"Congrats on your 5th Best Feature Film honor. We loved your movie and it rated higher than any movie we have screened in the last eight months. That's the good news. The bad news is that we will have to pass. You made a great movie with excellent acting and production values. But the country is in a very conservative time now. Our company, and probably most others, can't afford to risk marketing funds for a controversial film that deals with religious zealots. My advice is to build your Internet support until the buzz about the quality of your movie rises above the concerns of the number crunchers. When it does, we hope to be able to make you an excellent distribution offer."
The movie is “Heart of the Beholder,” and as the distribution company notes, it has won five Best Feature Film awards around the country. But, for the reasons described in the statement above, nobody will distribute it.
The movie is based on the true story of video store owners Ken and Carol Tipton. The Tipton’s started their video rental business when the debate was still about VHS or Beta. From there they grew into a multi-million dollar company with franchises in Missouri, Texas and Illinois, and developed the “Movie Machine.”
Their troubles began when the National Federation for Decency (NFD), now the American Family Association, began picketing their stores for renting movies such as “Taxi Driver,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Animal House” and “Mr. Mom.” They even protested the movie “Splash” because it “promoted sex with animals.” The issue reached a breaking point when the Tipton’s were the only St. Louis area video store to offer for rent “The Last Temptation of Christ.”
They were harassed to the point that they received death threats, including the threat to send their daughter “…back to God to be reborn to parents who worship the Lord.” The NFD, by blackmailing the prosecuting attorney, were able to bring obscenity charges against the Tipton’s. The Tipton’s won their court cases, but lost everything- including each other.
The movie, written by Ken Tipton, details the experience and by all accounts and recognition is well done and deserving of distribution. It must be an eerie irony in realizing that the same religious atmosphere that unfairly put him out of business is now responsible, if indirectly, in preventing the release of the story itself.
Mike Furches, a “follower of Jesus Christ,” and movie reviewer for HollywoodJesus.com, writes,
“This movie has been winning film festivals across the country. I for one believe that trend will continue, and I personally hope that more film festivals will allow the movie to be juried in and eventually that the film is picked up for wide distribution. I will assure you that once it does, the protests will likely start up again. That is unfortunate, because of the lessons we can all learn from the film, whether one be a Christian or not.”
Interestingly, individual ‘religious’ reviewers differed in their opinions. Some noting, as Furches did in his full review, that the story is troubling, but that it shows both sides of Christianity. Others, again as Furches predicted, are ready to begin the protesting (and name calling). Comments from the movie’s website follow:
“I just knew this movie would trash Christians, but it didn't. As a true believer, I was totally entertained. Lots of twists and turns. Very well done.”
“I dont [sic] know what kind of sick, sadistic, satanic, idol worshipping people you are. But i do know a thing or two myself about religion and I know that that movie you have created is an abomination and that you are all going to Hell. I'm sorry. If you want more info on how to repent from your sins and recieve [sic] the forgiveness which is in the name of the lord jesus christ [sic], then email me back. and i will show you what we are talking about. PS I have never seen such a sick movie, and you have cursed the name of the almighty God.”
I will take the liberty in making the assertion that it is the second comment that has distributors concerned. The first amendment guarantees the freedom of speech, but as we also saw last year with Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” it does not guarantee distribution. Ideological expression seems to be controlled by those who are financially at the mercy of conservatives. My objection is not conservative opinion, rather the attempt to censor ideology that differs from theirs. I have always believed in presenting both sides of an issue to the public and affording individuals the right to decide for themselves. What a shame that such an award-winning film may not ever be seen by most Americans.