ANAHEIM, Calif. One thing is for sure, "Facing the Giants" is not your typical football movie. It might even be called a gospel tract on film. But the faith-driven motion picture is remarkable in a number of waysespecially for those who like to know the story behind the scenes.
What makes this inspirational sports film unique is that it was made by a Baptist church for $100,000 and picked up for distribution by Samuel Goldwyn Films, a subsidiary of Sony. Perhaps someone in the Hollywood establishment borrowed a page from Mel Gibson's playbook and decided to get behind a Christian-themed movie that appeals to a born-again audience.
Another unusual fact about the film is that church staff and members from the Albany, Ga., congregation make up the cast. No professional actors appear. The only paid professionals used on the project were three cameramen who normally work for the NFL.
The 111-minute feature film is scheduled for national release beginning with 400 theaters, including two in Orange County, the weekend of Sept. 29. And, despite its all-too-perfect ending, the film has earned the respect of more than a few.
"'Facing the Giants' is a great movie about how God can change lives on and off the football field," NFL coaching great Dan Reeves said in an endorsement.
Other notables throwing their names behind the film include Vince Lombardi Jr., pollster George Barna and University of Georgia coach Mark Richt, who tackled a cameo role in the football movie. The film's authentic and powerful portrayal of the fear and failure people face in everyday life more than makes up for the predictable elements in the story.
"Everyone at some point in life faces their own personal giants," Alex Kendrick, pastor of media at Sherwood Baptist Church, said as he summed up the film's message. We believe that God loves us and wants to be a part of our lives and it is only through His strength that we can face those giants."
Kendrick plays the leading role of Coach Grant Taylor. He and his brother, Stephen, also one of the pastors at the 3,000-member church, co-wrote the movie script.
"Facing the Giants" is not their first film venture.
When a national survey taken in 2002 showed movies and television were a more powerful influence on culture than religion, it challenged the pair to collaborate on a film that aimed to reach their local community. The result was "Flywheel," the story of a used car salesman who changes his ways after becoming convicted of his unscrupulous sales tactics.
"Initially all of us thought this would be a small ministry outreach that would impact a few hundred," Kendrick said as he talked about the church's first film making effort. "We had this small movie that logically should not have done wellno budget, no professional actors, and one camera."
A local theater agreed to show "Flywheel" for one weekend. It was held over for six weeks and went on to show in neighboring communities and air on television. Blockbuster picked it up for national distribution through its video rental outlets.
The success of "Flywheel" demanded an encore.
Senior pastor Michael Catt, known for his willingness to "think outside the box" added his blessing to a second film project and the Kendrick brothers began work on screenplay No. 2. Catt served as executive producer for both films.
Sherwood's congregation embraced the movie project with gusto and raised $100,000 in production funds in a matter of days. Sunday school classes signed up to serve meals to thecast and crew during the shooting of the film. Proceeds the church receives from the movie will help fund a $2.5 million recreational youth park in the Albany community.
Kendrick can't help dreaming up the church's next filmmaking adventure.
"We have a third story in mind that we are working on now," he said. "It will be more of a drama-romance."
The church began televising its Sunday morning worship service nearly 20 years ago. By the mid-1990s the church media ministry was providing 24-hour programming for its own local station that reached 50,000 homes. The media-savvy church remains focused on its mission to reach the whole world with the gospel message. Media is just a tool, Kendrick suggested.
"We're not trying to pitch ourselves as Hollywood types," the pastor said.
It is hard not to notice a parallel between the unlikely victory of the high school football team portrayed in the film and the success of Sherwood's amateur movie making efforts on the home turf of Hollywood media giants.
The film earned national headlines in June when a ratings debate erupted over the film earning a PG rating, instead of a G, from the Motion Picture Association of America. Some suggested the film's content was singled out for being too evangelistic while others said thematic elements warranted the PG label. In this case it could stand for "pro-God," a label the film truly earns.
"Facing the Giants" has previewed to select audiences in 52 locales to create buzz and foster advance ticket sales. So far distribution in theaters requires a guarantee of 1,000 pre-sold tickets. The film's final preview screening was scheduled for Sept. 28 at the Arclight Theater Complex in Hollywood.
For more information or to find out if the movie is scheduled to play in your area visit the Web Site facingthegiants.com.