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Get Low clip
Get Low clip: Clip from the drama Get Low, starring Bill Murray and Robert Duvall.
Like Dandelion Dust, with Maxwell Perry Cotton and Mira Sorvino. / MIKE KUBEISY
Get Low is a message movie starring, at left, Robert Duvall, Lucas Black and Bill Murray. / GET LOW: SAM EMERSON, SONY PICTURES CLASSICS


Robert Duvall doesn't make “Christian movies” or, as he says, “Inspiration with a capital I.” But this month, his new film, Get Low, with Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray, delivers a gritty vision of atonement and forgiveness when a hermit emerges from his solitude to stage a funeral “party” for himself and confess a long-ago sin.

Duvall also is filming Seven Days in Utopia, based on the short novel Golf's Sacred Journey by sports psychologist turned novelist and evangelist David Cook. Duvall's character finds his swing — and his soul — on a scruffy course in a little Texas town called Utopia.

These films don't march viewers into church or drop them to their knees in prayer. Rather, they reveal broken people, lost in pain — anger, loneliness, addiction, poverty or staggering sadness — whose lives are rebuilt by small acts of love and kindness, what Psalm 51:1 calls “tender mercies.”

Hollywood has been talking about Christian movies since Mel Gibson's violently confrontational The Passion of the Christ proved a box-office hit. But the most influential modern mainstream Christian film may be not The Passion but The Blind Side. The 2009 film portrays a real family who lived their evangelical values, adopting a young man and nurturing his mind and character as well as his athletic talent. Oscar winner Sandra Bullock plays the family's driving force with a simple cross around her neck and an unshakable love for others she learned in the Bible.

The next Blind Side may be Like Dandelion Dust, which opens nationwide in September. Mira Sorvino and Barry Pepper star in this wrenching adoption story in which no one prays, no one mentions Jesus by name, no one converts. But the millions of readers who scoop up every title from evangelical novelist Karen Kingsbury will recognize Like Dandelion Dust immediately as one of her many best sellers.

What makes Dust Christian is its portrayal of sacrificial love, say producer-brothers Kevin and Bobby Downes. We're “Christians who make movies,” Kevin Downes says. Their goal in making films is to move people with universal themes that create conversations while the credits are still rolling.

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Designed for mainstream theatrical release, Dust is different from overtly evangelical films such as those made by Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga. — Flywheel, Facing the Giants, Fireproof and Sherwood's upcoming fatherhood drama, Courageous. Provident Films, a Sony unit that distributes the Sherwood films (with year-long advance work with church leaders), will launch The Grace Card, another church-backed forgiveness saga, early next year. The film, featuring a cameo by Oscar winner Louis Gossett Jr., was produced and directed by a Memphis optometrist, David Evans, and Calvary Church in Cordova, Tenn.

The church-made films are laced with prayers to Jesus. Yet Fireproof, the top independent film in 2008, pulled in $33.5 million, says the tracking site The Blind Side: $256 million.

apturing the big audience, the unchurched of America, requires strongstorytelling, but without sacrificing the “Christian worldview we bring to what we do,” says Bobby Downes. “We are trying to do what Jesus did: Meet people where they are.”

It's what Jeremy Johnston, the Baptist executive pastor of the 5,000-member First Family Church in Overland Park, Kan., did in bringing 6,000 people to see The Passion. Johnston promotes Sherwood's films but says he's just as interested in movies like Dust “that also show that inspiration, perseverance, integrity, honesty and character are a bridge to our audience after the lights come up.”

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