Christian Filmmaker Encourages Churches to Help Make Movies
Updated: Aug 6, 2019
By Emmanuel Gundran
CMM Staff Writer
When you think of Christian outreach, film is not the first method you would think of. The world of cinema today is dominated by Hollywood blockbusters. While faith-based films have proven profitable for Hollywood, they're not exactly main fare. Even among faith-based films, church-led movies are, so far, a niche genre compared to others, but one that is definitely worth exploring according to Christian filmmaker and former pastor Wesley Bristol, whose film Chloe’s Mountain is his debut into Christian filmmaking. The film will screen at the Churches Making Movies Christian Film Festival in October. Bristol’s goal and encouragement to the body of believers is to support films that promote scriptural values to send a message to Hollywood that there is a space for moral, uplifting content.
A little-known fact to the general public is that the Church was actually one of the pioneers of visual storytelling. Before the beginning of film history, Christian religious organizations had been involved in visual storytelling. Catholic priests popularized “Magic Lantern” presentations in the 15th century long before the first motion pictures of the late 17th century. These “magic presentations” used a light source and a lens to project images onto a wall to help spread the Gospel in countries where English was not the primary language. Christians also were active in the production of early motion pictures. As early as 1918, The International Church Film Corporation headed by Dr. Paul Smith of the Central Church in San Francisco, produced Finger of Fate that exposed a corrupt city council.
Wesley Bristol believes that churches should work together with filmmakers to create good, moral content that can show Hollywood that there are Christians who want the Word of God to be told.
As for how the film was financed, Bristol accomplished most of that himself.
Because Bristol was new to filmmaking, he had no resume to show studios who could lend their funds. He’s a firm believer in churches helping to finance and produce films made by their members. A prominent example of this is Sherwood Baptist Church, who fostered the film company Sherwood Pictures. It started as the passion project between senior pastor Michael Catt and former associate pastors and film enthusiasts Alex and Stephen Kendrick. Together, they have produced films such as Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous and distributed their works through partnerships with Provident Films and Sony Pictures.
Bristol wants to continue to use motion pictures to spread the Christian message. In a time when people are spending more time on their smart devices than they are going to church, he believes that integrating technology into sermons and weekly events through visual media is an effective way to reach out to this generation. This is why he and his production team have been hard at work producing content for television and film.
Using his platform, Bristol wants to tell stories like Chloe’s Mountain that tackle hard-hitting topics. The film is about Chloe, a young gifted girl who falls into a deep depression after her parents are killed in an automobile accident. She retreats into drugs and her love of music, and she slowly drifts away from her relationship with God. This struggle to stay strong in the faith is a journey that Bristol relates to:
“When I gave my heart to Jesus, I thought life was going to be so perfect. Boy was I wrong. I was attacked by Satan, I backslid, I spent years contending for my faith and all my friends abandoned me. I believe I would have been more encouraged and prepared by the truth rather than a fantasy,” said Bristol.
How Bristol initially got involved in the production and his work on the film is a journey itself that shows God had a plan. Bristol’s wife, Donna, was cast as Chloe’s grandmother while the film was being produced in Los Angeles under a different title. When the original producer resigned, Bristol purchased the filming rights from writer Marla Antinoro. Starting fresh, Bristol changed the name, reworked scenes from the original script, recast several characters, and filmed all new footage in northern California.
"Wes and I have worked together throughout our years together. Whether work, church or in the movies. God meant for me to be Wes' help mate. I try my best," said Donna Bristol. "We have learned to share our ideas and because of that we are able to find the best solution to a problem, the best way to do a scene or the best way to get the best out of one another. I have learned to fill in the little missing pieces so to speak. I love doing life with my husband and this was the best of both worlds," said Donna.
The production phase was not without its challenges, but ultimately everything fell right into place. The filming crew was fortunate to use the Springs of Living Water campus in Chico, California while students were on winter break. During each set change, they were confronted with rainy weather and malfunctioning circuit breakers among other difficulties. Bristol recalls one instance of clamping an umbrella over a light and hanging it outside an upstairs window to replicate sunshine while in the middle of the pouring rain. Nevertheless, everyone remained calm and worked together to overcome these challenges.
One casting decision was relatively easy. The role of the young Chloe at the beginning of the film was given to a little girl named Brooklyn Vander Eyk who climbed up on a stool during her audition and prayed, “Dear God, please help me get this part.” She got the part right then and there.
#Christian Film Festival
#Churches making movies