This article was submitted by a contributor, and is for informative purposes only. Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Christian Movie Connect.

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Are Christian Films Becoming Increasingly ‘Epic?’

Some families bond over rollercoaster rides and corn dogs at the amusement park, others enjoy leisurely boat rides on the lake, and a whole 13% of outdoors enthusiasts take family camping trips to spend more time with their kids and spouse. We all do “family fun” in our own unique way. Some families wait in anticipation all year for those huge summer films to hit the big screen.

One of the most anticipated movies of the summer is the remake of the classic 1959 film, Ben-Hur. Though the story — based on the best-selling 1880 novel by former Civil War General Lew Wallance — has been brought to the big screen multiple times, it has never been told quite like this. Not only does the 2016 version promote a stronger Christian message, but the cinematography is also expected to be far grander and flashier than ever before.

One of Hollywood’s most prominent Christian couples, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, have produced a number of successful Christian-themed projects, including The Bible, A.D.: The Bible Continues, and Son of God.

Ben-Hur is a big action epic, with a through-line of Jesus interacting with the major characters in our story. It blends an exciting action epic with a message of love and forgiveness coming from Jesus,” Burnett told Catholic World Report in an interview.

Biblical epics have become a genre of their own, particularly since Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was named in 2006 by Entertainment Weekly “the most controversial film of all time.” Yet, the film sparked a renewed interest in biblical cinema, ultimately leading to “The Year of the Bible” in 2014, considered as such because of the four big epics that hit theaters that year — Son of God; Noah; Exodus; and Mary, Mother of Christ.

As producers have done with the epics that came before, Burnett and Downey hope to inspire their audience. “The 2016 film is a story for a new generation,” said Downey. “We have a great opportunity to reach our young people with the story of Jesus, and bring them to the foot of the Cross.”

Ben-Hur is scheduled for release on August 19. The film is rated PG-13, so at your discretion, bring your kids along and make it a family affair.

Hip New Church Attracts Tech-Savvy Millennials

How does one market the word of God to the Silicon Valley tech whiz? Ask Adam Smallcombe, the founder of the coolest megachurch in the Bay Area.

This past spring, C3 Silicon Valley (C3SV), an offshoot of a Pentacostal church, posted a rap video on Facebook to advertise their Easter services. As of July 31, the video had about 61,000 views, about 80 times as many views as the recording of the Easter sermon itself.

How did the rap video become so popular? As it turns out, a significant number of the church’s members work at Facebook, which they were able to use to their advantage.

The rap was written by a former Google employee who currently works full-time as a pastor, and appropriately, the lyrics are saturated with startup tech lingo while touching on faith and skepticism.

“I’ve made so many errors you can’t even debug it / Like an elephant in the room, there’s no seeing above it / Got a job making money, but don’t even love it,” a young black man rhymes for the camera. “If I had a startup, it would get a network effect / The valuation goes up, but is my value still met?”

What better way to connect with the church’s target audience than with a rap that combines faith and technology? C3SV aims to spread the word of God to local young people, which in Silicon Valley, means speaking directly to the millennial influencers working in the tech industry.

“We wanted to create a church that really appeals to the engineers of Silicon Valley,” said Smallcombe. He’s talking about the huge population of people in the area working in the information technology sector. IT is a wide and varied field, including hundreds of different types of jobs, one of which being software engineers for major startup companies.

“We’re talking about being bold with the message of love, being bold with the message of grace, and really trying to change people’s perspective with how they see the church,” he added.

Faith-Based Christian App Now Available for Streaming on Apple TV

Christian Cinema, a faith-based digital content provider announced the release of their new streaming app this month. The app will be featured on Apple TV and will allow Christian families to stream their favorite movies and shows in high-definition (HD).

According to Christian Daily, this is the first time Christian Cinema is releasing its library of faith-based media.

“Curated from top Christian filmmakers, all these titles in one place is a cinema rarity,” said Bobby Downes, the company’s CEO and founder. “For a big swath of consumers, this is very big news.”

Users of the app will have the choice to either rent or buy content or watch a preview before making their decision. They will also have the ability to access their library from multiple devices, including their laptop, TV, tablet, and smartphone. Other compatible devices may also be used.

Along with access to one of the biggest libraries of Christian content available, the content provider also plans to offer more to customers than ever before. Through the popular site Christianbook.com, Christian Connect will offer Electronic Sell Through (EST) along with Transactional Video on Demand (TVOD). This will allow users to build their own database of content from the videos they buy directly from the site.

