RELEVANT’s Brian Orme had the opportunity to sit down with filmmaker and producer Dallas Jenkins to discuss faith, secular versus sacred and what Dallas is up to next. Dallas Jenkins is the president of Jenkins Entertainment and producer of Hometown Legend, currently available through Warner Home Video.
Dallas, do you think there should be a clear line of distinction between the sacred and the secular in media/entertainment?
I think the line is drawn based on each individual product, and even in that case, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Who can judge how an individual is affected spiritually by a piece of entertainment? I do think problems come when we define entertainment as sacred or secular based on the religious leanings of the distribution company, or the artist. Non-Christians are just as capable of producing God-honoring and spiritually uplifting products as Christians are, and I’ve been as equally offended by a Christian’s product as I’ve been moved by something from a non-Christian.
As a Christian, how do you plan to engage in culture without getting carried away by its strong current?
I think it’s the same with any missionary in a foreign culture. For me, it’s about intent. If I’m engaging in culture just to fit in and be cool, then I have a strong chance of being “sucked in.” But if I’m engaging culture to better understand how I can effectively change culture, then I’m on track.
As a filmmaker, how do you plan to integrate your faith into your work without compromising your convictions or quality?
The best films of all time came from the passion, worldview, and personal experience of the writer and/or director. Steven Spielberg didn’t compromise his convictions or quality when he made Schindler’s List, which of course incorporated his faith and ethnicity. The key is to tell a great story about interesting people, and I believe the Christian world is filled with great stories and interesting people, and I believe the non-Christians would be intrigued by great films about the Christian experience.
Do you think Christian films have received a bad rap? If so, what can we do to change this?
I think Christian films have a bad rap, but I think it’s deserved, for the most part. Of course, I don’t like the term “Christian” film, but let’s say that it’s referring to films created by and marketed to the Christian consumer market. There are two things I want to see different for the majority of films with Christian content in the future. One, and this is no secret; there needs to be higher quality in the story, photography, acting, etc. Two, I like to say that mainstream films need to get more positive, and Christian films need to get more negative. While I agree that mainstream Hollywood only gives negative portrayals of Christianity that are exaggerated, I believe the church does the opposite. Christian-themed entertainment tends to avoid really hard and controversial issues, and we tend to paint unrealistic portrayals of Christian life.
To me, The Apostle was an example of a film that accomplished both. It showed positive and redemptive portrayals of Christians that aren’t normally seen in films, but it also showed the struggles, flaws and temptations that even Christians face. Some Christians didn’t like it because it didn’t wrap things up neatly but the Bible is filled with many stories that didn’t have joyous endings.
Dallas, you mentioned that Christian-themed entertainment tends to shy away from the controversial; what controversial content do you hope to deal with in your films?
Well, I’ll be up front in advance that I don’t plan to shy away from “bad language” in my films if I believe it’s relevant and truthful to the story. When I told that to someone, she said, “Is that because you don’t think bad language is a big deal?” And I said, “No, it’s because I DO think bad language is a big deal.” I think language has power, and the words of a character are an important part of storytelling. If I want to show the power of redemption in a film, I’m not going to dilute that power by sugarcoating the sin and moral depravity that necessitate the redemption. I know there are some people who go to movies just for entertainment, and they don’t want to be exposed to bad language, violence or anything that makes them uncomfortable. I totally respect and understand that. It’s just that many of my films probably won’t appeal to them.
I’m currently developing a movie that deals with very controversial issues (for both Christians and non-Christians) of teens, music and guns, and how they’re related. It will ultimately be a redemptive story, and it’s told through the eyes of a youth pastor, but it’s going to be very rough and explicit in dealing with many of the problems teens face today.
What are a few films that impacted you deeply?
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is the film that made me want to be a filmmaker when I saw it early in high school.I realized the power of emotion in a story, and I wanted to be a part of that. Movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Magnolia, About Schmidt, Jerry Maguire and Schindler’s List, among others, all impacted me in various ways with their themes of redemption, forgiveness and filmmaking style. My goal as a filmmaker is pretty clear: I want to make films that capture the reality of life before offering hope and redemption. And sometimes explicitly, sometimes metaphorically, I want to show that that hope and redemption originates from God.
Do you think Christians can have a part in shaping our culture and our media?
Part of my mission is to encourage Christians to realize how much potential they have to influence entertainment. Hollywood works like politics, except in this case, people vote with their dollar. Christians need to recognize that and make sure that they support strongly the films they do appreciate. We should reach out to Hollywood producers, radio stations, TV networks and their sponsors, and educate them on what we want to see. It’s easy to criticize Hollywood, but I think we need to start educating Hollywood on what we want to see.[To find out more about Jenkins Entertainment or to contact Dallas go to www.jenkins-entertainment.com. You can contact the interviewer by going to www.brianorme.com]
READ MORE PROGRESSIVE CULTURE | POST COMMENTS BELOW