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Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

What’s UP @ UP + Lorette Lynn Gospel Festival stars named + God questions answered in 140 characters or less

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

More Love on UP. Building on the solid ratings success of last year’s UP original film Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, UP TV will continue its premiere Love Finds You In Charm (based on the bestselling novel by Annalisa Daughety) on Sunday, June 7th @ 7:00 PM (ET).  The second installment of the network’s Love Finds You romantic anthology franchise tells the story of a beautiful, young Amish woman who visits relatives in scenic Charm, Ohio and finds herself pulled between two worlds and two men.  The cast includes Trevor Donovan (Texas Rising, 90210), Danielle Chuchran (Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, UP’s Nowhere Safe), Drew Fuller (Army Wives, Charmed) and Tiffany Dupont (Greek, The Bedford Diaries). Filmed in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country, the film was directed by Terry Cunningham and is produced by George Shamieh and Mission Pictures in association with Guideposts. The adapted screenplay was written by Bryar Freed-Golden (UP’s The Music In Me, Paper Angels and Love Finds You In Sugarcreek).  

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Welcome to the world, Allie Jane. Speaking of UP, Alyssa and John Webster welcomed their first child into the world on Saturday, April 11. The young married couple are featured on the network’s reality series Bringing Up Bates. The baby girl is named Allie Jane and is the second grandchild to Gil and Kelly Jo Bates whose lives, along with those of their 19 kids (aged 2 to 25), is chronicled by the show. Bringing Up Bates begins its second season on Wednesday, June 4th at 10 PM (ET).  p.m. EDT. As a prelude to the new season, season one episodes are now re-airing every Wednesday at 10 PM (ET) following new episodes of the UP family drama series Heartland.

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Initial performers for the 2015 Loretta Lynn Gospel Music Festival have been announced via SingingNews.com. The talent list includes The Martins, Goodman Revival, the McKameys, Karen Peck & New River, Angie Primm, the Freemans, High Road, Dennis Swanberg and the Sneed Family. The 2015 Loretta Lynn Gospel Music Festival will take place on September 12 and 13 at the legendary singer’s ranch in historic Hurricane Mills, TN. More performers will be announced at a later date. Ticket are on sale now. For more information go to LorettaLynn.com or call the ranch at 931-296-7700.

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Book Note: Tweeting with God: #Big Bang, Prayer, Bible, Sex, Crusades, Sin, Career…Author Michel Remery, Catholic priest, isn’t God but he does answer lots of tweeted questions about the Almighty in 140 characters or less. In the book, from Ignatius Press, he also provides expanded explanations based on Catholic teaching.  A free Tweeting with God (#TwGOD) app is also available via iTunes and Google Play. For more info, Click here.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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TV Movie Review: “The Music in Me” tonight on UP TV

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The Music in Me airs on UP TV tonight (4/12) @ 7:00 PM (ET). The musical drama stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson (who wrote and performs the film’s original song Promises) and E.R.‘s Gloria Reuben. Others in the cast include Antonio Cupo (American Mary, Bomb Girls), Amy Forsyth (Defiance, Reign), Cedric Smith (Copper, Avonlea), Marcia Bennett (Serendipity, Happy Town), Kim Roberts (The Strain, Lucky 7) and Mike Lobel (Degrassi: The Next Generation, Really Me). John Bradshaw (Catch a Christmas Star, Come Dance with Me) directs. Bryar Freed (Love Finds You in Sugar Creek) wrote the script.

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Synopsis (from the UP press release): Having traded in her dreams of becoming a professional singer to care for her aging parents and their neighborhood hardware store, Jessica (Debbie Gibson) is asked to step in as choir director for a failing church as they prepare for their the big centennial celebration.  When she arrives, Jessica is shocked to discover that the earnest choir can’t sing and that the wary Church Deaconess (Gloria Reuben) is betting on her to fail.  As she dives into rehearsals, Jessica builds a friendship with church handyman Ben (Antonio Cupo) and is challenged by choir member and teen runaway Alice (Amy Forsyth).  Through their friendship and her work with the choir, she rekindles her love of music and finally finishes the song she’s been struggling with for many years – ultimately finding love and a start to the music career she’s always dreamed of pursuing.

