Rick Santorum is Moving On to… Film-Making?

Yes, you read it right. After his failure to win the Republican primary for the last election, Rick Santorum is trying his hand at something different: film production. As of last month, he is the new CEO for Echolight Studios, a faith-based family film company.

In a press release, Santorum spoke about the need for high quality, family-friendly entertainment that would provide an alternative to mainstream Hollywood without being corny or overtly preachy. Some have pointed out that there’s already a market for nice family movies that aren’t explicitly Christian (think of Walden Media or the stereotypical “Hallmark movie”), so perhaps what Santorum is describing isn’t so very new after all. However, we could definitely use more entertaining, substantial, un-preachy family fare.

Unfortunately, Echolight’s previous lineup of straight to DVD releases looks like a mixed bag on all counts. The quality ranges from quite good (biopic about Josh McDowell—warning, intense content) to pretty good (also based on a true story about a murdered missionary family—more intense content) to… well, stuff like this. Or this. (Yep, they use the “angel in disguise” motif twice.) Then there’s the one with a female pastor for its main character. Ehhhh…

However, the trailer for the company’s upcoming theatrical debut, a western drama entitled The Redemption of Henry Myers, looks promising. A widowed woman and her children nurse a mysterious stranger back to life after discovering him with a bullet in his back. This was received during a bank heist gone badly wrong. Inevitably, the man’s past catches up with him, and we see glimpses of some men who are definitely up to no good searching for him. The trailer leaves it somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not Henry, the main character, will come out of the film dead or alive. (I secretly hope he dies, but that’s just my twisted love of unhappy endings coming through.) Some elements of the story reminded me of the superb Harrison Ford vehicle Witness, which, as critics have pointed out, always had a western feel despite the modern cop background. There’s a hint of High Noon in there as well. While it’s unreasonable to expect something of that caliber from this studio, it still looks like an exciting, well-acted story that I would actually be willing to watch all the way through. I notice that Erin Bethea, the female lead from Fireproof, plays the female lead here as well. When my dad and I saw Fireproof in theaters, he remarked that she would get more offers after that film, and he was right.

What do you think of Santorum’s new venture? Is EchoLight really just another Christian film company who’s making cheesy movies under the illusion that they’re vying with mainstream Hollywood caliber material, or might they be on their way to something better?

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6 thoughts on “Rick Santorum is Moving On to… Film-Making?

  1. Nicholas MOSES

    I don’t know enough about Echolight Studios to say anything for sure, but if there’s potential, as the “quite good” examples you throw out there suggest, it definitely needs to be seized upon.

    One thing to keep in mind is that the dramatic narrative story structure, if it is not explicitly didactic (as for example a parable or a direct recounting), is about entertainment, and therefore there is always an important current of sensuary titillation and vivacious fantasy*. This in my mind places limits on the potential for a novel or film to convey a “Christian message,” however inspiring a well-made tale may be.

    I think Christian filmmakers are at their best when, instead of attempting to “convert” people to the Gospel message through their films, they focus on surveying Christian culture (whether it’s explicitly labelled as such or no) and more or less subtly depicting the triumph and power of Christian virtues.

    *Not that this means there shouldn’t be standards of propriety and reasonable limits on licentiousness and violence. Nevertheless, the convincing author of a dramatic narrative story delves deep into human emotion and conflict – and so by default plays with fire.

    1. Yes, I found that to be true with a film called _Like Dandelion Dust_. The novel on which it’s based was more saccharine and didactic. I couldn’t even get past the first few pages, it was so bad. But the movie was actually very compelling, and I noticed that the explicitly Christian message was pretty much gone. It was just a good family drama.

      I think film-makers should definitely take an “all-or-nothing” kind of approach unless they’re extremely gifted. _Soul Surfer_ is an example of what happens when you try to dribble in a little bit of Christian puree without going full-bore. The results are quite nauseating.

      1. Nicholas MOSES

        Something to keep in mind is that a lot of the early moral criticisms of cinema echo early moral criticisms of novels when they became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. This isn’t to me evidence that moralists’ concerns about cinema are unfounded but rather evidence that we should approach both novels AND cinema as primarily entertainment and stand guard against taking them too seriously. The richest dramatic narratives do contain quite a bit of instructive material, but the sensuality and vivaciousness is ever present:

        One of my favorite [non-didactic] “Christian” narratives (in the sense that Christianity and Christian virtues are explicitly triumphant) is “Brideshead Revisited,” though at least one priest has taken to blogging about the lessons to be gleaned from the characters and their stories. Nevertheless, the novel is hardly appropriate material to meditate on for a Sunday sermon or a standard catechism class.

        Notably, however, George Brosnos’s/Robert Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” is difficult to pin into either the didactic or entertainment category. It’s truly an awesome work, though it might be difficult to grasp certain subtleties for those who aren’t Catholic and haven’t spent a great deal of time in the Yvelines. In both the written and the cinematic idioms (the film is very, very close to the novel, but rather abbreviated; I recommend both), the depiction of differing degrees of belief and the contrast between a false Christian image and the genuine Christian heart are staggering, and its melding of theological struggles into believable and sympathetic characters is brilliant.

      2. I think there are plenty of great novels that don’t suffer from sensuality. I’m not sure exactly how you’re defining “take too seriously” — perhaps you mean dissecting a book/movie to find the moral “point” instead of enjoying it as an artistic pleasure in itself.

        I have heard of Brideshead Revisited, and I hear there was a very good mini-series of it with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons. However, I haven’t read the book or watched the series. “Diary of a Country Priest” I haven’t heard of at all, but the name George Brosnos rings a bell.

        You may enjoy the works of Michael O’Brien, a modern Catholic novelist. He has a series that’s thriller/end-times oriented (kind of like Left Behind for Catholics, only better-written), but he also has a couple standalones. I hear that his most recent book, Theophilus, is less good, but I’ve read his work A Cry of Stone and would highly recommend it. It’s about a Canadian Indian woman who is called to suffer for God. It traces her entire life as she progresses (essentially) to sainthood. Very powerful.

  2. Nicholas MOSES

    “I think there are plenty of great novels that don’t suffer from sensuality. I’m not sure exactly how you’re defining “take too seriously” — perhaps you mean dissecting a book/movie to find the moral “point” instead of enjoying it as an artistic pleasure in itself.”

    I’m using the words “sensuality” and “titillate” in a much broader sense than in the sexual. The point is that if dramatic narratives are not to be tediously moralizing, the author never forgets that what he is doing is entertaining. Whether novel or film, it’s an escapist fantasy, even if the author manages to depict a world that closely approximates the real one in many ways

    This isn’t to say that there is no value in examining the narrative: if a work is well done one can find has lots of valuable references and insights to shed light upon the human condition and the cultural context of the work. The idealization aspect can also be a source of personal inspiration for some. But others will go too far in trying to identify with the characters.

    Never heard of Michael O’Brien but will look into him. And yes, you have identified my Twitter account. 🙂

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