We are doing a blog series on those in the PCC community who work in different facets of the entertainment industry about the advantages or obstacles they face as Christians in their field.
Spencer Folmar – Independent Filmmaker
I have been working as a film director and producer of independent films for over 12 years. I attended NYU for my MFA in film and also received my Masters in Theology from the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. I’ve been writing and studying about the intersection between faith and film for over a decade now.
My latest film’s theatrical debut, “Generational Sins,” has spurred a national debate surrounding this interplay of faith and film. FOX, The Hollywood Reporter, Deadline, The Washington Times, CBN, Christian Post, and more have all joined the conversation about the film’s release. In response, we coined the term “Hard Faith”™ to describe this new genre of film, written for audiences who are hungry for hope in the midst of gritty real-life stories.
I am currently in pre-production for my fourth feature, “Beast in Me,” as well as in development stages of my fifth feature, “Deathbed Redemption,” with more on the way in the Hard Faith genre.
I have heard it often described that it is difficult to be a Christian in Hollywood or that there is persecution for Christian beliefs. But personally, I believe this is a wonderful time to be a flourishing Christian artist in the main square of the film industry. I think today, in a post-modern world, it is more acceptable than ever to speak your truth without inhibition and to listen to other people and watch how they also convey their own truths and to welcome dialogue in today’s culture.
Whenever I speak about my faith to my talent, to people in my office building, or to those in companies we work with, I feel an ease about doing so. Often, most of these people have never spoken to a Christian who will willingly discuss closely-held matters of faith and convictions. I’ve had a lot of great conversations with people who were either in the church as a child or people of other religions. I could just openly talk about what it means to be a human and what we believe about our existence in this crazy world. I have often said to such people that Jesus is the end of my formula about how I make sense of my life and my purpose for living. I don’t always understand him or his ways or why certain things happen, but he is my only answer for continuing to exist and work and create.
There is a wide array of answers to why people do what they do, but not everyone has thoroughly reached the end of their equation. I think having open dialogues and making art that does the same is a helpful way to encourage people to discuss and think deeply about the purpose of life. I know that, growing up outside the church, there were many films and pieces of art that captured me and made me see the world in a different way. These films have stuck with me throughout the years. Even though they have nothing to do with faith explicitly, they still resonate with me and have contributed to my worldview. I believe that there is a great responsibility and opportunity to also capture new audiences with thought-provoking and provocative storylines about living in a fallen world. An artist has great freedom of expression where Christianity can truly flourish. Other people, whether of a different denomination, confession, or region can appreciate the great diversity in the body of Christ.
As a Christian artist, I have an advantage. In fact, I feel like I’m cheating because I have, at my disposal, objective truth confined in the Old and New Testaments. It is my belief that Christians should be the greatest storytellers and thus the greatest filmmakers because we have truth that will resonate with anyone hearing it simply because it is absolute truth. There is something cathartic that happens when you hear truth. What those films had – those that so profoundly influenced me in childhood – was a glimmer of objective truth. As a Christian, if we can fully grasp, meditate, and eat this truth in our daily walk with God and be able to present eternal wisdom and hope for searching audience members, what an incredible opportunity and privilege to be able to create such art. A fellow director once told me that you can make your audience members feel so deeply that they can’t help but think. That’s what I want to do in our films.
Audiences are going to a theatre, searching for truth, for meaning, or at the very least, for escape from a very harsh and often unloving, disparaging world. Many people lament the fact that media, whether TV, film, or YouTube, is a means of escape from the harsh realities of this world. But I do not begrudge this because I think it is a great gift that film and other media can offer. If that helps someone get by another day, then that is a very high calling indeed. As Christian filmmakers, if while we are entertaining, we can also edify in some small way, or instill hope, that is a beautiful gift.
Generally, I am quite forward about my faith when anyone asks about the kind of films I make. What’s great about these Hard Faith films is that it encourages artists like myself to be vulnerable and transparent as much as possible, without pretending to have achieved perfection.
There is a debate between being a Christian artist or an artist that is a Christian. I don’t think this debate is very profitable and at best gets in the weeds of distraction and, at worst, creates grave misunderstanding. I’m a Christian first and foremost. I believe that God cares very much about what I do and I believe that whatever I do, I aspire to glorify God and enjoy him. I would say that our films strive to be excellent, truthful, and in some way present hope for our audience members.
In preparation for the release of our latest film, “Generational Sins,” I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of passionate, thoughtful college students as part of our promotional tour. I tell all aspiring artists to go into the world and speak your truth. Be as vulnerable as you possibly can be. It should be costly, and it should take a great sacrifice to release such a deeply held story from your inner being. But there is a great reward as an artist to be this vulnerable. As the late Carrie Fisher said, “Take your broken heart, make it into art.” Christians have a unique opportunity to fully express the brokenness of the human heart, the depravity of sin, and the fallenness of the world, in the midst of understanding the gravity of the current situation. To make beautiful, inspiring and hopeful art for searching audiences is my calling as a Christian in Hollywood.