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Review: Though the overall premise is promising, unfortunately there are too many false and off-key notes here to be considered one of UP’s better original movie offerings. Debbie Gibson as the choir director and Gloria Reuben as the strict church deaconess are both very good in their lead roles and they play off each other very well.

But I believe the film would liked to have seen more focus on the quirky choir members and less on the budding relationship with the bland church handyman (Antonio Cupo) whose super-supportiveness somehow comes across as more smarmy than sincere (which could be funny if he wasn’t actually presented as sincere).

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Beyond those flat-noted scenes, I think the whole thing would have worked better if the comic potential of getting the motley crew choir ready for their big performance was played up a bit more. That key of F Troop potential is hinted at a bit — particularly with one member who talks and sings in extremely hushed tones but who sounds pretty good through a megaphone — but is never fully realized. The only choir member we learn much at all about is Alice (Amy Forsyth), good as a teenager who (slight spoiler alert) turns out to be homeless.

Despite its flaws, like many UP films, The Music in Me actually lays the groundwork for what could be a pretty good series — if the network and those involved decide to move in that direction. There’s lots of room for the characters to grow and ample opportunity for uplifting music mixed with character-driven comedy and drama. I’d just suggest tilting things a little bit more toward the comedy.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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2015 Christopher Award honorees announced

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Recognizing the positive power of storytelling. The 66th annual Christopher Awards will be presented at a gala in New York on May 13, 2015.

The prestigious prizes recognize media professionals ( i.e. producers, writers, directors, authors and illustrators) whose projects serve as reminders of an individual’s potential to positively influence our world. About 1,500 individuals have won Christopher Awards since the program began in 1949.

This year’s honorees include:

Feature Films

The American Nurse (Carolyn Jones Productions): A moving, in-depth portrait of five nurses whose empathy and selflessness lead them to serve those dealing with miscarriage, aging, war, poverty, and prison life.

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Selma (Paramount Pictures/Harpo Films): Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. faces violence and blackmail while leading peaceful protests to secure voting rights for African Americans.

St. Vincent (The Weinstein Company): A curmudgeonly senior who smokes, drinks, curses, and cavorts with a prostitute may not seem like a candidate for sainthood, but 12-year-old Oliver makes a solid case for his neighbor’s goodness.

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TV & Cable

48 Hours: The Whole Gritty City (CBS News): Documentary explores New Orleans music programs that channel students’ energies in a positive way so they don’t become participants in—or victims of—the violence that surrounds them in their neighborhoods.

The Flash: Pilot episode (The CW): Based on the DC Comics character, Barry Allen becomes the fastest man alive after a science experiment goes awry, allowing him to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a hero.

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The Gabby Douglas Story (Lifetime): True story highlights the roles that faith, family, and perseverance played in the gold medal-winning gymnast’s journey to the 2012 Summer Olympics.

POV: When I Walk (PBS/WNET): Filmmaker Jason DaSilva chronicles his own debilitation after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25 as the love of his wife Alice helps him endure.

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Sacred Journeys with Bruce Feiler: Lourdes (PBS/WGBH):  Documentary follows members of the military injured during wartime who seek physical, emotional, and spiritual healing in the renowned French Catholic shrine.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas (Hallmark Movies and Mysteries): From Martha Williamson, the creative producer/writer behind Touched by an Angel, comes the Christmas edition of her series about four heroic postal detectives who try to unite lost mail with their intended recipients. In this episode, they help answer a little girl’s letter to God while dealing with emotional wounds from their own pasts.

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Books for Adults

Fully Alive (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Special Olympics Chairman Timothy Shriver reveals why people with intellectual disabilities have been his greatest teachers in life, giving him a more meaningful way of seeing the world.

