Beyond Credibility? Pushing an Evangelistic Film Series


(system) #1

Picture the scene: Pastors at a conference meeting are discussing Beyond The Search (2012), the $2.5 million outreach film series produced by Adventist Media Network, Australia. "I wish I could be more positive, but the seekers I’ve played it to don’t really get a clear message," says one. "It assumes quite a lot of knowledge and the film’s argument isn’t really coherent." Another says, "I’ve found some people like it, but most don’t find it very entertaining." One senior pastor says, "My Bible worker took it to a guy who saw NASCAR racing on the front cover, but he quickly got it back when the person realised it was religious. Maybe we need to be more clear." Similar critiques follow until the conference president steps in and says, "Right, well, this series has won 14 international awards, so who are we to question the quality? God will use this in evangelism if we support it."

"That ended the discussion," says one of the pastors present. "Anyone questioning the series was out of step with expert film juries-- and God. But a few of us checked the awards."

A search of the Beyond The Search website www.beyond.info reveals that four of the awards are from Best Shorts. Visit www.bestshorts.net and look for the awards for 2012, and you find that November 2012 had two Best of Show, 11 Awards of Excellence, and 52 Awards of Merit. Then you discover there were more winners in September, June and March 2012, giving a total of 9 Best of Show, 76 Awards of Excellence, and 334 Awards of Merit. (Beyond won Awards of Merit.) The website says, ‘Our mission is to promote our winning filmmakers.’

A film producer told me, "These awards are like a fun park game where everyone wins a prize. You send in your fee of $175, they give you an award. It’s about as credible as buying one of those online degrees. No informed film-maker would take this seriously."

Beyond also won a California Film Award, along with 75 Grand Winners, 62 Diamond Award Winners, 54 Gold Award Winners and 46 Silver Award Winners.

Beyond seems particularly proud of the CINE Golden Eagle award, yet www.cine.org reveals that 110 films won this award in 2012 (compared with just 24 Oscars or 14 International Emmys). The website proudly lists that Steven Spielberg has won a Cine Golden Eagle, but his list of awards does not bother to list this. (Don’t confuse this with his Golden Eagle from the Award National Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences of Russia, which is the equivalent of a Golden Globe.)

One advertisement from Adventist Media cites the 14 International Awards, then says, ‘Because these films are so good, we want you to have a free copy.’ But the public does not seem to be responding.

One successful outreach method in Australia has been to use TV advertisements to offer a free viewing of a DVD, then have a local pastor deliver it. This allows the pastor to offer other films and to start befriending the person, inviting them to other outreach programs. However the TV campaign for Beyond the Search have yielded much lower response rates than in the past. "The public response to our TV ads is much lower than with the previous series, and when people do request a free viewing, the drop-out rate is much higher," said one conference secretary asking to remain anonymous. "The advertising was very costly for the numbers it yielded, and when some members of the public do see they the films they aren’t really finding them compelling."

When we have high-end film-makers in our church networks (La Sierra University Film Professor Wins International Emmy), why not aim for excellence and credibility in outreach?


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5708