How can up-and-coming Christian filmmakers hone their craft, build their faith and catch a break in Hollywood all at the same time?
The answer is one of Hollywood’s best kept secrets – the 168 Film Project, considered one of the most intensive Christian film competitions in the country. This speed film competition promotes and launches emerging filmmakers to create world-changing movies.
168 Film allows just a short 168 hours (one week) to write, shoot and edit a ten minute film. And to turn up the heat even higher, filmmakers from around the world base their captivating scripts on a single bible verse, drawn the night before the competition begins, as well as the 2015 theme: “Freedom.” Most importantly, filmmakers are encouraged to honestly portray the tale that God inspires through the foundational scripture.
Many have gone on to do wide-reaching high profile work; such as Joshua and Rebekah Weigel, creators of The Butterfly Circus, which has been viewed over 40 million times and is currently available in 25 languages.
Past award presenters have included popular television and movie celebrities such as Nathan Kress (iCarly, Into the Storm), Sean McNamara (Writer/Director Soul Surfer), and 4-time Emmy Winner Michael Learned (The Waltons), all of whom contribute to an exciting and glamorous Red Carpet awards night. Innovative media experts, such as Gary Skeen Hall (Senior VP at 20th Century Fox, 24, Bones) and Megan Mascena Gaspar (Post Producer at Fox-TV and ABC, New Girl), judge the competition. This year, the winning top films will share $25,000 in cash and prizes.
It all begins with John David Ware, Founder and Director of this ground-breaking festival which has birthed nearly 1,000 short films since 2003. Originally from Columbus Ohio, John went to film school at Miami University, where he graduated with honors. In addition to working with 168, John has written feature-length screenplays and produced short films. He currently lives in Burbank, CA. Sonoma Christian Home recently caught up with Ware about his passion for film and God-given vision for the festival. SCH Editor at Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: How is the 168 Film Project impacting the world and Christian filmmakers today?
JW: An estimated 20,000 artists have gone through this program. It provided a reality check, and participants see how hard making a film is. It has given many filmmaking opportunities, and provided fellowship and a rallying place for like-minded people. Film artists are given opportunities to create film that they can watch with their families. Ultimately, it has launched or refined many good filmmakers.
SCH: What makes the 168 Film Festival unique compared to other Christian film festivals?
JW: It is a competition that shapes filmmakers. It has writing and filmmaking components. It is more than an international film competition. 168 Film is has become global community of artists focused on asking life’s most important questions via film and TV. It provides a proving ground for filmmakers, writers, and actors to engage culture in the context of faith, values and truth.
168 Film challenges filmmakers and audiences to explore Scripture’s relevance for today. Whether subtle or bold in message, “168” stories change lives and have helped to redefine the faith genre in terms of quality and inspirational message for all involved.
SCH: From experienced Hollywood actors, to High School students, to people simply thinking about a career change: anyone can participate in 168 Film regardless of their resume.
JW: The participants are from around the world. This year we had thirty or more female filmmakers and one little girl who produced her movie with her daddy. Seven-year-old Rachel Lowry entered this year’s 168 contest with her directorial debut, “True Freedom,” the story of a young girl who is wrongly accused of a jewel heist. Lowry wrote, produced, directed and voiced all the roles in the film, which is a contender in 168’s “KidVid” category. She is also nominated for two categories of awards which include the Evangelista Award (best gospel presentation).
See Rachel’s interview with here father here:
Participants from diverse backgrounds and faiths build dynamic, creative communities as they work on a 168 film. We reduce barriers to production as we create opportunities for pros and newcomers to make these films.
SCH: Can you tell us about how this all started?
JW: I came from Ohio 20 years ago to work as an actor, director, and producer. At the time the 48 Hour Film Project was in operation. I wanted to create a filmmaking competition that was a little longer, more meaningful, and that produced great art.
168 started as a ministry to local Southern California filmmakers. It has expanded to a worldwide movement. Many different countries compete in this international contest, some winning top honors.
We have encouraged fair treatment of subjects with emphasis on story and subtlety. But most importantly, filmmakers have been encouraged to honestly portray the story that God inspires through foundational scripture.
168 films have uplifted and informed the human condition by showing real consequences for actions and by reflecting traditional, conservative Biblical values. Content rules do not require overtly Christian characters, just real ones. 168 Film Permits no gratuitous sex, language, violence or drug use in the entries.
Some have created stories that are metaphorical, some literal, some with characters on a journey and more. In the process of making and screening these films, lives have been transformed. Some have gotten off drugs and checked into rehab, while still others have decided against suicide. We have also seen people decide to commit their lives to Jesus Christ.
SCH: Over the years, have you noticed trends in what motivates filmmakers to get involved?
JW: There is always a range of motives. All participate to better their film careers. But many participants have gone on spiritual journeys, whether they have intended to or not. God shows up in a loud way. He gives a gift, a story that should be shared, that offers a glimpse of redemption in unexpected ways. Some of the stories of God moving in the lives of 168 participants are tragic.
Marieke Douridas, the winner of the 168 “Best Actress Award” (2006), died at the age of 14 in a tragic accident. Eight months after her death, her parents, Chris and Mieke, decided to make a 168 film together as a tribute to their beloved daughter.
Every year the 168 contest kicks off with what’s called “Verse Assignment Night.” Each producer randomly picks a stone with a verse on it. This is the basis for their story. When Chris Douridas came to the Assignment Night, I told him from experience, “God will pick your verse and you will know it was Him.” Yet, I was still unprepared for what followed.
