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Fitting into a box, lessons to be learned from faith-based films.

Fitting into a box, lessons to be learned from faith-based films. (photo)

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In an interview with genre cult figure Philip Ridley at Twitch comes the following disclosure: “The kind of films I’ve been interested in making are not very easy to get off the ground. They don’t fit into a neat box or category.”

It’s a variation of a common lament of filmmakers who have trouble working as fast as they’d like is, to filmmaking as “I’m not here to make friends” is to reality TV.

What, then, can we make of Sherwood Baptist Church, the highly successful organization whose ministry is responsible for the Kirk Cameron-starring Christian redemption tale “Fireproof” (technically the highest-grossing independent film of 2008) and who keep making low-cost films with evangelical messages? If you want to talk about a neat box, this is the way to go about it.

Michael Catt — senior pastor, supervisor of Christian film — is unabashed about this and has some very smart reasons for it. “Every movie has an agenda,” he says, and points out “Avatar” as a recent example. “Clearly, [James Cameron] had a spiritual agenda there, and he’s out to reach his audience. So are we. We have lost this culture, and we have to fight back. Our way is to show the living Gospel in a secular environment.” Game on.

07192010_sully.jpgThere’s something about the unapologetic nature of Sherwood’s ambitions that can make you root for him, even if evangelizing on behalf of the gospel isn’t on your list of priorities. Catt’s calling “Avatar” secular proselytizing — and, well, it is. “Avatar” is just as didactic as most faith-based filmmaking — it’s just got more gewgaws and blue hues to layer on top to disguise it. And if you’re looking for a way to explain why low-budget Christian films with minimal production values can turn a profit, you could consider that.

When the Sherwood members say things like “Remember, John Wayne only died in two movies,” they’re advancing an argument that’s as much narrative as it is spiritual. They’re saying people appreciate clarity, the more of it the better — and that, contrary to what many critics would say, people like to be talked down to.

They like to be lectured, because clarity is at a premium in a world whose ambiguities are overparsed more and more each day. This is not an argument I’m terribly sympathetic too — but it’s an argument nonetheless, one that says Ridley is right to have financing troubles. Not because producers are selfish, but because audiences like boxes, and they’re who financially support movies.

Anyway, here’s the Sherwood church hard at work — for all their self-righteous rhetoric, they aren’t kidding. This is as community-based as filmmaking gets:

[Photos: “Fireproof,” Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2008; “Avatar,” 20th Century Fox, 2009.]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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