Haatchi & Little B (St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books): Wendy Holden’s heartwarming story of A boy with a rare genetic disorder and a disabled Anatolian Shepherd puppy, who was abused and left for dead, transform each other’s lives.

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The Invisible Front; Love and Loss in an Era of Endless War (Crown Publishers): Yochi Dreazen’s story of how combating the stigma of suicide and mental illness in both the Army and society becomes the primary mission for a decorated Army officer and his wife.

Jesus: A Pilgrimage (Harper One/Harper Collins Publishers): Jesuit priest James Martin chronicles his visit to the Holy Land and invites believers and non-believers to encounter the Christ of history and the Christ of faith.

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A Long Way Home (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Group): Author Saroo Brierley shares a personal story of getting lost on a train in India at age five, living on the streets for a year, being adopted by an Australian couple, and finally reconnecting with his Indian family 25 years later with help from Google Earth.

Mercy in the City (Loyola Press): Kerry Weber documents her commitment to living out the Corporal Works of Mercy, which led her to volunteer at New York City homeless shelters and breadlines and visit inmates at California’s San Quentin State Prison.

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Books for Young People

I Forgive You (Preschool and up, Pauline Books and Media): Through fun rhymes and colorful illustrations, author Nicole Lataif and illustrator Katy Betz teach children to forgive others like God does and to channel their anger in a positive way.

Maddi’s Fridge (Kindergarten and up, Flashlight Press): When a young girl discovers that her friend’s family is struggling with hunger because they can’t afford food, she comes up with creative ways to rectify the situation. Written by Lois Brandt. Illustrated by Vin Vogel.

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Here’s Hank: Bookmarks Are People Too! (ages 6 and up, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin): Lovable and comical second-grader Hank Zipzer affirms the intelligence and self-esteem of children struggling with dyslexia. By Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver.

Hope Springs (ages 8 and up, Tundra Books/Random House): Though an orphan boy in drought-stricken Kenya is denied water by villagers who fear there won’t be enough for their own families, his kindness and generosity leads him to find a solution for everyone. Written by Eric Walters. Illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes.

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Eliza Bing is (Not) a Big, Fat Quitter (Ages 10 and up, Holiday House): With a history of not following through on her commitments, Eliza Bing, who has ADHD, needs to muster up all the determination and inner strength she has to prove to herself and her parents that she can finish a martial arts class. Written by Carmella Van Vleet.

Tony Rossi, Director of Communications for The Christophers, says “We recognize and celebrate some of the best work in film, television and publishing every year to remind ourselves — and everyone — that the human spirit can survive through great struggles and accomplish incredible things…These awards, which recognize the power of storytelling to inspire and restore faith, follow the concept inaugurated by The Christophers founder Father James Keller 66 years ago.”

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Recent Christopher Award winners include the films Lincoln, Les Miserables, The King’s Speech, Gravity and Frozen. In the TV/Cable category, recent honorees have included ABC News 20/20: Unbreakable and Call the Midwife. Honored books have included Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand and American Story by NBC News correspondent Bob Dotson in the Adult category and author/illustrator Courtney Pippin-Mathur’s Maya was Grumpy in the Books for Young People category.

Founded in 1945 by Maryknoll Father James Keller, The Christophers is a nonprofit organization rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition of service to God and humanity. The ancient Chinese proverb—“It’s better to light one candle than to curse the darkness”— guides its publishing, radio, leadership and awards programs.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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Eight under-the-radar faith/media innovators you should know about

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Making a difference. With NBC’s A.D. The Bible Continues off to a solid start in the ratings, few would dispute that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are at the head of the list of media innovators who, in various ways, are helping bring faith-fueled content and messages to the world. But there are others who deserve recognition who you may not have heard of. Here are eight of them:

