Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.
Jason Jones creates a website empowering the audience to support positive movies. The producer of the critically-acclaimed Bella (the pro-life film won the 2007 People’s Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival) has come up with an innovative website called Movie to Movement, designed to help audiences find and support positive faith-based movies that speak to their values. I recently spoke with him about the site and the mission of the movies. Here are some excerpts:
JWK: We’ve spoken before. While you were promoting Bella, I was the producer of the morning show on SiriusXM’s Catholic Channel. We had you on.
JASON JONES: Well, Movie to Movement is actually the fruit of Bella. With Bella, in order to get distribution, we really had to build out an entire network of support. Even after winning the Toronto Film Festival we really didn’t have distribution, so we just went and built this massive grass roots network of support for the film. And then we found distribution and Bella was a tremendous success both theatrically and on DVD. And when Bella was in theaters, we would pray every morning that women who were pregnant and considering an abortion would buy a ticket. And, after the theatrical release and it went to DVD, I said let’s use these networks to provide DVDs to pregnancy centers.
We started Movie to Movement and our first program was the Bella Hero Program (using money from the sale of the DVDs to fund screenings at crisis pregnancy centers, universities and prisons). But, then I realized, it took us years and a lot of hard work to build that grassroots network that made Bella such a success and I said…there are lot of young people with films that could benefit from this network, films that promote truth, beauty, goodness and human dignity. And I said we need to make sure that those films succeed. And that’s where Movie to Movement came from — this idea that, as a nonprofit, we would promote films that promote human dignity.
But we would also start producing films. The first short film we produced, Crescendo, was just awarded the Crystal Heart Award last week at the Heartland Film Festival.
JWK: So you both produce and support films?
JASON JONES: Yes.
JWK: Tell me a little bit, first of all, about Crescendo.
JASON JONES: Well, Crescendo is a short film…a beautiful film. It’s set in Germany in the 1770’s and it tells the story of a woman who makes a decision and that decision changes human history. It’s a true story. It changes your life, it changes my life and it changed human history. In fact, her choice will continue to grow and change the world for the rest of time.
JWK: What’s that choice?
JASON JONES: You gotta see it.
JWK: Oh, we don’t get to know the choice?
JASON JONES: I’m not gonna tell you what it is. I’m not gonna spoil it.
JWK: How will this be released. Will this go to theaters or straight to DVD or…?
JASON JONES: Well, we’re gonna do the film festival circuit and then, you know, our goal is to make it available on YouTube and Twitter and Facebook and social networking sites for free around the world and it will be for sale as well, in DVD, I suspect.
But Movie to Movement funded this…and, I must say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a short this beautiful.
JWK: How long is the movie.
JASON JONES: It’s eleven minutes — and, in that eleven minutes, you’ll think you’re watching a 100-million-dollar feature film. It’s just that quality and, on the set, our mantra was “This is forever.” We need to make something that forever elevates the dignity of the human person.
JWK: What’s your own faith background?
JASON JONES: I’m Catholic. But I’m a convert. I was an atheist until I was 32.
JWK: What converted you?
JASON JONES: I was an Ayn Rand objectivist from about the seventh grade on…I never went to church a day in my life. The dominant religion (influence) in my family was my grandfather who was a Scientologist but, by about the seventh grade, I discovered Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged) sort of became an atheist objectivist. And, in graduate school, there was a line from (French existentialist Jean-Paul) Sartre (that said something like) if we’re going to deny God’s existence, we have to deny human dignity. (What he said) was actually said was much more poetic than that (and) was very persuasive. In reading that line, I became a theist the intrinsic beauty of value of the individual person was always self evident to me. It’s what animated me and I think that’s why I found Ayn Rand so attractive but she would always fall back on human dignity is axiomatic…which, of course, it is but after reading Sartre I needed more than saying it’s axiomatic.
JWK: Tell me more about how Movie to Movement came about and the whole concept of “theater captains.”
JASON JONES: My background is in political organizing. I’ve worked in political campaigns from the state house to the White House.
JWK: Who have you worked for?
JASON JONES: I’ve worked for (former senator now Kansas governor Sam) Brownback…and several other campaigns across the country…Politics is local and the most important thing in any campaign, to me, is the precinct captain. The precinct captain is that person responsible for that precinct to make sure you get out the vote. And, with Bella, we had theater captains. We had market captains whose responsibility it was to make sure people came out to the theater. It was their personal responsibility.
