By Dick Lyles, CEO of Origin Entertainment

Many people today refer to movie theaters as the churches of the masses, meaning that’s where millions of people watch films that, like it or not, shape their values and beliefs. This can either be good or bad, depending on the movie. Consider the following examples, along with another movie being released on Video on Demand (VOD) in March that Catholic parents can use to help shape family values.

Movie scenes depicting children sexting first appeared in 2020. According to a study released by Thorn Research, during 2021 the number of 9- to 12-year-old children who have shared their own nude photos increased from 6% to 14%; the number of 9- to 12-year-olds who agree that it is normal to do so increased from 13% to 21%; and the number who believe their friends re-share nude photos increased from 7% to 16%.  Again, these increases took place in just one year.

Now consider the movie FATIMA, co-produced by my company, Origin Entertainment, also released in 2020. It chronicles the challenges faced by three young shepherds aged 7, 8, and 10, who witnessed a series of apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Portugal in 1917. One of the scenes depicts Lucia, the oldest of the three, praying the rosary while walking on her knees around the site of the apparitions.  Miraculously, her prayers are answered.

A few weeks after the film’s release, I received a congratulatory call from an old friend I hadn’t heard from in more than a decade. A few days prior to his call, he had watched the film with his entire family, and they all loved it. Then the day after they watched it, his 6-year-old daughter approached him and asked if he knew what their 9-year-old had done after having watched the movie. When he said he didn’t know, the 6-year-old told how the 9-year-old went to her bedroom immediately after watching the moving and prayed the rosary while walking on her knees around her bedroom.

Obviously, Catholics would rather their 9-year-olds be praying the rosary rather then texting naked selfies to friends. But the choice about what movies to watch isn’t always that obvious. So, how should parents decide what to watch with their kids, and what is the best way to watch?

Ever since MPA ratings for movies were established, they have served parents well by providing guidance about what their kids should not watch. It is easy to look at a movie listing, see that it is rated R and without further deliberation, scratch it off the list. What is not so easy is to determine whether movies that are rated G or PG should remain on the list. The MPA ratings offer no help whatsoever in deciding whether a movie that stays on the list is worth watching.

People who assume that movies are worth watching simply because they are rated G or PG, will be disappointed more often than satisfied. Why? Because a lot of bad movies are produced that earn safe ratings. The ratings provide no insight whatsoever about the overall value or quality of the movie. They only tell whether a movie is safe in comparison to a very narrow set of metrics. Ratings don’t tell us whether a movie is worth watching.

A better rating system has been established by the Dove Foundation, which was founded in
1991 “to encourage and promote the creation, production, distribution and consumption of
wholesome family entertainment.” Dove uses an eight-factor content system (using a scale of 0 to 5), from which it derives a movie’s overall rating. Dove’s eight factors include: faith, integrity, sexuality, language, violence, drugs, nudity, and other. The “other” category evaluates objectionable content such as disrespect for authority, lying, cheating, stealing, illegal activity, frightening scenes, and demonic or similar references.

But once you have checked out the MPA or Dove ratings to determine a movie is safe for your children to watch because it does not contain objectionable content, what makes any movie worth watching?

Dove also reviews some movies and posts reviews on their website, which helps
tremendously in determining whether a movie is worth watching. For example, check out the following review about I AM MORTAL, a film Origin Entertainment and Yellow Barrels just released via VOD platforms (including Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu) and on Blu-ray / DVD formats on March 1 through our distribution partner, RLJ Entertainment.

I am Mortal: Choosing to Live

But if you don’t have a Dove Foundation Review to guide you, how do choose what to watch?

Through my years serving as CEO of Origin Entertainment, I have learned that for a movie to be
worth watching, the movie must first and foremost create worthwhile meaning in the minds of those who watch it.

Meaning is different than message. Movies that are made simply to convey one or more
messages to the audience usually do not work well for large audiences. They come across as preachy, on-the-nose sermons delivered through film.

Meaning differs from message in that it is something that is created inside the minds of viewers when they piece together elements of story, insights regarding character, and the nuances of style to draw meaningful conclusions about the broader questions of life. People are much more likely to internalize lessons learned this way. Such lessons also have a much stronger likelihood of making a significant and lasting difference in that person’s life. When movies target the viewing audience with direct messages those messages usually have a much lesser and shorter-acting impact. People must draw their own conclusions if learning is to be maximized. Great movies help create meaning by helping people draw their own conclusions rather than by showing or telling them what they should believe.

This is the main reason fables and fairy tales have lasted for generations and still generate
broad impact. It is also why Jesus taught using stories and the Bible is mostly a collection of parables. Again we can turn to I AM MORTAL as an interesting example of what to look for. The film is a teen, young-adult sci-fi drama that takes place in our distant future, in an age where humans have enjoyed 2,000 years of peace, prosperity, and immortality due to a genetic modification called The Code. In this utopian society, a small band of rebels dares to question the cost of their near-perfect world; and one immortal citizen must fight to reclaim his right… to die.

AKAE, hoping to save her fiancé, LOGOS, from a debilitating virus, volunteers for a mission to infiltrate a rebel group called the SPIRIT. When the couple learn a dark secret about The Code, they take up the rebel cause, and with the Spirit’s support, embark on a path that will lead LOGOS to die the first natural death in two millennia, leaving a revolution in his wake.

Although I AM MORTAL is not a faith-based film, its main themes will likely have special appeal to today’s faith-based core audience.

The two primary questions that the protagonists struggle with (“Is there value in mortality?” and, “What is the value of a free will?”) are questions that have intrigued people (especially people of faith) throughout history. But they have gained even more prominence in many family conversations recently because of the Covid Pandemic. Many teenagers are struggling with issues of mortality and free will in light of the pandemic, requirements for everyone to wear masks, and quarantine guidelines, which in many cases have created tension between the exercise of free will and governments’ desire to protect the masses.

Because the movie addresses these issues through both the internal and external struggles of the characters (without being “preachy” or “on the nose”) it should appeal to the broadest possible audience of 12-to-24-year-olds, regardless of their faith orientation.

Thus the movie provides viewers with more than simple entertainment. The fact that it can play a role in creating a global dialog about questions with deeper meaning serves to elevate its purpose in the marketplace because it provides families with an opportunity to join together and engage in meaningful conversations about such challenging questions as: What is the value of a free will? Should all people have free will? Would you like to live forever? If you could, would you choose to live forever?

The important factor is that families should watch the movie together and then discuss it
together afterward. Not just once, but several times. This is the best way to ensure that
families—and not the public square—remain the primary shapers of values in our society. It
should also make your movie-watching experiences much more meaningful.

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