Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Movies Do Christians Want? Part IV - No More Prairie Films

*In Part I I began a response to the Entertainment Weekly article about movie studios looking for ways to market to the Christian audience.
*In Part II I looked at the last 10 years and see how this sub genre is developing.
*In Part III we look at two Christian motivations for this film genre: insulation and influence.

Don't be fooled there's many, many, many more films available on DVD that never have hit the theater screen but are available to purchase at video retailers, specifically, but not limited to "the Christian Bookstore."

In fact, there is a degree of variety to these films that I think many people would be surprised to see, as every genre has been attempted with minimal budget's and various skilled and unskilled talent.

One of the most popular sub-genres of a sub-genre is the prairie family drama. I'm not really sure how it happened but somehow Christian publishers convinced Christians that they not just like, but loved Little House on The Prairie and any story that resembled this type of story.

The television show Christy had 21 episodes of poor ratings on CBS in 1994 to 1995. The show was about a single teacher, Christy Huddleston played by Kellie Martin.

Christian's really embraced this show. Why? I don't really no why. In some way, I imagine, it's easy to show a positive sanitized version of life in a period piece of this kind. Because these small rural communities usually had families with Christian community, a local church, and an involved pastor roving the town, it made it easy to deal with morality in this contained environment.

Despite it's minimal 21 epsiode run this show has been syndicated like crazy, particularly on "family friendly" networks like Ion Television (Pax).

The large support of fans eventually led to 3 made-for-tv movies that also ran on Pax.

Tonight I logged on to the website for Family Christian Stores and right on the front page along with their "Father's Day Reminder" was a few DVD's, specifically one prominently featured called Love Takes Wing.

This film, Love Takes Wing, is the 7th in it's series (Love Comes Softly) based on the series by Janette Oakey. This "inspirational" (one of the code words used to say "made for Christians) family film aired on the Hallmark channel last month. The film has a B-list cast (Lou Diamond Phillips, Patrick Duffy, Cloris Leachman, Hallie Duff).

The TV-movie is about a woman doctor (played by Sarah Jones) who goes to a small town being a female doctor on the prairie meeting her fair share of adversity...sound familiar?

Despite the popularity of Prairie films I don't think this is what Christians want... least not at the movie theaters.
I think the people that are drawn to participate in this bizarre sub-genre of sub-genres are not your typical theater goers. Even though there seems to be an odd love for the stories of these prairie women, these viewers don't trust the "Hollywood-world" and would shun any attempt to get these people into $9 per person theater seats, and they certainly aren't buying popcorn and sodas.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I've pinned this crowd in a box, I'm sorry if you love Dr. Quinn medicine woman and would pony-up-the-dough to see Jane Seymour bring this character back to the big screen.

Interestingly, many of these stories of the high plains aren't even specifically "Christian" but somehow they crowd the Christian bookstores shelves, but I can't see one of these films ever being successful in a theatrical run.

Maybe I'm going out on limb, but I don't think Christians want another prairie film, and certainly not on the big screen.


Magnus said...

Oddly, there some parallels to the Christian market and being a Canadian. Canadians have a tendency to set works in the Prairies and the Martimes if they really want to drive home the notion of "Canadianess". Other areas of Canada (except Ontario) just don't seem as Canadian somehow.
Of course there is more to it than location. There is the mandatory insertion of the Canadian flag into the background just to remind you that you are watching a CANADIAN FILM/TV PROGRAMME! Whoo-hoo! There are the stupid/arrogant American stereotypes who kind of parallel the bad non-Christian, New Age characters in stuff like "This Present Darkness." (if they aren't being played for comedy, that is) There are the numerous, and again, very obvious Canadian references.
Oneof my complaints about Canadian film and televison (and some literature) is that we can be Canadian without beating people over the head with it.
We can make definitively Canadian works by just being Canadian and not beating an audience over the head with it. American works are American without needing to beat people over the head with it - the ones that do tend to annoy those of us who aren't. Same goes for British and Irish works.
It seems to me that the same ideas could be applied to Christianity. We can make Christian films, books, tv, etc just by being who we are supposed to be. I dunno, "There is no try only do or do not". Maybe if we just "did" we'd be better off?

Karen said...

I enjoyed Janette Oke's Love Comes Softly series and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman but that doesn't mean I don't watch mainstream movies too. Those prairie films/TV are geared toward women in general, Christian or not. I don't have a problem with Hallmark "family friendly" films, but Christian filmmakers shouldn't limit their art to that sub-genre. Their work should go from edgy to inspirational and everything in between.