Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
Hollywood, some would say, has become a source of ignominy. Too often, contemporary films that make it to the big screen are sleazy, replete with violence and perverse sexuality. But Andrew and Jon Erwin, directors best known simply as the Erwin Brothers, aim to change that Hollywood landscape with a new type of entertainment. The brothers have brought to the screen such wholesome films as the comedy Moms’ Night Out, the football story Woodlawn, and the faith-and-family drama I Can Only Imagine. And when their latest film I Still Believe opens in theaters March 13, viewers will be treated to something different: It’s a poignant love story with a tragic yet hopeful end.
I Still Believe is the true-to-life chronicle of Christian music star Jeremy Camp’s journey of love as Jeremy (KJ Apa) accompanies his wife Melissa (Britt Robertson) through her ordeal with terminal cancer. Jeremy’s father Tom Camp (Gary Sinise) and mother Terry (Shania Twain) are first concerned about the pain their son might endure, should Melissa die; but they come to see his determination to marry the sweet young woman and share her health burden as evidence of true love. “He chose to walk in the fire with her,” Sinise says in the film. “That’s what love is.”
Director Jon Erwin talked recently about his vision for I Still Believe, calling it “a beautiful, redemptive movie.” “I think films are going to be Trojan horses on behalf of the gospel,” Erwin said, explaining how he hopes to confront viewers emotionally, by telling a story that challenges their worldview and opens their minds to consider what they believe.
Erwin hoped that parents would take their teenage kids to see the film. “There’s a generation,” he explained, “that experiences callousness and cynicism, but craves a return to innocence. They feel that to be popular, you have to compromise everything about yourself. The entertainment industry is a large proponent of that viewpoint, because of what they put on your screen. The industry propagates and promotes a very selfish kind of 'love.'” In contrast, Erwin recalled a scene from I Still Believe in which Jeremy sings to Melissa from his heart, from the depths of his soul. “Everyone wants to be looked at like that,” he said, “to be loved unselfishly and loved honestly... It’s an example of the kind of love that God calls us to, with each other and with him.”
Kevin Downes, the film’s producer, reiterated Erwin’s hope that I Still Believe would impact a wide audience with the Gospel. Downes believes that I Still Believe has a poignant message for every viewer. “Even though I've seen it more than 100 times,” he said, “there are moments that still give me goosebumps.” Downes lauded KJ’s performance as Jeremy, giving of himself to Melissa. “This is one of those films,” he warned, “where you'll want to have popcorn on one side, but Kleenex on the other.”
Downes also called to mind a scene which is a dramatic father-son moment, when Gary Sinise as Jeremy’s father embraces his son and tells him how proud he is. “I have three young boys at home,” said Downes, “so that’s a scene that’s really special to me. It’s something we all aspire to — whether we want to hear it from our own dads, or we want to say that to our sons.”
Positive Follow-up to Christian Films
Kevin Downes spoke about the effects the Erwin Brothers’ recent films have had. “At the end of Woodlawn,” Downes reported, “they had posted a phone number on the screen, a lifeline that people could call. It’s astonishing, but they got close to 100,000 responses. Our hearts cry!”
The film I Can Only Imagine received wide distribution, showing on 1,600 screens across America. “At the end of I Can Only Imagine,” Downes reported, “we had a phone number that people could call if they're encountering a crisis situation. A nonprofit organization took those calls — 1,300 unique calls from people who were close to the end of their life or thinking about ending their life... We make movies so that even one life can be changed — but it’s so encouraging when we hear that thousands of people have made the decision that their life was worth living, that someone took the time to write down that phone number.”
Following the success of I Can Only Imagine, the Erwin Brothers, along with Kevin Downes and Tony Young, formed a new company, Kingdom Story Company, and signed a contract with Lionsgate. Their goal is to release up to two Christian films per year (I Still Believe is the first film under that contract).
Jon Erwin was not ready to talk about some of the Erwin Brothers films that are currently being planned, but he did talk about one upcoming title, The Jesus Revolution. Currently in pre-production, the film will be directed by John Gunn, director of the 2017 film The Case for Christ. Based on a 1971 Time magazine article, The Jesus Revolution will tell the story of the “spiritual awakening” in California in the 1970s. That film is expected to reach theaters in the spring of 2021.
Erwin also revealed that they hope to do different types of films, among them a Christmas musical.
“I Still Believe is being released world-wide. This is the first faith-based film to be released on IMAX,” he reported. “That’s typically reserved for Marvel movies. This just shows what God is doing in Hollywood!” Erwin urged moviegoers to support the film. “It’s not just about being entertained,” he said. “It’s about casting your vote, having a say in what films are being made. Wouldn't it be fabulous to have the culture reinfused with the Gospel?”
I Still Believe opens in theaters on Friday, March 13. You can learn more, watch the trailer, and purchase advance tickets at the film’s website, istillbelievemovie.com.