In the film industry filmmakers and film critics often find themselves pitted against each other at opposite corners of the ring. Filmmakers view critics as their enemy, when in fact, the critic should be viewed as the filmmaker’s friend. Film critics watch hundreds of movies each year and spend their time analyzing each one, determining what works and what doesn’t. If we as filmmakers will listen to what the critics have to say, instead of putting up our guard and getting our feelings hurt, we can greatly improve the quality of our films. That’s why I wanted to kick off 2017 with a series of articles by critics sharing their favorite films and what it was that made those films stand out from the crowd.

We begin the series with C.J. Powers, author at CJ’S Corner.

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I was asked to share my favorite “faith-based” film of 2016 and share the elements that made it my darling. Having watched just shy of 100 faith-based films this past year I thought the decision would be difficult. That is until Hallmark released When Calls the Heart Christmas.

The two-hour film was designed as a Christmas special to kick-off the 4th season of When Calls the Heart that launches in March. While the series average Nielsen rating is 2.3, the Christmas movie saw a huge spike in viewership. I attribute this to the story that drew in both faith-based movie watchers and the general public.

The story, based on Hollywood standards, fit the redemptive category and not the faith-based category. While scripture was shared and the cultural lifestyle reflected a Judeo-Christian Worldview, the story was not preached, but instead demonstrated.

Every main character had something immediately likeable about them, but they also had a clear flaw that they owned at some point during the story. After watching how they struggled through all the obstacles blocking their goals, they each found themselves redeemed by the end.

Not a single character made the most powerful statement in the film, but it was as clear as could be. That statement was about unconditional love and how self-sacrifice for others made it possible. The beauty of it being demonstrated rather than preached made it possible for the audience to relate to any of the characters that they wanted. Each character then demonstrated the struggles in figuring out what unconditional love looks like and how it’s engaged based on their life choices.

Picture a flawed person struggling with being able to receive unconditional love and having an epiphany that giving it to others is far more powerful and rewarding. That is what the demonstration allowed the audience to see. And, not one single person preached it, as is common in faith-based films. The theme was only demonstrated relentlessly.

Redemptive storytelling allows the audience to believe they came up with the solution on their own, which allows them to own it and implement it in their own life. But, when preached in faith-based films, the audience knows whose idea it is and that person is not in the audience. So, unless they happen to agree, they have no reason to implement the idea in their own life.

The redemptive storyline made this title the best “faith-based” film of 2016 in my book. While by definition it wasn’t a faith-based film, I’d venture to say most believers would quickly add it to their faith-based library.

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Written by Sharon Wilharm

I'm a female filmmaker, blogger, and speaker with over a decade of industry experience. I'm passionate about visual storytelling. I know firsthand that you don't have to spend a fortune to make a good movie, and you can tell a powerful story without ever saying a word. My desire with Faith Flix is to educate, inspire, and encourage my fellow filmmakers. I know that Christian filmmakers can make better movies, but it takes education and hard work. I'll help with the education and leave you to do the hard work.

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