JWK: So, it’s taking grass roots political organizing and taking it to film.
JASON JONES: I would say that we run it exactly like a political campaign. There’s no difference. And, I will say this, as a Catholic, whether it’s politics or art, my goal is to honor and promote human dignity. If we achieve all of our political objectives but we don’t impact the culture…we won’t accomplish anything. I think that winning the battle in Hollywood is a necessary condition to winning the culture war.
JWK: How do you choose which movies to support?
JASON JONES: I look for three things. Number One is does the film promote the beauty and dignity of the human person? Number Two is does this film promote the transcendent moral order? And three, does it promote natural affection? And what do I mean by that? Does it promote love for family (love for your spouse, love for your children), love of country, love of your church? So, I look for that.
Not every film we do is going to be overly religious. In fact, I think most won’t be but we want what’s true and beautiful…And so often times we see these films that erode human dignity…films that deny the transcendent moral order of the moral universe. They’re always eroding natural affections for families. Fathers betray their commitments, children’s are always portrayed as brats and disobedient, marriages are always in crisis and struggle. I think (for) most of us, that’s not the lives we live. We’re always being challenged, we always have challenges but we love our families, we love our spouse, we love our children.
JWK: Are you married?
JASON JONES: I am. I have six children. I just had my sixth child seven weeks ago.
JASON JONES: Thank you.
JWK: You’re currently supporting MPower Pictures’ Snowmen. What other film support projects are in the works?
JASON JONES: Well, we have YourFilmFund.com which is a fund that we just launched…where we’re gonna be raising funds for several films. One is called Our Lady of Deliverance that tells the true story of the persecution of Christians in Iraq. It’s a short film …We have a documentary called Broken Hearts Sing in production. This is a documentary that looks at abortion through the lens of popular culture — music, film, television. And there are several other projects we’re partnering with other folks on. And we’re looking for other movies to promote through MovieToMovement.com.
There’s one film that’s called Cristiada that’s coming out this spring starring Eva Longoria, Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole and Eduardo Verástegui of Bella. It’s the true story of the war between the Catholic Church and the communists in Mexico in 1926. This film is beautiful, it is big, it’s Braveheartesque. It’s just a tremendous film and I can’t wait till America gets to see it.
JWK: So, are you primarily a production company, a financing source or a supporter of positive movie making?
JASON JONES: In my personal life, I’m working as a producer, at my nonprofit HERO (which is the Human-Rights Education and Relief Organization) we have three programs. Movie to Movement is one of the programs. Then we have Whole Life America and The Great Campaign and our mission is to promote a culture of life, love and beauty.
In Movie to Movement…we review films…Everybody should buy all of their movie tickets through Movie to Movie and here’s why. It’s the same price as at the box office when you buy your movie ticket through Movie to Movement, thirty-six cents goes directly to DigDeepWater.org and that thirty-six cents is the equivalent of 400 days of water for somebody in South Sudan.
JWK: So, that’s an ongoing thing?
JASON JONES: Yeah.
JWK: Anything else we should know about.
JASON JONES:(At the Movie to Movement site) we’re creating a Statement of Support for Hollywood. Not a threat of boycott, but a Statement of Support saying “We will support you and you support films promote, good beauty and goodness” and on Jimmy Stewart’s birthday (May 20th) our goal is to…one million signatures and then I’m going to take all of these pledges and we’re going to present them to all of the studio heads in Hollywood (and tell them) we have a million folks who are gonna support your films.
JWK: Why Jimmy Stewart’s birthday?
JASON JONES: Everyone in Hollywood loves Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Stewart represents, I think, what was great about film at its height — its beauty, its dignity. We needed to pick a day and what better day than Jimmy Stewart’s birthday.
JWK: How about the TV networks?
JASON JONES: Oh, yeah. We’re actually bringing them to the studios, productions companies, the networks…This will catch their attention. (Christian audiences) can determine every bestselling book and blockbuster movie in America. When I see a book come out from a Christian author that I like or a conservative author that I like, I always make sure that I buy it in the first week… We should make a habit of supporting (such fare) whether it’s a book or film (or whatever medium). What Movie to Movement is saying is that “Hey, on opening weekend, we will be there.” And, if we do that, we’ll control the culture.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11