Sunday, December 10, 2006

Christian Cinema

Christian films a big hit in Sioux Falls

This past Friday night, the lobby at Century Theatres was full of Christians.

They weren’t protesting the latest Kevin Smith flick. Rather, this flock of adults and a few kids from Hillcrest Baptist Church were smiling, eager to see “The Nativity Story” on the film’s opening night.

The pack of 128 movie fans were using the movie – a retelling of Christ’s birth through the perspective of his parents – as faith outreach. But the crowd also illustrated the growing audience and interest for Christian film.

In the last year – and certainly since Mel Gibson’s uber-successful 2004 movie “Passion of the Christ” – Christian cinema has exploded.

Five of the ten highest grossing Christian films since 1980 were released in the last 12 months, including “The Nativity Story,” which opened last Friday and earned over $8 million in its opening weekend.

The success is not without criticism as some are saying the Christian films don’t touch the controversial sides of the religion.

Still, the surge of strong support for Christian cinema has prompted major movie studios to create departments focusing on making movies for the demographic – like 20th Century Fox’s FoxFaith division, which released the successful movie “End of the Spear.”

To little surprise, Sioux Falls – which hosts the mega-popular Christian music festival LifeLight – is embracing Christian cinema.

Films like the missionary drama “End of the Spear” and “One Night with the King,” which shares the Biblical story of Esther, have been big draws for local theaters that have seen people drive from all over the state to watch the movies.

Beyond that, the Digital Den theater in Hartford has phased into a movie house that shows only Christian-themed films. The Digital Dens’ owners have even consulted area religious leaders about what movies to screen.

Naturally, part of these movies’ draw is the religious tone. In a time when Christians are outspoken about their faith, they enjoy the cultural reciprocation.

But moviegoers and exhibitors say the Christian films’ family-friendly content is the major draw.

“As a mom of three boys, I’d much rather grab a quality message,” says Tariana Stroh, before watching “The Nativity Story.” “It doesn’t have to always have religious undertones. It’s just an added plus.”

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