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'Sin Eater' and 'Thr3e' are next on FoxFaith burners

It's only been a few weeks since its birth announcement, yet FoxFaith—the new religious films branch of the Fox comglomerate—has shown up on this blog several times already (and I expect you’ll be seeing more). They’re currently committed to churn out a dozen or so religious-oriented films—ranging in budgets from $3 to $20 million and most being released straight to DVD—each year. Currently, they’ve released on DVD Love’s Abiding Joy (the latest in a line of films adpating Jannette Oke’s western novels) and are working to promote Esther-epic One Night with the King, which will be released Oct. 13 in an estimated 900 theaters nationwide. They’ve got two other films either wrapped or in post-production, both (like Love’s Abiding Joy) adaptations from novels published by Christian publishing houses: The Last Sin Eater and Thr3e.

The most promising of the two is The Last Sin Eater, adapted from the novel written by Francine Rivers (arguably one of the best novelists out there in the Christian fiction genre). The story, set in 1850s Appalachia, focuses on 10-year-old Cadi Forbes, who is haunted by feelings of responsibility for her little sister’s death. When her grandmother dies, Cadi learns of the Sin-Eater, a man who eats bread and wine at her grandmother’s gravesite—an act which the community believes will absolve the dead of their sins and bring redemption. Cadi, desperate to be free of her feelings of guilt, wants that redemption now, and sets out to find the Sin Eater. In her quest, however, she stumbles upon a dark secret that threatens her own family and her community.

While the novel definitely has its weaknesses, I honestly liked and recommend it. Its greatest strength is Cadi’s depth of character and a compelling story—two factors which I too often find missing in Christian genre films and fiction. And the film has some things going for it—especially its cast, which includes Oscar-winning Louise Fletcher (best remembered as Nurse Ratched in One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Deep Space Nine fans will remember her as Kai Winn Adami) as Miz Elda and Henry Thomas (ET, Legends of the Fall, All the Pretty Horses) as the mysterious Man of God. Cadi is played by relative newcomer Liana Liberato, whom I vividly remember from a Cold Case episode called "Strange Fruit," one of the more haunting television episodes I’ve seen (for clips from that episode, see Liberato’s website, but be forewarned of disturbing scenes). Cadi’s best friend, Fagan, is portrayed by Soren Fulton (Thunderbirds) and the Sin Eater is played by television and film character actor Peter Wingfield. The film is directed by Michael Landon, Jr. and is due to release in February 2007. You can see the trailer at FoxFaith’s site or at Google.

Thr3e is a psychological thriller written by Ted Dekker, which (as Publisher’s Weekly puts it) focuses on “Kevin Parson, a 28-year-old seminary student who suddenly becomes the target of an evil nemesis called Slater. Obsessed both with Kevin's downfall and the number 3, Slater initiates a game in which Kevin must answer riddles to avoid Slater's destructive, potentially murderous retribution. Slater particularly wants Kevin to publicly confess a secret sin, and Kevin is at a loss as to what that sin might be.” Admittedly, the novel is a page turner with a major plot twist (which I won’t spoil), but it lacks the depth of story and character that is present in The Last Sin Eater. This film has lesser known but established actors, particularly in television. Kevin Parsons is played by Marc Blucas, perhaps most well-known and remembered by Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans as Angel-rival Riley Finn. Other actors include Justine Waddell (Dracula 2000, Mansfield Park) and television and film character actor Bill Moseley. For a glimpse of the film (complete with explosions) visit Ted Dekker’s website. The film is directed by Robby Henson and due out in January 2007.

To be honest, I must confess that I am a bit jaded when it comes to the Christian filmmaking and publishing industries. Too often, I find the novels and films coming out of these enterprises to be flat, lacking in character and story depth and, frankly, boring. Sometimes, they are even harmful; their presentations of what it means to follow and live in Jesus are unbelievable, unlivable and unattainable. I find more truth in a "secular" novel like Peace Like a River (whose author is a Christian) or a Hollywood film like Signs than in much of what is coming out the Christian-marked industry.

But I also must admit that I am growing very weary of boundries constantly being pushed with violence and sexual content in “secular” television and film. Even my beloved Battlestar Galactica is beginning to push boundries beyond what I’m willing to watch. I lament that good storytelling—the exploration of what it means to be human, live in this world and seek meaning and life outside of ourselves (when we follow Jesus, we recognize that this is God)—is getting buried under scenes of boundry-breaking-for-sake-of-boundry-breaking brutality, viciousness and sex.

So, I’m regarding FoxFaith with a skepticism tinged with hope—particularly that the infusion of funds will draw gifted, Kingdom-living writers and producers willing to take risks and step outside conventional Christian industry produced story-telling.

My .02 worth (and prayer), anyway.

[Added note: Ack. In rereading this, I realize some may find this harsh. While I am frustrated by much of what I come across, I don't mean to say there isn't any good fiction coming out of the Christian publishing houses. Over the last couple of years, in fact, I've read several good novels published by Christian houses, particularly James Schaap’s Touches the Sky and Karen Hancock’s Arena. But I think "the powers that be" in these Christian industries are hurting themselves--and the Kingdom. If we believe those who follow Jesus should be free to consistently create good art (to reflect and explore, as I said before, what it means to be human, live in this world and seek meaning and life outside of ourselves, ultimately in God), TPTB would do well to remove some of the taboos and restrictions on content and creation that are currently placed on gifted storytellers, be they writers or filmmakers. Perhaps it would be even better if there were no need for "Christian" publishing or filmmaking, if we as believers were supporting and encouraging Christians who happen to be artists, be they in Hollywood or New York. But this is an old call that I but echo. Still, it would be a beautiful day.]

(Image: Amazon and TedDekker.com)

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