CBA's Unite show hosted some of 2017's most exciting Christian films. Though this year's convention eschewed the major screenings and premieres of past shows, Christian filmmakers, TV producers and broadcasters found ways to make their presence known.
The biggest Christian movie on the horizon is Because of Grácia. The Christian romance, distributed by ArtAffects Entertainment, releases in select theaters Sept. 15.
SERV OTHERS' co-owner Rodney Hatfield, who executive-produced Because of Grácia with his wife, Angel, said the film presents a Christian perspective on important issues facing teens.
"We hope that it sparks a conversation, conversations between [teenage] peers, teens and their church leaders, and more importantly teens and their parents," Hatfield said. "That's the whole goal of the film. The film itself touches on some great topics. It talks about pro-life. It talks about dating, and the approach of going from 'Let's be best friends first and then later date,' instead of just jumping into dating. ... It's also about kids finding their voice within a public [school] system and dealing with some of the other issues they face like bullying and the evolution debate."
Retailers can expect curriculum and a film novelization to come to market as the film's release date nears.
Edify Films' Elliot Wallach showed off a new innovation that ties together the Christian coloring book and film markets. Wallach debuted the When Calls the Heart app, which used groundbreaking technology to scan the film's official coloring book and instantly pull up the original frame. Edify is working on integrating this technology with other coloring books, including one called Colors of the Bible.
Wallach says he was inspired to raise the bar for Christian products. He wants to see the industry innovate, not chase secular trends.
"My conviction is, as Christians, we should do it better," Wallach said. "Everybody's like, 'Support it because it's Christian.' I say it needs to be better because it's Christian. Support it because it's better because it's Christian."
He said this year's convention has been a good way to get out the word about Edify products, especially now that the Christian film market has become more defined. But like many, Wallach lamented the smaller turnout at the show in Cincinnati.
"[The show is] clearly smaller," Wallach said. "I think so far for us it's a good way for us to get the word out about things. I've been going to the show since roughly 2003--I think that was my first show. So to watch it shrink so much, it's unfortunate."
On the other hand, Urim Books USA's Ted Sim said he enjoyed the smaller venue. The smaller area gave the publisher more opportunities to show off its Global Christian Network channel.
"I really like how [CBA] changed the room and the setup," Sim said. "I've never seen this room before, but it's nice, and it feels regal and fancy. ... I feel like everything's more accessible."
One of 2017's early breakouts was the documentary Is Genesis History?, which sold out one-day screenings nationwide and ranked No. 1 at the box office in February. The film released earlier this year on DVD and Blu-ray, but Thomas Purifoy Jr., director and producer, said retailers will still see plenty of new film merchandise releasing this year through a partnership with Spring Arbor.
"Right now there's a DVD and Blu-ray, but we're also going to have three sets—so three three-disc sets—of 20-minute segments ... ," Purifoy said. "So what we'll do is we'll have a series on the rocks and fossils, we'll have a series on life and design, and we'll have a series on the Bible and the stars. That's a whole three sets that'll be coming out over the next six months. It just takes a while to edit these. This summer, we'll have a Bible study series coming out."
Pastor Victor Torres was also at the show, doing publicity for the new faith-based film based on his life. Victor, created by GW Films and Spiral Films and distributed by Ocean Avenue Entertainment, tells how Torres became embroiled in drug abuse and gang life after moving to the United States, but the prayers of his mother led him to salvation.
Torres, who founded the ministry New Life for Youth, hopes people can find hope in the film.
"Hope is the theme of the movie," Torres said. "That's what I see, and that's what I personally pray for, that the movie would bring this message of diehard hope, not just simple hope, but a hope that never gives up, because that's the hope my mother portrays in the movie."
Victor recently released on DVD, and customers are already praising the film that is helping to transform lives.
"Families are being reached," Torres said. "Young men and women are coming because of the movie. They say, 'If God did it for Victor, he can do it for me.'"
CBA had announced the hiring of a film commissioner earlier in the year and planned to have a film symposium at Unite, but CBA President Curtis Riskey told Christian Retailing the association decided to end the partnership early on and look for better ways to serve Christian retailers in the growing entertainment category.