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1. Charley Humbard (President and CEO, UP TV) - The son of famed televangelist Rex Humbard founded the Gospel Music Channel in 2004 and rebranded it as UP TV in 2013. The savvy executive is steadily building a slate of programming that reflect and promote the values of his Christian faith while being accessible to a broad audience as, per the network’s slogan, Uplifting Entertainment.  While the network carries its share of classic shows (i.e. Dr. Quinn, Growing Pains, Touched by an Angel) it has quickly become a major provider of original content, including weekly TV movies, reality shows (Bringing Up Bates, The Holderness Family) and scripted fare. The family drama Heartland (a Canadian import) premieres its eighth season tonight (4/8) and Ties That Bind, a scripted drama produced especially for UP, is planned for this summer.

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Below is a network promo for The Music in Me an uplifting (there’s that word again) musical drama about a small town girl who had given up her dreams of musically performing only to rediscover her joy of singing/songwriting as an adult through her work with a failing church choir.  The film, which stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson and E.R.’s Gloria Reuben (E.R.”), will premiere this Sunday (4/12) at 8:00 PM (ET). I’ll be posting a review later this week.

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2. Margaret “Peggy” Kim (Founder, iStandtv) – The multi-award winning (including a Peabody) former History Channel exec is currently at work building iStandtv, an online TV streaming network aimed at bringing hip video content to young adults whose values aren’t particularly served by MTV.

3. Terrence Lovett (Founder and CEO, Christian Library on Demand/EnLive TV) - Lovett, a military veteran, launched his global Christian entertainment streaming video company as a means of utilizing emerging mobile and smart TV technologies to distribute Christian and family friendly content around the world. Lovett says he has created a Christian marketplace to access Christian and values-based consumers and is now actively seeking new content and program sponsors to build on his distribution system.

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The Christian Library on Demand (CLD) streaming content is available through the Apple, Google and Amazon.com App Stores. The EnLive Smart TV App can be accessed on Smart TVs with Google TV, Samsung Smart TV Hub, & Yahoo! TV! For more info on Christian Library on Demand and EnLive TV click here.

4. Richard Scurry (V.P. Development/CFO, Bible Literacy Project) - Believing that ignorance of the Bible amounts to cultural illiteracy, Scurry co-founded the non-profit, non-partisan Bible Literacy Project with Chuck Stetson in 2001 to encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools. The group’s funding comes organizations such as the John Templeton Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the William H. Flowers Foundation, as well as individual donors. In 2005, the Bible Literacy Project published The Bible and Its Influence which, according to the group’s website, is the first student textbook for academic study of the Bible in public high schools. Since its publication, the program (created for high school students in grades 9-12) has gained national recognition for its scholarly approach to teaching about the Bible in compliance with First Amendment guidelines. The Bible and Its Influence can be taught as an English, social studies, or humanities elective.

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5. Chris Stone (CEO, Faith Driven Consumer) - Brand strategist Chris Stone founded Faith Driven Consumer as a means of connecting Christian consumers with companies that are relatively compatible with a Biblical worldview. Likewise, the organization helps companies — including media companies — reach out to faith-motivated American consumers. That group is estimated to include about 41 million strong adults (about 17 percent of the U.S. population) who spend around $2 trillion annually.

Faith Driven Consumer has earned recognition for rating Hollywood films and other entertainment offerings based on predictions regarding how well they will resonate with faith-driven audiences. The group’s Faith-Friendly Film Review system serves as a key resource for consumers and the media to evaluate entertainment choices. For example, the organization recently awarded the National Geographic/Scott Free Productions television movie Killing Jesus 3 out of 5 stars for faith compatibility. 

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This past week, the group gave a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars to the first episode of new NBC series A.D. The Bible Continues, which details the events recorded in the four Gospels and the Book of Acts.

