NEW YORK — Rick Santorum has turned his sights from the Beltway to the big screen.
Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 presidential candidate, recently described the current state of movies as “a very, very dark world.” But instead of simply complaining, he wants to do something about it and shed some light into that darkness.
This past June, Santorum became CEO of the Dallas faith-based film production company EchoLight Studios. Among the studio’s current projects is, “The Christmas Candle,” which opened in 400 to 500 theaters across the country Nov. 22.
The Victorian era-set movie, based on the novel by best-selling Christian author Max Lucado, tells the family friendly story of a small English town, where, legend holds, an angel visits every 25 years and touches a single candle that grants whoever lights it a miracle on Christmas Eve.
Hoping to give faith audiences an early Christmas present, EchoLight secured a name-brand cast that includes Hans Matheson (“Clash of the Titans”); Samantha Barks (“Les Miserables”); and, making her acting debut, “America’s Got Talent” sensation Susan Boyle, whose song for the film also will be featured on her upcoming Christmas album.
See “The Christmas Candle”
Locally, “The Christmas Candle” is showing at Hillside 14, 2950 Hillside Drive, Delafield and Showtime 12, 8910 S. 102nd St., Franklin.
For ticket information, visit: www.thechristmascandlemovie.com/tickets
While that may be music to believers’ ears, Santorum feels the period drama has broad appeal.
“It’s a beautiful movie,” Santorum told Catholic News Service. “It’s the ultimate Christmas message, that is: God is with us.”
In another interview, he called it “a beautiful story” about “faith in a season when that is what the focus is.” This is “the first time in a long time that there was a film that brings together Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans and the evangelical tradition as the body of Christ together at Christmas,” he told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
The film’s “ultimate message” is one he feels has long been ignored by Hollywood’s secularizing trend of editing Christ out of Christmas.
This desacralizing of the holiday on screen is just one example of what he perceives as a wider assault on Christian sensibilities in popular culture.
Given motion pictures’ popularity as entertainment, Santorum considers movies a critical front in the ongoing culture war – a major reason why he got involved with making them. As Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Push back against the age, as hard as it pushes against you.”
Santorum, who cites “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Field of Dreams” among his favorite films, also understands movies’ more subtle influence as, to borrow a phrase from Blessed John Paul II, communicators of culture and values.
This undeniable effect of the multiplex on Main Street America made the opportunity to join EchoLight impossible to pass up for Santorum, himself a Catholic, who sees it as a chance to make a positive difference in elevating the cinema landscape.
“I recognize that popular culture has an impact on the direction of the country,” he told CNS.
“The storytellers or song writers of society have much more impact than politicians,” Santorum continued. “Movies are the things that stick with us.”
Politicians have talking points and pretty charts, but Santorum believes if you really want to sell your message effectively, wrap a story around it, pointing to the Gospels as a prime example. “Jesus communicated through stories.”
He thinks, however, that the Catholic Church has to do a better job at telling stories.
“For 1,900 years most of the great art, most of the popular culture was influenced by and for the church … but since the technological age … we’ve been sort of absent from the scene,” he said.
It’s what he wants to help remedy, by promoting “the true, the good and the beautiful” through movies that will inspire “the moral imagination” of viewers.
“I really believe it is an important and vital role for us as believers,” he said, hoping movies like “Christmas Candle” enkindle a flame among the faith filmmaking community.
His long-term vision is to help foster a robust “Christian cinema,” pointing to the success of the Christian music industry, which up until a decade ago had been a niche market, but now has mass cross-over appeal.
The challenge is to consistently create content that faith audiences will respond to, and that means keeping standards high. Santorum understands that when it comes to watching movies, Christians are just as discerning as the next guy.
“They watch the same movies that everyone else does,” he said. To that point, he is confident that EchoLight Studios is up to the challenge. “The quality will be there,” he assured, along with spiritually uplifting messages.
“(Faith) is such an integral part of human nature and our human story that’s, generally speaking, not dealt with effectively by contemporary artists.”
When asked about perceived “anti-Christian” bias on the part of Hollywood filmmakers, Santorum said, “All I can do is look at what they produce.” He added, “They don’t do faith well.”
He also said, the values promoted in mainstream cinema are “not reflective of the values that I hold, and that I think a lot of Americans hold.”
“Rather than cursing the darkness, we need to get out there and start shining some light,” Santorum said.
Catholics of a certain age will hear in that sentiment echoes of the old Christophers’ motto: “It’s better to light one candle, than curse the darkness.”
For starters, Santorum hopes a “Christmas Candle” will do the trick.