Themes of faith and redemption abound in the films, TV/cable programs and books to be honored during the 59th annual Christopher Awards gala at the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City, on April 10th.
From the killing fields of Sierra Leone and hothouse chambers of 18th century Parliament, to the skies over Afghanistan and sewers under Paris, this year's winners cover a broad spectrum but share a common denominator: they all "affirm the highest values of the human spirit."
First presented by The Christophers in 1949, the Christopher Awards salute media that remind audiences and readers of their worth, individuality and power to positively impact and shape our world. To date, more than 1,300 films, books, broadcast TV and cable programs have won Christopher Awards.
"The stories we tell say a lot about who we are and what we value," said Gerald M. Costello, interim director of The Christophers. "The Christopher Awards applaud those creative works that, in varied ways, reflect Judeo-Christian ideals and emulate the Christopher credo: ‘It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.'"
In the feature film category, Amazing Grace tells the true-life story of William Wilberforce, an 18th century British abolitionist whose Christian faith impassioned his struggles to end England's slave trade. Other winners, while not overtly religious in tone, address important issues in a way that resonates with Catholic sensibilities. Both Juno and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly are movies with strong, if unintentional, "culture of life" moorings. Another film, The Great Debaters, about racism in 1930s Texas, demonstrates the power of words to change minds, hearts and attitudes.
Religious tolerance is examined in both the television documentary In God's Name, a mosaic of interviews with prominent world religious leaders, and The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers, a non-fiction winner in the adult book category by 97-year-old Harry Bernstein (who will be in attendance) in which he remembers growing up in a small English mill town where the main street divided Jewish and Christian neighbors.
Another recurring theme is "forgiveness," both extending it towards others — as illustrated in the television drama Longford, about the headline-making efforts of Lord Longford, a devoutly Catholic member of Parliament, to help a jailed child-murderer — as well as the need for absolution ourselves, powerfully expressed in the screen-adaptation of The Kite Runner, about an Afghani man's soul-searching quest for a second chance.
Perhaps the most inspiring tale of redemption comes from author Ishmael Beah, (who will also be attending) a winner in the adult book category, whose compelling A Long way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier recounts his experiences as a child soldier during Sierra Leone's bloody civil war and how he escaped to a new life in America where he has become an advocate for children's rights.
Also in the adult book category, The Lonely Patient: How We Experience Illness by Michael Stein, M.D. attempts to put a human face on sickness and calls for a more compassionate approach by physicians in treating those in their care; while Brother, I'm Dying by Edwidge Danticat sheds a humanitarian light on the plight of immigrants.
Among the books for children honored, Diamonds in the Shadow by Caroline Cooney uses a suspense story to talk about themes of fear, racism and American insulation from Third World misery, in a way that's accessible to young readers.
To be eligible for a Christopher Award, feature films, TV/cable programs, and books must exhibit exceptional artistic and technical proficiency, a significant degree of public visibility and, above all, they must affirm the highest values of the human spirit. Potential winners are nominated and reviewed throughout the year by panels of media professionals; members of The Christophers' staff with expertise in film, TV and publishing; and by professionally supervised children's reading groups.