While it is the first time working with Apple TV, this is not the first app for the cinema company. The company released an app in November of 2015 for the Roku line, which is the dominant leader of the streaming TV market.

Since 1999, Christian Cinema has been providing customers with the largest library of faith-based movies and shows. Users of the app will not be required to sign up for monthly subscriptions and only pay for the content they watch. Furthermore, they’ll have access to content before it is released to most subscription platforms.

The goal of the app is to allow families of the Christian faith and others who enjoy positive stories to watch content everyone in the family can enjoy. And considering the fact that only eight percent of users make up new passwords, odds are that you can borrow someone’s password to check it out yourself.

Former Football Player Set to Star in Upcoming Christian Film

Marcus Lattimore, a former star running back for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks football team, is set to appear in an upcoming Christian film in a role he was born to play: himself.

Or, that is, a character closely based on Lattimore’s own story. The promising young football player was beloved by fans throughout his successful career at South Carolina and, after graduation, he was drafted to the San Francisco 49ers. However, two separate knee injuries sidelined him within his first year on the roster. He retired from football at the age of just 23.

Lattimore now spends his time coaching and running youth camps in addition to his work with the Marcus Lattimore Foundation, a youth development program in his home state that aims to “provide a core curriculum consisting of nutrition, wellness, safety, skill and faith for our youth athletes in the great state of South Carolina… [and] use our platform and gifts for the sole purpose of bringing people to Christ.”

The forthcoming film, entitled Faith’s Song and produced by Northface Christian Films, features Lattimore as an injured football player-turned-pastor, who helps a young girl, Faith, overcome hardship after her parents are killed in a car crash.

“Marcus has such a great testimony of someone overcoming all the disappointments that he’s had with his knee injuries,” said director Frank Hutto. Though it was Lattimore’s first time acting, Hutto said he performed well. “Marcus is a natural when it comes to talking to people. Once he avoids the camera and doesn’t think about the cameras being there, Marcus is pretty natural in everything he does.”

For his part, Lattimore enjoyed the experience. “The whole staff, the whole crew, they’ve been amazing helping groom me up a little bit in my acting process,” he said in an interview with WACH-Fox. “I’ve been so blessed to be a part of that, and I get to play myself, my story. That’s cool.”

Though it’s a tough time for film industry, when one in five young Americans are in debt, making them less eager to spend money on movie tickets, Lattimore and Hutto are optimistic about the film’s release, which is set for release in the fall.

“When you go through adversity, will you stand on God’s word?” Lattimore said. “I feel like that’s the message that we’re trying to get across.”

Great, Great Granddaughter of ‘Ben-Hur’ Author Gives Work a Contemporary Spin

Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ was written in the 1880s, and became an instant classic with its 1959 film adaptation, which ended up winning 11 Oscars. However, the epic is now getting a modern face lift from Lew’s great, great granddaughter, Carol Wallace.

The original epic details the story of Judah Ben-Hur, a young Jewish prince who was forced to battle both a friend-turned-traitor and the Roman empire, overcame slavery, and eventually experienced a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.

Carol aims to bring more clarity and female empowerment to the epic in her contemporary rewrite.

“I found his version really hard to read,” she explained. “He was writing in a cheeky style that was really tough to take. There were times I was rewriting it when I wasn’t even entirely sure what he was trying to say and his book is really long.”

She said that for contemporary audiences to get the most out of the work, she wanted to move the narrative forward a bit more quickly than in the original.

“It was very clear to me I was going to have to follow his model very closely … so I just decided I would take his story and his point of view and bring it up to date. Once I figured that out, it was actually a lot of fun. Because it was just a question of cutting, making women more important and shifting the point of view around,” she explained.

Her update to the epic comes at an opportune time, especially considering the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the book from director Timur Bekmambetov.

Bekmambetov has worked to bring films such as “Wanted” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” to life, both of which saw decent success in the box office.

Despite his previous successes, Bekmambetov was hesitant when he was first approached about the film.

Others working on the project had similar reservations at first, but eventually got behind the project, realizing that though the story is set thousands of years in the past, the characters have value in modern ideals and issues. By the age of 50, 85% of men worry about thinning hair, but Bekmambetov has a reputation on the line with this film.

