In January 2017, Christian Cinema caught up with Tom Simes from the March for Life in Washington, D.C. Simes shared the ongoing journey of his film - now called Because of Gracia. The film’s origins exist in a play Simes wrote in 2001 and adapted ino a screenplay in 2013. Here, in Simes’ words is the story of one Christian filmmaker’s challenges to tell his story.
While the film was originally scheduled for a 2016 release date, Simes found himself retooling portions of the film. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as Simes worked on tightening the narrative and adding some drone shots from Baton Rouge. “I saw a number of faith based films come to theaters this fall and they all underperformed, which made me realize God had orchestrated a pause. It was almost like a storm was passing and he said we're going to put you in the harbor while it passes,” Simes recounted.
Simes continued, “We went through this storm last fall, and God sort of put it in His harbor. Our investors were bummed but they were patient. I really wanted it to go out but God said, nope.”
“I grew up loving films,” he reflected from Washington. “One of the reasons I loved Chariots of Fire was because the faith was so real in Eric Liddell. It didn’t preach to me, but it just showed me his faith. I've tried to recreate that same feel in Because of Gracia, showing rather than telling. As an example, no one ever tells any of the characters not to have an abortion or to practice chastity; no one talks about forgiveness, you just find it happening in the film. You see it on the screen.”
In the midst of his soul-searching, Simes’ work found its way to ServOthers, run by Rodney and Angel Hatfield, who were excited by the impact the film could have in reaching culture. Simes also received insight from Movie to Movement’s Jason Jones, who convinced Simes to open in twenty theaters instead of four hundred theaters, using theater captains to maximize opening weekend attendance. Jones also believed this would potentially allow the film to impact a number of groups, or “tribes.”
“In focus screenings, the film played well to evangelical Christians as well as Spanish-speaking communities, pro-life groups, Catholics, and African-Americans,” Simes proposed. “The universal appeal makes it more mainstream in nature.”
Part of the film’s story is the transition of its name from Gracia to Grace Wins to Because of Gracia. Initially told that the film wouldn’t be well received with a Spanish name, Simes became less and less convinced in the title Grace Wins because it appeared that the title character (Grace) had won something, like an athletic event. With help from the Hatfields, and curriculum writer Chris Friesen, the title came together with a blend of Spanish and English, Simes said. “Because of God’s grace, our lives are changed; because of Grace, the people in the community are changed.”
This is the message of the film, one that Simes said needed taken to where people are, so that the culture could be changed. That is, the story needed to play out in the movie theater.
“Now more than ever, theaters have become secular churches for the masses where they build their theology and figure out their truth. We need to go there and share our truth with them, through story, not by having a sermon on screen. ‘Here it is, guys.’ You’re going to have people who heard this before at a backyard club or something - and think, ‘wow, I get this.’”
If Simes is right, his film can change culture - thanks to the grace of God, hard work, and the wisdom to wait on God’s timing.