Spencer Folmar is more than a four-letter word. If you listen to the ‘noise’ online, you might be inclined to believe that Folmar cares more about cussing than making movies, or that the four-letter word in question is a smokescreen for a lackluster film. Having actually seen the film, and having talked to Folmar himself, it’s clear that there’s much more to what is happening here. In fact, Folmar’s film Generational Sins is about the way sin cycles through until the gospel breaks the pattern, the way that the gospel is greater than all our sins.
A life-long learner, Folmar has traveled the world, with stops in Europe, Florida, Pennsylvania, and California. While he wasn’t raised in the church, Folmar’s experience of the real-life pain that people suffered in the Rust Belt of Pennsylvania made his exposure to the good news of Jesus Christ even more amazing. When he discovered the love of God through His son Jesus Christ, it made the trite faith-based stories he saw seem unrealistic to his experience, because the stakes weren’t high enough.
“As filmmakers, we can offer the world the objective truth of the gospel, we can offer hope in a situation that may seem hopeless,” Folmar proposed, just hours after the mass shooting on the Las Vegas Strip broadcast on every news channel. “We can show ourselves as three-dimensional. All of our righteous acts are filthy rags.”
“There is something seriously going wrong with the hearts and minds of men, in all of our hearts, not just the shooters. If we’re not doing the personal work of understanding our own generational sins, then we end up, like Drew says. He says his greatest fear is that he would end up like his dad.”
In the film, two sons return to their home town, seeking to understand their father. One son knows what his father was like when he was a child; one son never met their father. But the mission to rediscover their own shared history leads to some unexpected places where the good news of Jesus shows up. This is a story, like Hacksaw Ridge, or The Parable of the Prodigal Son, that ultimately shows the power of the relationship between fathers and sons.
“Our film deals with men who are struggling to be examples of how to be a dad and be the best dad or absent or not trying,” Folmar mused. “A lot of weight or pressure is on the father to be there for his sons, and the son is understanding by the presence, flaws or absence of the father to be the example in the world. So many effects occur, on mothers and wives and those around them. The pattern of example of failure is repeated. On a deeper level, the relationship carries over into the understanding of who God is and how we relate. If none of us have been a perfect father, depending on how imperfect, how do you relate to a God who says He loves you?”
So what about this four-letter word that is nearly synonymous on the internet with his film? How would Folmar defend or at least explain a decision to leave profanity in a film that might otherwise be considered a widespread Christian hit?
“We left the profanity in there when Drew is dealing with real life in a way that I think is realistic,” proposed the writer/director. “We must make films that are realistic or else non-Christians will never watch anything we make. Many of the so-called faith-based films that I've seen are so far removed from reality and the way people actually live and think, that it's like they're done in a different language."
"Imagine a missionary going to Japan and insisting on speaking Russian. I love the Kendrick Brothers’ or PureFlix hearts, but do they understand that that's what they're doing? And their fans may say, 'well, they don't make movies for non-Christians.' My response would be, 'Really? Are any of us given a pass from being obedient to the Great Commission? Did Jesus say, 'now, some of you, go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel, and others just talk to each other.' No, of course not. Unless God Himself has come down to you and told you that you are exempt from the Great Commission, you're not. So we have to speak the language of the tribe we're sent to. It's a command, not a suggestion. That doesn't mean that every Christian filmmaker has to swear, but we do have an obligation to create realistic relatable characters and to speak the language of the lost we're allegedly here to reach."
“If I have to include one f-bomb in order to create a realistic character that means that one non-Christian will watch it and have their hearts changed and turn toward Christ, I'll take that trade-off any day. My honor and dignity and being respected in church circles comes second to my desire to reach the lost for Christ and I'll sacrifice the former for the latter any day. It's dizzying when we wake up to the news of this morning in Las Vegas, while we debate the ethics of how we use a made-up word,” he said, trailing off. “My high school mates are killing themselves, my area mates are killing themselves with drugs. They need the gospel.”
With that desire in mind, to make a ‘realistic’ Christian film, the end result seems to bridge the gap between the sanctified, scrubbed version of films that are sometimes played in church with the mainstream fare audiences stream to see. It’s clearly a different approach than most Christian filmmakers have taken, but Folmar remains unrepentant. He’s clear that the risks don’t outweigh the reward.
“I think the reward is taking a stand for vulnerable, honest expression of faith, to see the stakes Drew is in,” he proclaimed. “I think it’s to show the world that uncensored life points to the bedrock of our faith, that the world is this messed up and that’s why Jesus had to come and be murdered. It’s justified. It’s a PG-13 film.”
“If you talk about the saving grace, then the film proves that’s possible.”
Generational Sins is in theaters Friday, October 6.