'Nativity Story' Talked Up in Hollywood, Religious Circles

"The Nativity Story" is the most talked about faith-based film in Hollywood since Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" three years ago.

"With the release of 'The Nativity Story,' Hollywood is finally putting Jesus Christ back into Christmas," said Dr. Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, in a released statement today.

Catering more towards Christian audiences and other faith groups, Hollywood – which Time magazine dubbed "Holywood" in its latest issue – is getting ready for the nationwide release of a film narrating the birth of Jesus Christ. "The Nativity Story" heads to more than 3,000 theaters on Dec. 1.

Not only is Hollywood pumped up about the Christian film but religious leaders are also giving their thumbs up when they would otherwise be concerned about how Hollywood would communicate a Christian-themed movie.

The New Line Cinema film was brought to dozens of religious figures and historians, including Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, for consultation on the script.

"I'd never really had any communication with Hollywood before this," Lotz said when New Line brought the film to North Carolina to screen it for her, according to Newsweek, "and my impression is that Hollywood doesn’t quite get it when it comes to Christians. So I was very concerned about showing the movie to people before I’d seen it. I just didn’t know what the finished product would be."

The film got a stamp of approval from Lotz, who described herself not as an emotional person but said she had tears coming down her cheeks after viewing the film.

"God's hand is on this movie," commented Lotz, who said the film is "destined to become a beloved Christmas classic."

"The Nativity Story" has also made its way to the Vatican. On Nov. 26, it will become the first feature film ever to premiere there. The screening premiere will serve as a benefit to the construction of a school in the village of Mughar, Israel.

Plus, the movie isn't "preachy," as many would expect of Christian films. It's an intimate, character-driven depiction of a teenage Mary chosen by God to bear the Savior and the struggle that she and her husband, Joseph, endure, as Newsweek described it.

Four or five years ago, the movie would not have been considered by Hollywood, as screenwriter Mike Rich indicated to Time.

"If I had brought this subject matter into the mainstream studio system four or five years ago, I don't know if I would have gotten my calls returned," he said.

But after "The Passion," Hollywood opened its eyes.

"Hollywood has recognized there's a gigantic part of the population that goes to church each week," said Baehr, also founder and publisher of Movieguide.

Baehr just completed a 10-year study that found that Christian movies rake in more money than movies with strong sexual content or explicit sex.

"Christian movies make two to seven times as much money, and often four to six times as much money, as movies with explicit sex and nudity," he pointed out.

"If Hollywood executives and filmmakers want to make more money at the box office, they should make more movies that reflect a very strong Christian worldview with very strong moral values," Baehr suggested.

While Christian audiences are a huge market, Rich, who wrote the 2002 baseball movie "The Rookie," said faith-based films can't just relay a spiritual message to draw large crowds, but it still has to be good.

"Christian audiences are a powerful demographic, without question, but they’re also discerning,” he stated, according to Newsweek. “They’re not going to be led to a movie simply because it’s important spiritually. The movie has to be good.”