ALBANY, Ga. – It's personal. That is the feeling among many of the actors and supporters of the film "Courageous," which is currently in production.
During a special media and guest visit Tuesday, people on the set expressed how the fourth film by Sherwood Pictures – the makers of "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants" – touches a sensitive nerve as it dives into the lives of four law enforcement officers who make a commitment to be better fathers.
Ken Bevel, who plays one of the four leads in "Courageous," said his real-life father left the family after getting involved in drugs and alcohol.
"It really hurt me a lot as a young man because I had no one there to help me make decisions and see what life is all about," Bevel told The Christian Post in between shoots.
His character, Sheriff Deputy Nathan Hayes, also grew up without a father and as a result struggles in the film to be a good dad to his three young children. Also reflective of his real life, Hayes struggles to forgive his father as an adult for abandoning the family.
"So this (movie) is really hitting down to the core of some of the things I dealt with as a child," he said.
Alex Kendrick, the director and co-screen writer of "Courageous," noted that Bevel drew on his natural emotions when he had to film the "tear-jerker" scene of forgiving his father.
Despite the similarities, however, the film's spokesperson insisted that the character, Hayes, is not based on Bevel's life.
"He auditioned like everyone else," said Kris Fuhr, vice president of theatrical marketing for Provident Films, the group marketing the film.
Fuhr added that when the script was written no one had been cast yet.
"Courageous," which is expected to be released in 2011, is about four police officers in Albany, Ga., who while giving their best to their job are not putting in the same effort to being a father. Tragedy strikes one of the officers' family that causes the others to unite around him and vow to be more committed fathers.
The movie's creators said they wanted to highlight God's promise to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers."
Some 24.7 million American children live without their biological fathers, the film's creators noted. They cited federal government statistics that reveal 63 percent of youth suicides, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, and 85 percent of all youths in prisons come from fatherless homes.
"God calls Himself our father and … a father is supposed to represent the Lord to his children," said Stephen Kendrick, co-screenwriter of "Courageous," last year at the movie's announcement. "[But] we often say that the fathers in this generation are misrepresenting God and children are growing up thinking that God is like their earthly father."
Kendrick shared Tuesday morning that his dad was a big inspiration for the film. His father "broke the chain" and made a conscious decision to be an intentional and godly dad to his children even though he did not have one growing up.
"The message of 'Courageous' is really so much of that message we saw in our own dad's life, of men learning to break the chain and saying, 'regardless of what culture is doing, regardless of what my dad did and did not do for me, I'm going to forgive him, seek God as my heavenly father and as for me and my household we will serve the Lord,'" Kendrick said.
Many men's ministries attended the set visit this week and expressed interest in using the film as a resource to teach men to be better fathers.
Kenneth Henderson, founder of the Catholic men's ministry True Knights International Apostolate Inc., said his organization is discussing how to use the film when it releases.
"We have a crisis in fatherhood right now and this film is so timely," said Henderson, after he saw clips of the film on Tuesday. "When you see so many children out there without fathers that are in so much trouble you see how important it is to regain children."
He added, "We definitely want to use this as a way to help men understand how vitally important it is for them to be involved in their children's lives."
Sherwood Pictures, which the Kendrick brothers started in 2002, became a national sensation in 2006 with the release of the sleeper hit "Facing the Giants," which grossed more than $10 million on a production budget of just $100,000.
Following the success of "Facing the Giants," the movie ministry released "Fireproof," which has been credited for saving many marriages. The 2008 film was produced on a $500,000 budget but recorded box office grosses of $33 million. The accompanying The Love Dare book debuted as a New York Times bestseller and remained in the top five for more than a year. Three million The Love Dare books have been sold.
Stephen Kendrick, the director of "Courageous," said his hope for the latest film is not about box office figures but about changed hearts.
"We want especially men to walk out of the movie theater saying, 'What kind of father am I being, have I been, what kind of father could I be' and realize the crucial and influential role they have," he said.
"If the father is walking with the Lord and he is seeking God, you will tend to see the rest of the family following suit," Kendrick noted. "We are not so concerned about the box office but to grab the hearts of dads."