“The 1959 ‘Ben-Hur’ is not just a film, it’s a phenomenon that greatly affected the culture of the 20th century,” he explained.

After she finished her re-write of the classic, Carol was actually invited to the set of the new film.

Having learned from a young age how her great great grandfather’s work had affected the world, Carol was inspired by the opportunity.

“I had spent all this time living in Ben-Hur’s world,” she explained. “I cannot describe what it was like to see the stadium the producers had built to shoot the chariot race — it is astonishing — it is full size.”

She also had the chance to stand on the floor of the stadium where the classic chariot battle was filmed.

“That was extraordinary and it was a real privilege. It’s an occasion for spiritual growth. I’m really grateful for that,” she said of the visit to the set.

Ben-Hur is scheduled to be released in theaters on August 19.

Jennifer Garner Pitches in to Raise Money For School Devastated by Flood

Floods are the number one disaster in America, averaging over $3 billion in claims per year. And in the wake of severe flooding in West Virginia, actress Jennifer Garner is looking to help.

Kanawha County reported that their Herbert Hoover High School had over $12 million dollars worth of damage because of the severe floods. The market value of the school building itself stands at $17.5 million.

So in a ticketed event at the University of Charleston, Jennifer Garner was able to use her fame to bring in half a million dollars during a fundraiser for flood victims.

Garner, a member of the International Save the Children Board, was given $150,000 by the Starkey Foundation to donate to a charitable organization of her choice. She then asked for an opportunity to match that amount.

“Save,” as Garner calls it, is an organization that works to give girls and boys and healthy start, along with multiple opportunities to learn. The organization ran the fundraiser and did not collect any administration fees.

Garner, who attended high school in West Virginia, spoke at the University of Charleston about her desire to help out. Surrounded by members of her 1990 graduating class from neighboring George Washington High School, her childhood ballet teacher, family neighbors, and a librarian from her elementary school, she emphasized the importance of spreading the word about flood relief.

WSAZ3 reports Garner saying, “I am here because of the community I grew up in, and it has formed who I am through and through, and that is so important, and that is what is going to get us through. But we do need help from the outside world, and I am going to help us get it, by God; we are going to have it, by God.”

Besides being a philanthropist, Garner is a devout Christian. She was even able to transition her faith into playing a role as a concerned mother who found faith in the film, Miracles From Heaven.

Released earlier this year, Miracles tells the story of the Beam Family, and how their daughter survived a dangerous accident that seemingly cured her from her life-threatening medical condition.

Actor Richard Gere Uses Film to Draw Attention to Humanitarian Causes

During a recent press trip to Italy, Hollywood leading man Richard Gere used his fame to draw attention to a humanitarian cause close to his heart: providing shelter for refugees and the homeless.

Gere most recently produced and starred in Time Out of Mind, an indie drama about a homeless man living in New York City. The film was released last year in the United States and screened in Rome earlier this month, prompting Gere’s visit to Italy.

The Pretty Woman and Chicago actor also paid a visit to Sant’Egidio, a community aid group in Rome that works to provide shelter, food, and language classes for some of the 400,000 migrants and refugees who have entered Italy since 2014.

“This is the real deal situation,” Gere told CBS News. “When you look at the survival level here of people. Also, a sense of joy — I mean, look around. There are not sad people here. These are people who have created community.”

Gere’s efforts and his film, however, stress that assistance for underserved communities needs to happen in our own country, too. “There are 60,000 people homeless in New York City,” Gere said. “And by some estimates close to a million in the country. It’s a serious issue. It can be viewed as a problem, or it can be viewed as a responsibility we have.”

Some notable recent efforts to address the homelessness crisis in the U.S. include Seattle’s Compass Housing Alliance, which just announced the construction of a 13-unit housing development to help people transitioning out of chronic homelessness.

The project is funded in part by a generous $1 million donation from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and will use steel modules to build small living spaces that can accommodate entire families and pets. It’s also a sustainable building choice, as 69% of all steel in North America gets recycled every year.

At home or abroad, Gere said he hopes Time Out of Mind will cause people to feel gratitude for what they have and reflect on what they can do to help those less fortunate. “I think we’re all looking for home,” he said. “I think we’re all looking for our place.”

Mel Gibson Planning Passion of the Christ Sequel

Mel Gibson is planning to grace our silver screens again with a sequel to The Passion of the Christ.

