Bishop T.D Jakes, who serves on the board of Beliefnet, has added a Faith and Family Film Festival to his inspirational MegaFest gathering, this year taking place in Dallas on August 29-31. Bishop Jakes spoke to me about why film is so important in providing spiritual enlightenment and what his plans are for this inaugural event.
What made you decide to bring movies to MegaFest?
The International Faith and Family Film Festival is one component of MegaFest, a huge event we have every year for families to come and to worship and have an opportunity to go to enrichment classes and more. This year it extends from comedy shows to Oprah’s Life Class on families and fatherhood and how we can strengthen fathers and what women can do when there is no father in the home. We’re covering a wide range of things and in the midst of that is the Faith and Family Film Festival. I’m interested in that because I have a for-profit business that produces faith and family entertainment. Some of the discussions will be about marketing within the faith-based community, the now and future of faith-based films and TV, getting your film and TV production launched, digital filmmaking distribution and marketing. And we’re going to have actors there like Anthony Mackie, Regina King, and a host of others. William Morris, the agency will be there, and Sony Pictures.
What is is about film that connects so powerfully with people?
Christ conveyed truth through the telling of stories. Today we use film to convey stories. We can do it in an entertaining way, a comedic way, a dramatic way and still be able to interject truth and faith so that people are stirred in their thinking and moved to worship and perceive God differently. I realize there are more people in the theater on Friday night than there are in the pews on Sunday morning. If you are going to reach the world, we have to go where the world is.
What films will you be showcasing?
One I am really excited about is “Black Nativity.” I’m serving as a producer on that one. It’s a star-studded cast — Jennifer Hudson, Tyrese, Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett. Jennifer Hudson will be at the MegaFest event. We’re so excited about that film, which will be out for the holiday season. We have a film about Winnie Mandela, the love story of Winnie and Nelson with the background of apartheid. Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard star in that one and it will debut at the festival. My company with Sony is working on “Heaven is for Real,” shooting now in Canada, based on the book about the child who came out of an operation and said he had been to heaven and had all of this information he would have no way of knowing. That will be out at Easter time, but there will be a sneak peek of it at the festival.
Why is it so hard for Hollywood to get the message that there is an audience for uplifting films?
I think they are starting to get it. But it is true that there are people in some of those top offices there who are out of touch with mainstream America. It’s an education process. But when you see the success of “The Bible,” quadrupling the ratings at the History Channel — Hollywood is starting to get the message. That begins to tug on their hearts. When people like Tyler Perry and I interweave faith into our movies, it has been very, very well-received. This is an opportunity for us to let Hollywood know that we are here. And we will develop entertainment that is suitable for the audiences who will support that entertainment.
What kind of turnout are you expecting?
This is our first event in Dallas, so we do not know, but in Atlanta we had over 290,000 people and broke all records over the two years we were there. Thousands of people from all over the world have already registered. Where else can you go in the world and see that many people with their families sharing their faith? And faith is infectious. When you see others, it stirs your faith as well.
What movie spoke to you when you were growing up?
This really dates me. “The Ten Commandments” with Charlton Heston, sitting in front of the TV set, going “ooo” and “ahh.” I remember “Imitation of Life.” We watched it every year and my father would get teary-eyed. That was a rare thing! I would love to get the rights to do a remake. It tears your heart. It shows the importance of family. I think you learn as much from people’s struggles, maybe more, than you do from their successes. The real strength of the power of God is the struggles that we have in life and how we overcome them.