There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. Sixty-three were chosen for 2007 to reflect the theme “Decisions and Destiny”. Fifty-one teams had already selected their stones by the time it was Chris’ turn. He took his stone from the remaining 12 and it read,
Mark 5:35-36 “While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ they said. ‘Why bother the teacher any more?’ But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.'”
The whole place burst out in tears as the parents embraced. We helped them to understand what the verse meant in context. Later, Chris was ecstatic when he turned in his finished film. He had succeeded in making the deadline and honoring the memory of his daughter. He had also had an amazing encounter with God.
Please pray for the Douridas family.
SCH: How are participants effected spiritually by the Biblically-based structure of 168?
JW: Quite often we see believers and non-believers actively working together to gain understanding of the Scripture that inspires their films. Sometimes “the lights go on” and lives are transformed in astounding ways. Many have told of unexpected encounters with God. We have seen salvations, people beating addictions, and some choosing life instead of suicide.
SCH: What special elements of 168 have allowed it to work so well, and continue to grow worldwide?
JW: 168 participation has been called “life-changing” by hundreds of artists. Artists know that if they are late submitting finished films, then they will be ineligible for awards, which would be devastating to their team. This discipline fosters individual and team responsibility, giving everyone a common goal.
Christian or not, filmmakers have the same dream to make a great film. They are fully involved and invested. The pressure facilitates a strong bonding experience built upon dreams and the Word of God. The challenges of the contest force many to their knees to pray for help.
Many attendees of the annual 168 Film Festival are non-Christians. Every film’s verse is voiced at the end of the work. We think that is a good thing because for some it is more of God’s word than many have heard in a lifetime.
SCH: How is 168 supported?
JW: 168 is funded by donors and sponsors, and they also provide for professional office and technical workers. If interested, donors can give to this work online. A large part of what we do is through the work of volunteers. To volunteer for 168 Film contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out the application process.
SCH: John, how have you seen God move in your life on a personal level?
JW: I have seen many miracles in putting 168 together for 13 years. There is the Douridas story, salvations, averted suicides of those on crews and much more. As God continues to grow me in this role of encouraging and shepherding filmmakers, He has blessed me to be able to see the fruits of our labor as we watch some of our prodigies really begin to fly in their creative endeavors.
A major thrust for 168 Film is promoting emerging artists. To that end, the festival will feature selected alumni films, including the 2008 Best Film winner Stained, by Joshua and Rebekah Weigel. This, their second film, led to their next big short film project, The Butterfly Circus, which has been viewed over 40 million times and is currently available in 25 languages.
Also screening at the 168 Film Festival is the 2013 Best Film winner, Removed, by Nathanael and Christina Matanick. The film follows the journey of two siblings, who are separated by the foster care system. It has been viewed 3 million times and has been licensed by over 800 child welfare advocates in the USA and abroad.
Finally, Still Born, by alumni, Andrew Librizzi, is the story of a man struggling with the death of his father. It garnered 11 award nominations in 2009, and wins for Best Actor, Todd Terry and Best Actress, Liz Cardenas.
Librizzi is one of the 168-empowered career launches. His first feature length film, called Beyond the Farthest Star recently enjoyed a sold out, 168-hosted screening on August 13th at AMC Burbank Town Center 6. “Amazing things have happened with my career,” says writer/director Andrew Librizzi, “And it really did start with my short film for 168.”
SCH: Do you have any insights into how God will use faith-based, Christian media in the future?
JW: I see revolutionary things coming straight from Almighty God (Ephesians 2:10). Yes, I think there will be technology improvements and amazing stuff in that regard, but I think what really must happen is a better method and skill in telling stories. We are seeing that now with many recent films.
As believers we are not able to avail ourselves of the gratuitous elements to sell our films, so our storytelling must be better. In the same vein as The Passion of the Christ and Chariots of Fire, I think that there will be films in the future that will be cultural events. So much so, that people will need to see these films of faith even if they don’t want to, to be relevant in the conversation.
This is our 13th year with 168, and we have seen nearly 1000 films created in that time. As the founder and director of 168 film, I am very very excited to have given many artists a place to call home and to work toward excellence of both craft and of message.
168 Film has also provided community outreach and service. Programs like “168 KIDS!“ reach out to those less fortunate, hosting a night of positive, exciting fun.
The 168 Film Festival will host a very special, free event for homeless and at risk children ages 5-15 and their families from 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Saturday, August 29th at Regal Cinemas LA Live, 1000 W. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90015.
The second annual “168 KIDS!” event is a continuing partnership with the Union Rescue Mission. “168 KIDS!” is a family fun event where children are the VIPs. Kids are invited to a special kids screening with popcorn from 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM) and then they will get to walk the Kids Red Carpet and take pictures with celebrities from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM!
The films in the Kids Screening were created specifically for kids at the 168 Film Festival and they include a nominated film by a seven-year-old writer/director, Rachel Lowry. These powerful, positive family messages are sure to fascinate young minds.
The 168 Film Festival is the crown jewel of the 168 year’s phases and events. The 13th Annual Awards Show promises higher stakes, more stars and more excitement than ever before, followed by the legendary 168 After Party at L.A. Live! These 2015 short films will be showcased at Regal Cinemas Premiere House on August 29 and 30.
Don’t forget to check out more from 168 Film:
Written by Diane Howard, Ph.D. (Performance Studies), dianehoward.com