Gibson is working alongside screenwriter Randall Wallace. Wallace is known in the film world for being the creative mind behind the 1995 best Oscar winner Braveheart and 2014’s faith based drama Heaven Is For Real.

While the original Passion detailed the story behind Jesus’s arrest and crucifixion, the sequel will focus on chronicling the events after his resurrection.

Wallace tells The Hollywood Reporter that he was a religion major at Duke University and the resurrection was his specialty. He goes on to say, “I always wanted to tell this story. The Passion is the beginning and there’s a lot more story to tell.”

The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004 and quickly became the best selling and most successful independent movie of all time. It brought in a whopping $612 million worldwide on a paltry $30 million production budget.

Because of its success, many film critics in Hollywood predicted there would be a sequel, but Gibson moved on to other projects. At press time, Gibson’s rep declined to comment on his involvement.

So far, no studio backing has committed themselves to the project but Wallace hints that many financiers are interested in investing.

In February, Sony released Risen, which tells the story of the resurrection, even though Gibson wasn’t involved. The movie made $46 million worldwide on a $20 million budget, showcasing that Christian movies have the ability to make a lot more money than average films.

This not only draws attention to Christian films but also brings in money for the filmmakers of faith-based cinema. For those with estates valued at more than $5.43 million, or $10.86 million for a married couple, the estate is exempt from federal estate taxes; that likely applies to Gibson, Wallace, and other big names in Christian film.

Fans of Gibson and Wallace will also want to look out for Hacksaw Ridge, a film set to come out this November. Directed by Gibson and co-written by Wallace, this film details the story of the first conscientious objector to the U.S. Army to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Gospel Singer: My Faith Has Closed So Many Professional Doors

In a time of rising persecution around the globe, Christians in America are blessed in so many ways. However, many U.S. Christians admit they are increasingly afraid that their faith is becoming more and more of a liability in the professional world.

Gospel music pioneer Kirk Franklin is speaking out about his own experiences with work and faith. As a black man, one might expect Franklin to explain how his race has limited opportunities for him. Instead, Franklin has opened up in a new Facebook post about the ways his Christian faith has closed doors for him in the entertainment community. As a gospel artist, Franklin has helped bring the gospel to mainstream audiences, but he’s also bumped up against a ceiling.

The Facebook post reads in part:

When was the last time you heard something like this preached in church…? The reality that no matter what we do or how hard we try to diversify, expand our brand, master our craft, because we carry the cross of Christ, there will be a ceiling we may hit because we are affiliated with the name Jesus. That isn’t sexy theology, the kind that makes you do laps while the organ plays, but it does help you not take it personal when you are rejected not because your presentation wasn’t dope, but because the Jewish carpenter you brought with you isn’t swaggy enough.

Today, U.S. workers, particularly younger workers, are much more likely to change jobs than in generations past. According to one human resources staffing firm, up to 53% of workers are either “open” or “looking actively” for new job prospects. But in certain industries, and this goes double for entertainment, Christians who are open about their faith are finding closed doors.

Yet Franklin urges his fans to suffer these slights with a smile on their face, rather than reacting in anger or wrath. He concludes his Facebook post with this hopeful message, “The next time you’re rejected, smile! You’re doing your job.”

The singer also points his Facebook followers to 1 John 3:1. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

Franklin’s fourth album, “Losing My Religion,” is out now.

Paralyzed Olympian Uses Spiritual Healing for Physical Recovery

Two-time Olympic high-jumper Jamie Nieto has regained use of his right arm after a neck injury in April left him paralyzed.

Nieto, 39, represented the United States at the Athens 2004 and London 2012 Summer Olympics before turning to coaching in high jump and track and field. He was at a training session with future Olympic hopefuls at Azusa Pacific University in California on April 23 when, attempting one of his signature celebratory backflips, he landed on his head and suffered a slipped disc that ruptured nerves throughout his spine, leaving him unable to move his arms or legs.

Despite the crushing injury, Nieto recently told CBN News that he considers himself blessed. There were 4,585 workplace fatalities in 2013 alone, and he considers himself lucky just to be alive.

“I’d definitely like to thank God that I’m still alive,” Nieto said. “I just want to thank everybody for your support. I thank God that I’m alive.”

Nieto admitted that he had been struggling financially and, to save money, cancelled his health insurance plan not long before the accident. Fellow Olympian Lolo Jones set up a fundraising account to help pay for his medical expenses, which to date has earned 88% of its $70,000 goal. Nieto has been updating followers and fans of his recovery through social media.

