Alex and Stephen Kendrick are virtually synonymous with Christian movies. The American brothers behind Fireproof, War Zone and new drama Overcomer have, in less than 20 years, gone from church pastors giving movies a go, to being the go-to examples of Christian movie making.
“There’s always the temptation to allow your ego to get bigger than it should be,” admits Alex Kendrick, an ordained minister turned actor, writer, producer and director.
“It’s not because we are incredible film-makers. Any giftedness came from the Lord.” – Alex Kendrick
Speaking with Eternity ahead of the Australian cinema release of Overcomer, Kendrick sounds impressively un-ego-ish, despite being a big deal at Christian’s movie nights around the world. What helps him stay humble and grateful are appropriate, though, given the explicit content of his filmography: He invites family and friends to ask him tough questions about his personal faith, as he strives to stick as close to God as possible.
“Ultimately, I know that any success we have comes because God allowed us to have it,” shares Kendrick. “It’s not because we are incredible film-makers. Any giftedness came from the Lord.”
When Alex and Stephen released their first film, Flywheel, in 2003, the pastoring brothers did it as an outreach exercise to those living around their church in Georgia, USA. Made on a low budget with a largely unprofessional cast and crew, Flywheel uncovered a wider thirst for the Kendricks’ brand of Christian storytelling. By their third production, marriage drama Fireproof (2008), the Kendrick Brothers were cemented on the international scene as a brand of Christian screen entertainment. War Room (2015) hit the No. 1 spot at the US box office.
But Alex Kendrick keeps giving credit to where he believes it is due. “We need God’s guidance and blessing on everything we do. If we jump ahead of him and think we are something special … God can, of course, take his hand off of us and take everything away.”
Overcomer stars Kendrick as John, a high school basketball coach whose championship dreams are strained by local events. With unemployment hanging over his community due to the closure of a major manufacturing plant, John reluctantly begins coaching a cross-country runner.
Flowing through this smalltown dramedy about lofty ambition and sobering reality is the important issue of identity. The Kendrick brothers enjoy infusing their films with a specific focus, such as marital communication in Fireproof or the power of prayer in War Room. For Overcomer, Stephen and Alex wanted to address what it means to know who you are.
“I don’t have to convince you that our culture is debating what it is to define our identity. One view is that it’s your feelings. Other views are that it’s your circumstances or success or your finances,” says Kendrick.
“We believe that the Creator gets to define his creation. When we find ourselves in the one who created us, that’s the truest form of identity we could have.”
“If I never make another movie, do I know who I am?” – Alex Kendrick
Kendrick believes this view of identity finds its ultimate form in giving your life to Jesus. For Alex and Stephen Kendrick, it’s about Jesus, not the makers of Fireproof, Courageous and War Room.
“We are very aware that if we are going to do this – to point people to the Lord – we have to be walking with him ourselves.”
“Even for me, working on this movie, I had to ask myself, ‘If I never make another movie, do I know who I am?’ Even in my own life – and I’m a Christian – the Lord had to re-order the pieces of my identity; the primary element of my identity must be my faith in Jesus Christ.”
Second to his identity in Jesus is his identity as husband, father or film-maker. Even if Overcomer tanks and audiences can’t stand it, Kendrick still will know who he is. Part of his confidence about who he is has also comes from the not-so-positive side of movie-making. Kendrick Brothers movies have copped their share of criticism, often from Christian viewers, about the quality of acting performances, scripts or direction.
“It’s important that we take the validity in the criticism and apply it to what we are doing,” is not the first answer I expected Alex Kendrick to come back with, when asking him about dealing with criticism. But this willingness to respond to critique started early, with acting coaches brought in after the first few movies were attacked for the sincerity and quality of performance.
“If someone criticises us, even if it hurts, and there is truth in what they are saying, we have to consider that if we are going to grow as film-makers. We want the production quality and effectiveness of our stories to be improving – so we’re not afraid of criticism.”
“We can make a movie but only God can change the heart.” – Alex Kendrick
Kendrick believes the rapid rise of digital technology and greater volume of Christian productions during the past 15 to 20 years has led to an overall improvement in quality. “There weren’t many [Christian movies] that came out which [Christians] were proud of … Today, you see movies like The Cast for Christ or I Can Only Imagine, that are improving in quality; we hope to continue doing that with Overcomer.”
Set to open in 24 countries around the world, little movie Overcomer – financially supported by 80 local churches – continues the Kendricks’ intent of making movies for Christians. Knowing they are low-budget movie-makers working to serve a niche market, Kendrick again is relaxed about handing over what they have created to the director of all things.
“Our primary audience is to help people who already know Christ, to continue growing and live out their faith.”
“But there is truth in our movies that will bleed over into secular audiences as well. Many people that watch our films are impacted by the messages, even if they don’t share our faith.
“We can make a movie but only God can change the heart.”
WIN! You can win a double pass to see Overcomer at a cinema near you. To be in the running, tag a friend in the comments of this story and and tell us in 25 words or less about a situation where God helped you “overcome”.
Terms and conditions: Competition will close Thursday 5pm. Winners will be announced on the Eternity website, and contacted via FB messenger. Prize: Eternity has 10 double passes to see ‘Overcomer’ in Australian cinemas for a limited time only. Every effort will be made for tickets to reach winners in time to use at a cinema near them. Entries will be accepted in the comments on Eternity’s Facebook post and website.