Former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum works from a different platform these days.
He is producing and distributing family-friendly movies as the new CEO of EchoLight Studios, an inspirational film company headquartered in Dallas.
This Advent, the company is bringing The Christmas Candle to theaters.
The film, based on bestselling author Max Lucado’s book of the same name, focuses on the Advent season.
Set in the heart of the 1890s’ English countryside, in the village of Gladbury, the movie dramatizes what happens when an age-old Christmas miracle and cherished traditions confront progressive thinking.
The authentic look of the film comes from being filmed on location in the Cotswolds, a range of hills in England. The actors and behind-the-scenes crew have major movies to their credit.
British singing sensation Susan Boyle makes her film debut in a supporting role — and sings, of course.
Before The Christmas Candle opened in theaters on Nov. 22, Santorum spoke with the Register about this film and the need for quality family entertainment.
Why did you decide to get involved with EchoLight Studios?
People think this is a strange transition, but I don’t think so at all.
[Most of] the stories being told to the American public and their storytellers have values not consistent with what I believe in and what people of faith strive to. They particularly don’t show faith in a positive light, if at all.
These are the films being produced in Hollywood. I thought of this as an opportunity to produce authentic faith films. So instead of condemning Hollywood for these things, we decided to light a candle.
[My wife] Karen and I prayed about what we can do for the good of the country and families. So I came to EchoLight. I was blessed. Because of the primary last year, I got a lot more name recognition and notoriety. I can use my bully pulpit to promote good, strong-quality content that has a strong message.
How will EchoLight bring good entertainment with values to society?
One of the things we’re going to do is to produce films that show the public how faith actually has an impact on people’s lives and show that by telling a lot of true stories.
Everything we do will have a faith theme and will be about authentic faith. Some will be more subtle, some more obvious.
This is a Christmas movie, so the faith is out there. It talks about people struggling with faith in the Christmas season.
This is what we can do well and what Hollywood does not do well. They do excellent productions, but they don’t do faith well.
From preview scenes of The Christmas Candle, I couldn’t help but think of It’s a Wonderful Life and similar beloved classics. How did you find this new “classic”?
The filmmaker saw what I was trying to do. He came to us and thought it might fit our method of operation. This is a beautiful Christmas story about the real gift of Christmas, which is not under the tree, but about Jesus being with us.
Tell us about the unique Advent aspect.
The Christmas Candle is about Advent, too. In it, the pastor lights every candle, and he has a little sermonette every Sunday. You see the Advent candle, the Advent wreath, the preparation time for Jesus and his birth.
It’s a movie where you can experience the traditions of the Advent season.
This can possibly be the first-ever Advent film. Every pastor of every liturgical church that celebrates Advent should have their folks come see this story about people contemplating what it means to us that Christ is coming and to contemplate what our reaction to that should be.
Have preview audiences picked up on it?
It’s not that overt in the film, but even folks at the previews who are not believers saw this is a beautiful film on faith and the need for faith in your life — because it shows the struggles people have and how important faith is in the difficult times in their lives.
In Oklahoma City, we invited pastors and also invited some of my supporters — not all are people of faith. One woman, after the question-and-answer session, came up and told me, “I’m not a person of faith, but after this movie, I don’t want to live another day without it.”
Can you share a brief faith example from the film?
One of the two major characters is a woman who has no faith. As her father is dying, she has this moment of crisis and asks the pastor, who has lost his faith — it’s a dry, superficial faith — to come and pray for her dad, dying of consumption. (He is in need of a miracle.)
The pastor says no, he can’t. … He says, “Today the blind don’t see; the lame don’t walk, and the sick die.”
Don’t give away more of the plot, but this sounds like the pastor is …
The ultimate doubting Thomas.
Who will enjoy this movie?
The cool thing we’re finding on the website is that we’re getting more clicks from secular sites than religious sites. Even people who don’t go to church think: “What do you do with your kids for Christmas? You see a Christmas movie.”
It’s a way to open the door. Whether people are of faith or of no faith, they will see there are twists and turns to the story.
There are wonderful characters you can identify with and feel warm about — funny characters, sweet characters, folks that you see yourself in. It’s wonderfully done.
And it’s British Victorian. The characters are authentic in that regard. It is an enjoyable movie with a real heart to it.
How did you get Susan Boyle in a supporting role — and singing the film’s musical theme?
It was a brilliant move. I don’t produce; I distribute it. She is playing a supporting-actress role and has a beautiful song.
How do you envision the opening, in light of Hollywood films?
We’re going up against the giants. I’m a little David and have a slingshot. If we can go out the same weekend and do well, we’re going to give an early strong message.
How do you and your family prepare for Christmas?
We certainly have our traditions. The Advent wreath is at the dining table, and we light it at every meal. We do readings from the Magnificat occasionally at dinnertime. We’re more faithful [to those readings] during the Advent season and include that as part of our traditions.
Advent is the time we prepare the family and the house for Christmas. Whether it’s decorations or the traditions we have, we start focusing on Jesus’ coming.
Speaking of family, how is Bella (Santorum’s daughter, who has Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder) doing?
She is doing fabulously. She has been happy and joyful and healthy. She has her struggles. We’re still teaching her to stand and walk. We have all sorts of challenges in that regard, developmentally.
She has developed a wonderful, winsome personality that is the center of the house, and she is a source of love and a font of love.
Bella has been kissed more than any 5-year-old in the history of mankind. Everybody just hugs and kisses Bella all day long.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.