Rick Santorum on Christian cinema and why he wants to raise the bar: 'We must make an impact in popular culture'

Published 09 June 2014  |  
(Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Rick Santorum

"As someone in politics, I've always been interested in the impact of popular culture on what's going on in America," Rick Santorum, former candidate in the Republican Presidential campaign, tells Christian Today.

Speaking from his office in the US, Santorum – a devout Catholic who ran against Mitt Romney in the Republican Primary in 2012 - shared about his latest project running EchoLight Studios, a faith and family film studio and distributor that is hoping to revolutionise Christian cinema.

It may seem like an unusual move for a politician, but Santorum insists the two industries are closely linked.

"Popular culture has an impact on the government, on culture and the direction that policies take. As a moviegoer who appreciates good quality art and entertainment, it's always been an interest of mine to see that impact," he says.

He took up the opportunity to lead the team at EchoLight after being approached by a friend in the business who wanted to make movies "consistent with the guiding principles of our country - in particular, portraying faith in an authentic way to movie-going audiences".

"That had a really great appeal to me, to make movies based on universal truths and that deal with faith in a way that is more representative of how it actually affects people and their lives, as opposed to the contrivance born of other, Hollywood, films," Santorum says.

"For a long time I've been frustrated that while occasionally good quality Christian movies with a good message are made, the quality just doesn't measure up to the films that Hollywood is producing. I want to improve that quality, and maybe do for Christian film what has happened over the past 40 years with Christian music – it's come from a narrow, small, niche area to one that is huge, and spans across different genres.

"The technology is available now to make good movies with less money, so I was excited when I saw the opportunity to get involved and said, 'Let's just do it.'"

Santorum is certain that popular culture is the means to effect change. "I use this phrase all the time: that politics is downstream from culture," he insists.

"If we want to impact the political system and shape the country, then we have to reclaim the public square and make an impact in popular culture."

The focus of EchoLights, which will debut one of its first movies, Hoovey, next year, is to "turn the industry on its head" and use churches to premiere films, rather than leave them as an afterthought. Santorum explains: "We want the Church to be the centre of culture, which it has been missing...We're about enabling the Church to do what it was designed to do – to be salt and light.

"We want to give the Church the opportunity to hold world premiere type events and participate in all that, as well as provide a place for folks to gather and see this kind of content. If there's one thing EchoLights is trying to lead on, it's that – no one's doing this."

His passion is to see the quality of faith-based films improve, and be a real contender in the wider context of the entertainment industry. Santorum contends that big-budget Hollywood epics such as Darren Aronofsky's Noah aren't able to do scripture justice in the same way that Christian production companies are, despite their financial backing.

"One of the reasons that Noah had such a great splash and then died like a rock, it sank, was that it wasn't true, wasn't authentic," he says.

"That's a real issue with a lot of Hollywood productions, so we see an opportunity to present truths in a way that is authentic and is something people can relate to."

He has high hopes for EchoLight, and indeed the entire faith-based film industry, which he believes will attract Christians and non-Christians alike. The success of recent films such as 'Heaven is for Real' and 'God's Not Dead' is indicative that content is getting better, Santorum believes, but there is still a way to go.

"The more good content you make, the more demand you see," he says. "Quality is so important; when it's entertaining, it reaches out to everyone.

"To quote 'Field of Dreams': 'If you build it, they will come.'"

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