Film Takes Up the Challenge of the Cross

"Do You Believe?", a new movie by the makers of "God’s Not Dead", tells the story of a dozen characters grappling with the meaning of the Cross

Pure Flix Entertainment released Do You Believe? in theaters on March 20th. It’s an inspirational evangelical Christian movie which tells the story of how the Cross of Christ positively impacts the lives of a dozen disparate people seeking healing and meaning. It reflects the evangelistic focus of Pure Flix (www.pureflix.com), which was founded by Christian actor David White nine years ago and has since released nearly 100 Christian and family-friendly films, including the commercially successful God’s Not Dead (2014).

“Do you believe?”

Do You Believe? is set in the Chicago area. Characters include Matthew (former Married With Children actor Ted McGinley), a sincere evangelical Christian pastor seeking to do good within his church community. In the opening scenes he meets Malachi (Delroy Lindo), an aging street preacher, who drags a 6-foot cross through the city and asks him the film’s central question: “Do you believe?” When Matthew says he is a pastor and that he does believe, Malachi asks him, “What are you going to do about it?”

Matthew hands out small wooden crosses at his next church service, attended by most of the film’s characters, and tells of the experience and passes on the challenge: “Do you believe in the cross of Christ?” Matthew cites the old maxim: if you were on trial for being a Christian, would the evidence be there to convict you? He issues a challenge for his congregation to put their faith into action.

For Matthew, that means reaching out to pregnant teen Maggie (Madison Pettis) living on the streets and digging in dumpsters for food. He finds her shelter, and we discover that he and his wife Grace (Tracy Lindsey Melchior) have been struggling with many years of infertility.

For EMT Bobby (Liam Matthews), it means giving his small cross to a dying man—an avowed atheist, as it turns out—and getting him to accept Jesus and be “saved.” His sharing of his faith gets him into hot water, however, as he faces legal action for proselytizing on the job. This distresses his wife Elena (Colombian Miss Universe contestant Valerie Dominguez), a lukewarm Christian who advises him to escape his predicament by compromising his faith.

Catholics will no doubt notice theological differences with characters such as Bobby, who later declares of the last-minute convert: “The guy is safe in heaven.” (Did he make an act of perfect contrition? Could he be in purgatory?)

For J.D. (Lee Majors) and Teri (Cybill Shepherd), an older married couple, belief in the Cross means moving on from the grief of loss of their adult daughter and going to work in a soup kitchen. It is there they meet and attempt to help homeless widow Samantha (Mira Sorvino), who reminds them of the child they lost, and her young daughter Lily (Makenzie Moss). Meanwhile, Joe (ex-NFL player Brian Bosworth), who is a terminally ill ex-con volunteering at Matthew’s church, also tries to help the attractive widow and her daughter, making a special connection with both in the process.

The same street preacher who touches Matthew also challenges the consciences of a black street gang led by Kriminal (Senyo Amoaku), whose younger brother, Pretty Boy (Shwayze), begins to have second thoughts about his life of crime. Later, fleeing police, Pretty Boy runs into Matthew’s church during services and his conversion is underway.

Other notable characters include Dr. Farell (Sean Astin), an emergency room physician who is also a skeptic with a “God complex,” and Elena’s brother Carlos (Joseph Julian Soria), an ex-Marine haunted by his past.

The film supports the pro-life cause when Maggie tells how she was urged to abort her baby, and promotes religious freedom, when Bobby stands up for his right to share his faith with a dying man.

Much of the film was shot in Michigan, and filming was hampered by sickness, poor weather, and difficulties getting the cast on location. “When we shot the finale sequence with 11 stars on the bridge,” Pure Flix’s White recalled, “the weather turned nasty. It was one of the hardest movies we’ve ever made.”

The Meaning of the Cross

White says the film’s purpose is to ask “what is the meaning of the Cross of Christ in our lives? What is it? Is it a relic from 2,000 years ago, or is it alive today?”

The same writers who created God’s Not Dead developed the script, which was then shopped around to recruit quality talent to create it. While many actors in Hollywood reject Christian material, others jump at the chance. For example, White noted, “We approached Cybill Shepherd when she was in the middle of a faith awakening. She really connected with the script, and we were able to recruit a Hollywood icon to be part of our cast.”

When Mira Sorvino read the script, she personally called the director to ask to be cast. Delroy Lindo had never done a Christian film, but was excited about the script and asked his agent to land him a role. Alexa PenaVega (Lacy), known for movies such as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For by Robert Rodriguez, “wanted to do movies with a more spiritual side.” Ted McGinley had been doing comedies for 30 years, and has become a believer “looking to do more rooted material.”

Tracy Lindsey Melchior played Grace, the wife of pastor Matthew. She is known mostly for her work on television soap operas. She had played a role in the 2008 Pure Flix film Hidden Secrets after “coming out” as an evangelical Christian in her 2006 book “Breaking the Perfect 10.” She took time off to raise her two children, but with the encouragement of her husband, had the itch to get back into the business.

I missed the audition for God is Not Dead, which turned out to be a huge hit,” she recalled. “I got a call about another film they were doing, and I jumped at the chance.”

She enjoys the “clever writing” of the Pure Flix writers, she said, and believes their scripts “show Christians are not perfect, but can make mistakes and struggle with their faith.”

Hollywood has few Christian performers open about their faith, she noted, and she has had agents and managers tell her to keep quiet about it so she could get parts. But, there is a niche for Christian productions, she noted, and as Christian films are successful commercially more and better Christian movies will be made. She noted that there are Christians working in Hollywood, but “not too many of us are out of the closet.”

Do You Believe? was filmed far from her Chino Hills, California home, and she almost quit the production because she did not want to be away from her family. But her husband encouraged her to stick with her role. She also found an immediate connection with the cast and crew: “It was one of the most cohesive groups with whom I’ve ever worked.”

She worked well with her on-screen husband, Ted McGinley: “Ted was fun, supportive, kind and respectful. It really translated into good chemistry on the screen.”

After filming finished, McGinley wrote her a personal note of thanks for working with him. She said, “I was touched. Thank you notes are a nice practice of an earlier time that we ought to bring back.”

She hopes to make more such films in the future. She said, “I love God and I love acting. It’s great when I have the opportunity to combine my two loves.”

The Christian film market

The recent and notable success of Christian films indicates there’s a market for them, believes White. Three Christian films took in a total of over $200 million at the box office in 2014, including $63 million for God’s Not Dead, which was last year’s top independent film last year, White noted, and one of the highest-grossing Christian films of all time. “It did extraordinarily well,” he said, “It was a great step towards where we want to go with Christian film-making.”

All the more remarkable was that the film’s budget was only $2 million, and was shown on 780 screens nationwide, less than a third of the total available. He continued, “Everyone is asking how we were able to do it.”

White co-founded Pure Flix after he saw the need for “positive, life affirming content on an ongoing basis in the movie marketplace.” The first years of the company were a challenge, with some of the partners going without salaries to keep the company operating. When patrons go to the theater and watch Pure Flix films, he said, “people are voting with their dollars. They’re saying they want more of the kind of content Pure Flix provides.”

White said a God’s Not Dead sequel was in the works, and other Pure Flix films were due to be released throughout the year (visit www.pureflix.com for details or follow David White on social media). He’s anticipating that Do You Believe? will do well at the box office, as well as other productions the company has in the works. He said, “We’re very optimistic. It’s an exciting time for Christian filmmaking.”


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About Jim Graves 172 Articles
Jim Graves is a Catholic writer living in Newport Beach, California.