“A lot of things come into perspective when something like this happens, and it makes you realize that stuff like this can happen to anybody,” Nieto said in a video. “You have to take advantage of your times and your life and enjoy and embrace your loved ones, and be the best person you can be.”

Nieto also emphasized that spiritual healing has been an integral part of his recovery. “I’ve done everything I can do physically, mentally, but not spiritually. I’ve been praying, I’ve been reading the Word because I want to be ready physically, mentally, and spiritually,” he told CBN.

“I want people to see that I’m blessed,” he continued. “I want them to see God exuding out of me — my relationship with Him exuding out of me. When they see me jump I want them to know that God is working through me right now.”

While doctors say that Nieto will not likely be able to walk for another six months, it is possible that he can make a full recovery.

Celebrating the Life and Career of Jan Crouch

Jan Crouch, beloved televangelist known to countless viewers as “Mama Jan,” passed away on Tuesday due to a massive stroke.

Crouch co-founded the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) with her husband, Paul, in 1973. Paul passed away two and a half years ago due to chronic heart problems, but before he passed, the couple was virtually unstoppable.

The couple spent decades on-air offering prayers, sharing religious testimonies, and participating in the network’s huge “praise-a-thons” to raise money for charities.

Since its founding, TBN has seen its fair share of criticism as well as major success. The network, according to Christianity Today, “broadcasts messages from preachers such as Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes, and Benny Hinn around the world via 78 satellites and more than 18,000 television and cable affiliates.”

“[She] loved many things, but most of all she loved Jesus, and now has seen him face to face and has experienced his grace in fullness,” Crouch’s son Matt wrote about her in a family statement.

Though Jan had a full and beautiful life, her family was often plagued by legal trouble. One of the most notable cases was in 2000, when a writer claimed that Crouch’s 1999 film The Omega Code was stolen from her.

Seeing as the United States ranks ninth per capita in patents, it’s not uncommon for intellectual property lawsuits like these to be filed against powerful figures. But through perseverance, the Crouch family overcame many crises like this one.

Jan and Paul’s son, Paul Crouch, Jr., continues to follow in their footsteps. Recently, the Christian media specialist teamed up with Truli Media Group as their Vice President.

According to EIN News, Crouch “oversaw the expansion of the network’s global partnerships with cable and satellite companies, while frequently hosting TBN’s flagship daily show, ‘Praise the Lord’ as well as hosting his own daily show, ‘Behind the Scenes’.”

While Paul Jr. may not be working exclusively with TBN anymore, he is upholding his family’s strong sense of business and success. All the while, he continues to spread the message of Christianity and help other networks broadcast their messages around the world.

Though the passing saddens countless followers and friends, Jan and her husband can rest easy knowing their children are continuing their legacy.

Christian Summer Camps Encourage Positive Play for Kids

Christian summer camps in Oklahoma hope to help kids find positive activities to engage in over summer.

From toddlers to teenagers, kids around Cherokee County have plenty of options this summer. It’s a goal of the community to make sure these kids are both staying active and doing so in positive ways.

“We just want to give them an opportunity to enjoy and create art in case they don’t get to do it in schools,” said Donna Tinnin, the community tourism manager for Cherokee Nation. “We might even look to add classes during the school year if we lose them at the schools.”

It’s important for these young children to be able to simultaneously learn and have fun. These camps hope to achieve that.

TahleQuah Daily Press reports that at Camp Lutherhoma, an area Christian camp, there are full- and half-day camps throughout the entire summer for children in age groups ranging from six years old all the way to age 18. The day camp is for children ages six to 12 years old and encourages parents to drop their kids off while they are on their way to work.

In addition to creating art, attending Camp Lutherhoma and other summer camps can also help teach kids proper swimming techniques. This is a crucial skill, as wholly 44% of all Americans don’t know basic water-safety skills.

Some of the older campers can choose “adventure options” for two of the days during their week-long stay. These options are a little more engaging and intense than some of the other activities, including rafting, kayaking, mountain biking and other activities.

The American Camp Association suggests that these camps have various psychological benefits for children and could set them on the right path for the rest of their lives.

“The building blocks of self-esteem are belonging, learning and contributing,” Michal Popkin, Ph.D., family therapist and founder of Active Parenting, said. “Camps offer unique opportunities for children to succeed in these three vital areas and even beyond home and school.”