In a statement about the show, Stone said “We believe A.D. is going to be a mega-hit; it has the potential to be the most successful faith-based TV franchise in history. Like the celebrated box office blockbuster THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST a decade ago, A.D. combines one of history’s greatest stories with superb writing and excellent production values. We’ve watched Hollywood struggle to reach the coveted faith audience with projects like Noah and Exodus that failed to resonate, and maintained all along that the ‘magic formula’ to reach us is straightforward—tell the story in a way that is consistent with the biblical narrative and message and give it the highest production value possible. A.D. will prove this point, and NBC will reap the rewards for respecting the audience and getting it right. We also believe that this series will resonate with non-faith audiences. The story is so gripping and compelling that people of all backgrounds will want to tune in just to see what happens next.” 

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And, indeed, as noted above, NBC does appear to have a hit on its hands with A.D., suggesting that Stone knows what he’s talking about.

6. William Vanderbloemen (President/CEO, Vanderbloemen Search Group) - With prior experience as both a pastor and a human resources manager, Vanderbloeman founded to be a hub connecting churches and faith-based organizations (including media companies) with talented and experienced staffers that share their core spiritual values. He is the author of Pastoral Succession That Works (Baker Books, 2014) and considered one of the leading experts on the issue of pastoral “succession planning” for churches and ministries. 

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7. Eduardo Verástegui (Co-Founder, Metanoia Films) – The Mexican actor/singer was building a successful secular career when he decided to devote his creative talents to putting forth stories of hope and faith.  That led to his co-founding of Metanoia Films which, in 2006, produced Bella, a pro-life drama starring Verástegui that won the People’s Choice Award at that year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It also picked up the Heartland Film Festival‘s Grand Prize Award Winner for Best Dramatic Feature the Smithsonian Institution‘s Legacy Award for the film’s positive contribution to Latino art and culture.

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On April 24th, Metanoia Films, in association with Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, will release Little Boy in theaters. I’ve seen it and though my official review is yet to come, I can tell you now that the World War II-era story a boy’s prayers for the safety of this soldier father is masterful filmmaking. Verástegui shaved his head for his supporting role as a priest in the film which stars his friend Kevin James, along with Emily Watson, David Henrie, Michael Rapaport, Ted Levine, Tom Wilkinson, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and, in the title role, Jakob Salvati.  Catch the trailer below. BTW, solely an actor, Verástegui will also soon be seen James’ Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

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8. Jerry Zandstra (Entrepreneur/Co-Founder, Inno-Versity) – With two Masters Degrees from Calvin Seminary, Zandstra has put his talent and faith to work as a businessman (including as an executive producer  movie producer of 2010’s The Genesis Code, in which he had  a supporting role) to bring the wisdom of the Bible into the economic sphere. At Inno-Versity, he and company co-founder Mark VanderWal, produce corporate training/leadership programs that, among other things, highlight the Biblical value of wisdom.

There are other unsung innovators to be sure. But these are eight I’ve met through my travels that I think you should be aware of.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Previous Posts

What's UP @ UP + Lorette Lynn Gospel Festival stars named + God questions answered in 140 characters or less
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. More Love on UP. Building on the solid ratings success of last year’s UP original film Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, UP TV will continue its premiere Love Finds You ...

posted 10:18:59am Apr. 15, 2015 | read full post »

TV Movie Review: "The Music in Me" tonight on UP TV
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. The Music in Me airs on UP TV tonight (4/12) @ 7:00 PM (ET). The musical drama stars singer/songwriter Debbie Gibson (who wrote and performs the film's original ...

posted 8:13:33am Apr. 12, 2015 | read full post »

2015 Christopher Award honorees announced
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. Recognizing the positive power of storytelling. The 66th annual Christopher Awards will be presented at a gala in New York on May 13, 2015. The prestigious prizes ...

posted 3:11:12pm Apr. 09, 2015 | read full post »

Eight under-the-radar faith/media innovators you should know about
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. Making a difference. With NBC's A.D. The Bible Continues off to a solid start in the ratings, few would dispute that Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are at the head of ...

posted 11:45:06am Apr. 08, 2015 | read full post »

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posted 10:47:21am Apr. 06, 2015 | read full post »

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