. “Fireproof” (Christianity Today: IN, 2008). www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/septemberweb-only/fireproof/html.

Chen, Sandie Argulo. “Courageous” (Common Sense Media, CA, 2011) https://www.commonsensemedia.org/movie-reviews/courageous

Jacob H. Johnston. “The Sherwood Method: Creating an Independent Christian Feature Film.” Liberty University Digital Commons (2009) 1-111.

Joseph E. Champoux. “Film as a Teaching Resource” Journal of Management Inquiry 8, no 2. (1999) 206-207.

Linda Mercadante. “Using Film to Teach Theology.” Theological Education 42 no. 2. (2007) 19-28.

Noel Carrol. “The Power of Movies.” Daedalus. 114 no. 4. (1985) 79-103.

Rick Clifton Moore. “When Religious Cinema Meet Secular Press Reviewers’ Reactions to the Films of Sherwood Pictures” Journal of Communication and Religion 37, no 4 (2014) 42-62.

S. Brent Plate. “Religion and Film: Cinema and the Recreation of the World.” New York: Columbia University Press. (2011) 1-97.