ATLANTA — When Sherwood Pictures’ Courageous opens nationally in theaters Sept. 30, the film will demonstrate that Protestants and Catholics can indeed work together.
The film, which is a product of the Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., has partnered with a Catholic public-relations agency and a variety of Catholic ministries to successfully market the motion picture, which is about four police officers struggling with issues of fatherhood.
At least 10 Catholic men’s, marriage and family ministries have partnered with the filmmakers to help support and promote the film. They include the Knights of Columbus’ Fathers for Good, Alexander House, National Fellowship of Catholic Men, The King’s Men, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, Fraternus, That Man Is You, Familia and The Men of St. Joseph.
It’s not the first time that Catholics have gotten behind one of the Baptist church’s films.
The Catholic PR firm The Maximus Group was originally approached by Sherwood Pictures to help promote the church’s 2008 film Fireproof rather late in the marketing campaign. That film focused on a troubled marriage and the importance of strengthening marriage. The movie went on to become one of 2008’s independent hits.
With Courageous, Sherwood involved Maximus early on. Maximus staff, for example, had an opportunity to see the script and make suggestions.
“We were able to have the confidence, before production began, that there would be nothing in the script that Catholics would have to worry about from a sacramental or doctrinal point of view,” explained Lisa Wheeler, executive vice president and co-founder of Maximus. “It’s made by Protestants, so it’s not told through a Catholic lens, but there’s nothing in it that we would object to.”
As production began, Maximus brought two groups of Catholic influencers (in the interest of full disclosure, I was a member of one of these groups) on the set of the film to watch the film being shot. Maximus later consulted with various Catholic ministries to talk about ways the film could help the work that many of them were already doing.
Over the course of the summer, more than 300 grassroots screenings took place. Among them, the film has been screened for the U.S. bishops, the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers, the Catholic Marketing Network and the Knights of Columbus. Several Catholic apostolates have jumped on board to help promote and support the film.
For example, the Houston-based men’s apostolate That Man Is You has already been active in what the film models: helping churches to set up men’s accountability groups so that men have a place where they can gather that’s centered on spirituality and being accountable to their commitments as husbands and fathers.
Response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive. Catholic father of eight Chris Larson of Rice, Minn., saw the film at a screening in the Twin Cities this summer.
“It was great,” said Larson. “Each actor reminded me of the things that I’ve learned over the years of being married with children. It might be the wake-up call men need to return to their home and love their wife and children by dying to their selfish needs.”
Others have said they enjoyed the film but wonder if it will be able to reach a wide audience.
Lisa Schmidt, part-time music coordinator at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in West Des Moines, Iowa, described the movie as “genuinely entertaining … and well written.”
While she and her husband, Joel, enjoyed the film, Schmidt said that the end, like all of Sherwood’s pictures, “became very in-your-face evangelism. It became more ‘Jesus pitch’ than story.”
But, overall, she says the movie’s message is a needed one in today’s society.
“While men within the pews can and will stand to benefit from the film, it’s critical that men outside the pews be introduced to this message,” said Schmidt. “The message is awesome. If every man and father lived it out, our country and world would be in a better place.”
“The film isn’t one that you would measure artistically,” admitted Wheeler. “It’s been made with the intention of being a tool for the needs of a faith community. Most ministries recognize that’s the film’s content and message and are supportive because it’s what we want to happen with Catholic men. We want them to rise up and be leaders in their families, be accountable for their choices, and to have the courage to counter the temptations of the world.”
As with The Passion of the Christ, the film’s producers are encouraging faith-based and men’s groups to pre-purchase showings of the film.
The marriage ministry Alexander House is hosting a showing of the film the night it opens in San Antonio.
“We’re promoting it because it’s inspirational,” said Julie Alexander, who operates Alexander House with her husband, Greg. “Men need good examples of what it means to be a Christian man, and the film does a good job of hitting those points.”
Will audiences respond? All those involved hope so. Out of all Sherwood Pictures’ films, Courageous will have the largest opening. Kris Fuhr, vice president of Sony’s Provident Films, expects the movie will open on 1,000 screens.
Brian Caulfield, editor of the Fathers for Good website, an initiative of the Knights of Columbus, is looking forward to moviegoers’ — and Catholics’ — reactions.
“The movie stresses the importance of fathers in the lives of their family,” he said. “It presents positive messages about fathers in a medium that doesn’t always do so. Courageous should be an incentive for Catholic filmmakers that this can be done.”
Register senior writer Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.