'The Jesus Music' film – from 'Christian Woodstock' to packed arenas

Movie theatres across the United States will be filled with Christian music anthems today, as The Jesus Music opens in theatres across the United States. The documentary looks at how the Christian music industry went from being a 1960s American counterculture movement to a worldwide phenomenon.

The Jesus Music is the work of directors Andrew and Jon (who also wrote the script) Erwin – filmmaking brothers who are best known for feature films I Can Only Imagine and I Still Believe.

“This documentary is our love letter to Christian music because it’s what shaped our careers,” Andrew told Greg Garrison at Al.com.

The Birmingham Alabama brothers began their careers working cameras at sports events for ESPN, before transitioning into making Christian music videos in 2007. Michael W. Smith was their first Christian music video client. Amy Grant soon followed. More recently, the brothers have made Christian-themed feature films and biopics about Christian artists.

“This documentary is our love letter to Christian music” – Director Andrew Erwin

“This is a world that’s very important to a lot of people, including myself. I love this music. I remember a lot of these concerts and moments,” Jon says.

The Jesus Music uncovers the roots of today’s Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) in ‘the Jesus Music’ of the 1960s and 70s and charts its development into the thriving industry it is today.

It covers the folk-rock music of the 1960s and 70s produced by newly converted hippies and the founding of Maranatha Music – the first Christian music label – as a non-profit ministry of Calvary Chapel and became the first Christian music label. Billy Graham even gets a look in, for embracing the music of Christian rock festivals and labelling it “Christian Woodstock”.

“For these artists, it was born out of a really organic moment in history of a lot of burned out hippies discovering this faith and needing to sing about it in the 1970s, then forging a trail that didn’t exist,” Andrew Erwin said.

The Jesus Music features intimate interviews with the genre’s biggest stars including Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Lauren Daigle, Glenn Kaiser, Greg Laurie, John Thompson, For King & Country, Bill Reeves, Eddie DeGarmo, Chris Tomlin, Michael Tait, Kevin Max, LeCrae, Mandisa, and Bill Gaither, among others.

But if you’re rolling your eyes at the thought of Christian music stars gushing over their empire on the big screens, you might be encouraged by Houston Chronicle film critic  Robert Morast’s review.

“The Gospel Music Association’s latest tally reports that 53 million Americans listen to Christian and/or gospel music “several times a week.” Yet, ask the average music nerd to name a contemporary Christian music act and there’s a good chance you’ll get a blank stare,” writes Morast.

“Despite selling out arenas, packing tens of thousands of people into music festivals and moving enough records to convince Billboard to have a chart specifically focused on the genre, Christian music is ignored as a prominent force in the pop-culture sphere.”

It’s for this reason that Morast declares The Jesus Music to be “the most important music documentary of the year”.

Morast reckons the film does something “few rock docs can claim: It’s filling in a knowledge gap of something that’s been severely under-documented.”

And, in a compliment to the flick – albeit a slap to the rest of us – Morast says, “unlike most of the genre’s hand-raising fans, this film isn’t afraid to point out Christian music’s flaws and foibles”.

He even says the film deserves a follow-up – either as a sequel or just in terms of the genre, reasoning “if we have dozens of docs about punk-rock, Christian music could use at least a handful of documentaries — as long as they’re as honest and self critical as this one.”

For now, Christians outside the US may just need to take Morast’s word on it, with no plans for the film to screen in other countries. Distributors say it will be released on DVD and On Demand in December – just in time for summer holiday viewing in Oz.

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