While it is not even Thanksgiving, the season of Christmas marketing is upon us. Slowly, we in the Catholic Church prepare for Advent, the solemn time of awaiting Christ’s birth, and we will no doubt have to raise an eyebrow or two to the various commercial Advent Calendars while also wondering how many more Christmas specials we will see out there. It’s a time to fight seasonal grumpiness while awaiting the celebration of the Incarnation, that pivotal moment in human history.
Even here at Catholic Exchange, we get bombarded with new Christmas items (or “holiday” items), some of which are beautiful while others are just odd (looking at you, Whiskey Advent Calendar). So when we received notice from Impact Productions and Sen. Rick Santorum’s Echolight Studios about an Advent Movie—not Christmas, but Advent—it caught our attention.
The Christmas Candle is based on a story by Max Lucado and is set in the most Victorian English of settings. The press releases tell us:
The small Village of Gladbury, England has its very own Christmas legend. Every twenty-five years an Angel is said to be sent from God to the village candlemaker and touches a single candle. Whoever lights The Christmas Candle and prays will receive their miracle on Christmas Eve. But this year is 1890, the dawn of the electric age, and the light of candles and hope in miracles are fading.
Again, curious about an Advent movie from a well-known Evangelical author with a Catholic politician’s involvement, Catholic Exchange’s Michael Lichens sat down with former Senator Rick Santorum, a producer and distributor of The Christmas Candle.
Catholic Exchange: To start us out, What is the Christmas Candle?
Rick Santorum: The Christmas Candle is movie that is based on the book by bestselling author Max Lucado. In a word, to the Catholic audience, it’s an Advent movie. It’s a movie that runs from the first Sunday of Advent in 1890 to Christmas Day. It’s a movie of faith and hope; about folks who have lost their faith or had no faith and how the miracle of Christmas, the gift of Jesus Christ, is something for those who think God is not with us, that He really is; we show that He is in many other ways.
On the subject of Advent, as a Catholic, how do you see the themes of Advent woven throughout this film?
It’s actually pretty explicit. From a virtual point of view, it’s an Anglican church in the 1890’s, the main character of the movie is an Anglican pastor who comes to the town to pastor this church right before the First Sunday of Advent. The town is preparing for an Advent service right as he arrives, with the four candles and there is a brief sermon about preparing for God and preparing for the birth of Jesus and what that means and what we should be doing to prepare.
The movie weaves around this sermon as a wonderful reminder that Advent is a wonderful time to prepare for the coming of Jesus. It’s also a beautiful thing to have an Evangelical pastor and author like Max Lucado write a movie that has a liturgical theme. We’re excited and hope to introduce Advent to the wider Christian community. There are some in the Evangelical community in particular who are trying to do just that, who are excited to have this tremendous opportunity to talk about the importance of preparing for Christ’s birth, not just the birth itself.
Regarding Max Lucado, what would inspire a Roman Catholic like yourself to want to work with a well-known Evangelical author? Anything in particular that inspired this partnership?
Well, this is a movie we didn’t produce but are distributing. So the production company came to us with an almost-finished film and I had known Max for years as a wonderful man and a friend. We as a family used to read his stories; he has wonderful children’s stories and is a great storyteller. So, this was something where I relished the opportunity to work with an accomplished storyteller.
When I saw that it was a movie that could bring the Church together around a liturgical story about a liturgical church and about saving Advent, written by someone well-known and loved in the Evangelical community, I saw a movie that could bring the larger Body of Christ together in a way that a movie hasn’t done since The Passion of the Christ.
Going back to that theme of Advent, do you think this will inspire more American Christians to embrace Advent?
Yes. My understanding is that Advent has been on the rise in Evangelical communities, with projects like The Advent Conspiracy. Advent is being adopted more and more and this movie touches on that.
From a Catholic perspective, why would a Catholic parent might want to bring their family to The Christmas Candle?
It’s PG movie, and is also a high-quality, inspirational, and entertaining movie that will give people a deeper sense of the meaning of Christmas.
It has a nice little Downton Abbey feel to it: set in Victorian England, filmed in the Cotswolds. The costumes are all authentic, meticulously recreated with materials from the 1890’s. They went through a lot of work to make this as accurate to the times as possible.
The actors are all fantastic. You have actors who have appeared in movies such as Braveheart and the Hobbit, as well as a laundry-list of other great films. Then you have Susan Boyle making an appearance in her first movie. Susan actually sings an absolutely beautiful song that was written for the movie but Sony featured it on her upcoming Christmas album because of just how beautiful it is.
How widely distributed is this movie?
We’re going to be in between 400-500 theatres on the opening weekend.
It’s a bit of a David and Goliath story because we decided the film should come out right before Thanksgiving, right before Advent because Christmas movies don’t have a long play life. So we had to put it out early enough for our audience to grow, but not too early because nobody wants to see a Christmas movie in October. So we picked November 22 and that happens to be when The Hunger Games: Catching Fire comes out.
It’s been hard to find theatres for the opening weekend. For smaller theatres it is especially hard to find space. We hope to expand into more markets as the film gains more press and eventually be widely distributed to every town.
While it will be available in all major markets, people may have to drive a bit to see The Christmas Candle.
How well do you think the religious themes will be received by the wider audience?
The responses we’ve gotten from people who have seen the film who are not religious has been tremendous. Everybody states that the quality of the movie is outstanding, that is beautifully filmed, shot, and acted.
Yes, it’s a Christmas movie, with a Christian theme, but it is really a movie about faith, about hope, and God being with us. For us, it’s obvious that God is with us at Christmas time and all our lives. For others, who maybe aren’t a Christian, they also see that there is God in our lives.
Unlike most Christian movies, we don’t beat you over the head with a “teaching” aspect. This is not a movie where we are trying to teach or convert, but to share an experience that will raise questions in our own lives.
We’ve been doing advertising online and we found that we get more click-throughs on secular sites than Christian sites. That sort of surprised us, but for people who are not going to church year round then seeing a Christmas movie may be a good experience.
I’ll share one story from a screening. We invited some leaders such as pastors and preachers but some of the people were not believers. They were folks involved in politics such as a few of my political supporters, and they came to the screening. One of them wasn’t a believer who came to the screening because of me. She came up to me after the screening and said, “You know, I’m not a person of faith but after seeing this movie I don’t know how I can go on without it.” She’s now going to church after talking to a pastor.
It’s a beautiful thing when you can show them, without beating them over the head, the beauty of faith.