Edgier movies for mainstream Christians

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Spoiler alert: “Imprisoned,” a new film set partly in a prison, is not a typical revenge movie, where the hero is abused and pushed until he goes on a spree, wreaking violence on all who have wronged him.

And despite the involvement of a United Methodist minister on its marketing team, “Imprisoned” is definitely not a typical “faith” film, with a G-rating and wholesome story.

“The film for me is full of important biblical themes,” said Paul Kampf, who wrote and directed the R-rated “Imprisoned.” Kampf grew up in the Catholic Church and, while not a member of any denomination, said he occasionally attends Catholic or Protestant services.

“Primarily everything that I’ve written is about hope and forgiveness and redemption in some way,” he said. “These are themes that are important to me, to really look at what it means to be a man, and the responsibilities we have.”

“Imprisoned,” starring Laurence Fishburne and Juan Pablo Raba, is a thriller about the clash between an embittered warden of a Puerto Rican prison out for revenge against a reformed criminal and fisherman who is responsible for a tragedy in the warden’s past.

The Rev. Kenny Dickson, a Texas pastor, founded Crossroads Faith and Film to bring worthy films to the attention of moderate to liberal Christians, including United Methodists.  Photo courtesy of the Rev. Kenny Dickson.
The Rev. Kenny Dickson, a Texas pastor, founded Crossroads Faith and Film to bring worthy films to the attention of moderate to liberal Christians, including United Methodists.
Photo courtesy of the Rev. Kenny Dickson.

Kampf hopes the film’s Christian message will be a hit with mainstream audiences. Currently being shopped to distributors, it has had short runs in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico.

It is just the kind of film the Rev. Kenny Dickson wants to see succeed. The United Methodist clergyman’s ministry, Crossroads Faith and Film, exists to bring worthy films to the attention of other moderate to liberal Christians, including United Methodists.

Evangelical churches are doing a good job promoting movies they want their members to see. Films like “Miracles from Heaven” (which grossed $13 million, according to Variety) have connected with Christians and three “God’s Not Dead” films have made nearly $100 million, according to Box Office Mojo and The Numbers.

Progressive churchgoers would enjoy and benefit from darker films that tell stories of transformation and redemption, Dickson said.

“In the faith film industry, they’ve equated faith and family,” Dickson said. “But if (you do that), you’re missing really some of the most important things. … Whether it’s violence or language, you have to show from what someone is being redeemed.

“Sometimes life is R-rated.”

Dickson is the son of the Rev. Kenneth Molton Dickson, a prominent and recently deceased United Methodist minister who served on a United Methodist commission on film and television. The elder Dickson took his son at age 6 to see “2001: A Space Odyssey,” because he considered it a film making a theological statement. The younger Dickson studied film at United Methodist-related Southern Methodist University, then followed in his father’s footsteps as a pastor. He left a job as senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church of Farmers Branch, Texas, in July to concentrate on his film ministry full time.

The Old Testament prophet Nathan is a signpost to Dickson for his film ambitions. In 2 Samuel 12:1–31, Nathan confronts King David about his affair with Bathsheba and sending her husband to war so he will be killed.

“When he was told by God to go confront David after the Bathsheba affair, Nathan used the story of the poor man with one lamb,” Dickson said. “He used story to reflect David’s failure so that David could really see it in a non-defensive way.

“That’s how I see what films can be for us.”

Movie trailer courtesy of Cinema Libre Studio.

Movie trailer courtesy of Cinema Libre Studio

“Imprisoned” stemmed from work Kampf did with prisoners in the Cook County prison system in Chicago.

After being exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival, “Imprisoned” was picked up for distribution by Grindstone Entertainment Group, a subsidiary of industry powerhouse Lionsgate.

Then something unexpected happened.

“They wanted to go in and find all the sex and all the violence (footage) and get rid of the penitence idea of the warden at the end,” Kampf said. “They wanted to get rid of all of that, and say this is a revenge movie and that’s all we’re going to care about.”

Financially, the deal would have repaid the film’s investors and given “Imprisoned” a wide release.

Instead, Kampf licensed the film back from Grindhouse and is trying to sell it to another distributor. He’s done several screenings across the country.

Paul Kampf, writer and director of “Imprisoned.” Photo courtesy of Equitas Entertainment Partners.

Paul Kampf, writer and director of “Imprisoned.”
Photo courtesy of Equitas Entertainment Partners.

“It would have been very easy to say, ‘Great, you bought the movie, and you’re going to change it and just make it about violence and more sex,’” Kampf said. “But now I (would) have a movie that’s out there that has my name on it that is not what I believe.”

Kampf said partners with the same values are important because Hollywood is a town “built on money and not morality.

“I think you can have both.”

Dickson and Kampf met at Cannes and decided to see if Dickson’s contacts in the Christian world could generate support for the project.

“Initially what I’m doing is working to help film companies and distributors reach out to United Methodist churches and also other mainline churches — typically more progressive,” Dickson said. “I’m contacting bishops and clergy in the areas it plays and letting them know about the film.”

If “Imprisoned” gets wide distribution, Dickson would market it on social media and make sure Christians know a film with a faith element is coming out. He also writes study guides on films.

“Hopefully, (churches) will then organize group viewings, buy tickets and take groups to films,” he said.

Eventually, Dickson wants to work as a script consultant to filmmakers who want to reflect theology in their films. And, he says, “Like everybody else, I’ve got some stories I’d like to get developed into projects at some point. But that’s down the road.”

Both Dickson and Kampf believe Christians will respond to edgier films.

Kampf tells the story of an audience member from an “Imprisoned” preview who was upset that the prisoner doesn’t kill the warden.

“In New York one guy said, ‘When he let go of him, I was so angry I wanted to scream, and then I realized that was my problem. I wanted revenge, and this man is above that.’”

Patterson is a UM News reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.  To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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