Why a Kiwi church took on Hollywood

New movie Broken brings forgiveness to a cinema near you

A New Zealand church has produced a feature film to explore new ways of sharing the message of forgiveness with the community.

Opened in Australian cinemas today, Broken comes from the unusual production company of City Impact Church.

“We made the film because we wanted to be able to go to where people are …” – Josh Campbell

Broken focuses on Logan (Joshua Calles), an ex-gang leader who leaves gang life to raise his daughter Tori. When Tori ends up murdered by an opposing gang, Logan has to decide whether to seek revenge or practise forgiveness. The film is inspired by the true story of a young Māori girl who was murdered by a warring tribe in the 1800s. She would always carry the Gospel of Luke around in a small bag tied around her neck, which was stolen by her murderer.

Writer and director Tarry Mortlock says two amazing things happened in that real-life story. First, her father refused to seek revenge for her death; instead, he listened to the words of the Gospel of Luke. And second, the book was read to the murderer – and it had an incredible impact upon him, as well as the warring tribes.

“We should be using that medium to reach people.” – Josh Campbell

“When I read that story, I was just struck by the power of forgiveness and what can come out of it. I thought that would make a great movie. But making a period film is tricky; it can be very expensive. So our idea was to take the heart of that story and make a modern-day version of it,” says Mortlock.

The multi-campus church made the film as a new form of outreach, according to its creative director, Josh Campbell.

“We wanted to be able to go to where people are, not just expecting them to come into the four walls of our church,” Campbell tells Eternity.

“We all love a good story, and we all love being entertained. Everybody goes to a cinema, and we thought we could try and give people a message where they go.

“We wanted to tell a big feature film story and put it in a way where people don’t have to come to our church to hear the message; they can hear it at the cinema, which we thought was pretty cool.

“We saw it as a way to get this gospel message out there.”

The church already has a track record of being media savvy, with its programme Impact for Life airing on four New Zealand television channels each week. Making a film was just the next step.

Mortlock had been producing Impact for Life for City Life Church for several years, when he began pursuing the idea of making a feature film. Eventually, he says, the church media team went ahead and made the film despite having no film experience at all.

“We just jumped in, boots and all, and rallied together, with a lot of help from community,” Mortlock tells Eternity.

“I think the story does the telling itself and people come away and make their own decisions.” – Tarry Mortlock

The movie opened at number one across New Zealand’s cinemas, and the reception from mainstream critics was surprisingly warm, says Mortlock.

“When the movie came out, I was stoked by the response from the secular media and from unchurched people who would go along and watch it,” Mortlock says. “I wasn’t sure how the secular media would respond, how gracious the film critics would be, but I did numerous interviews with people who’d gone and seen it and they said, ‘what a great film, a great message and a message for all people whether you have faith or you don’t; we all need to forgive.’”

Broken is not an explicitly Christian movie, and Mortlock says he never set out to make a Christian movie for Christians.

“I wanted to make a film that the guy at the gym could go to, or the guy next door could go to,” Mortlock says. “You know, unchurched people could go and watch it but come away with a message, come away with some hope – but without it being preached at them or rammed down their throat.

“That was really big on my agenda because I think the story does the telling itself and people come away and make their own decisions.”

And people do. Both Campbell and Mortlock have collections of testimonies from people who have decided to “give forgiveness a try” in their marriages or families after seeing Broken.

And at the Auckland campus of City Impact Church, more than 300 people gave their lives to Jesus after the movie was screened at their Easter services.

City Impact Church is looking forward to making more movies in the future, as a way of reaching out to the culture around us. Josh Campbell explains: “We believe that the generation today is looking at media and looking at that world to tell them how to live. We look to entertainment, to celebrities, and to Hollywood to get our bearings.

“I believe that film is a language that our generation and culture are looking to and I think it’s almost a new wave of evangelism that we can reach people who are already looking at their phone screens day in and day out – we should be using that medium to reach people.”

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