- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The new independent film “Fireproof” is about marriage on the rocks.

It is produced by an evangelical Christian church group and has a come-to-Jesus message rarely seen in modern Hollywood films.

But like Mel Gibson’s blockbuster “The Passion of the Christ,” “Fireproof” carries a simple, powerful message of hope - that even a marriage at death’s door can be resurrected.

“Fireproof” co-producer Stephen Kendrick recently spoke with reporters at a preview of the film, which opens in selected theaters on Friday .

Research has found that “people allow themselves to be more influenced by movies than by going to church,” said Mr. Kendrick, who also is the film’s co-writer.

So he and other leaders of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Ga., decided a few years ago to use films to reach out and influence people.

Their Sherwood Pictures company has made two movies with shoestring budgets and all-volunteer casts and crews. Both films, “Flywheel” and “Facing the Giants,” gained audiences beyond their wildest hopes.

With “Fireproof,” which has a mostly volunteer staff and a $500,000 budget, the producers are taking aim at a big target - America’s divorce culture.

“We want to ask people to keep their marriage vows,” said Mr. Kendrick.

“Fireproof” is intended to “put wind in the sails of married people” so they can do it, he said.

The plot of “Fireproof” was written after months of prayerful searching for a message that could “impact the culture and help people,” said Mr. Kendrick.

The movie’s focal point is a heroic firefighter and his hardworking wife. Except for their shouting matches, the couple avoids each other. “I do not love you,” the wife says coldly at one point. The husband lashes out with contempt.

The marriage is further beset by the husband’s regular consumption of Internet pornography - which repulses his wife - and her growing infatuation with a handsome co-worker. Both husband and wife want a divorce.

But a different path appears when the husband’s father challenges him to hold off on filing for divorce and instead take the “Love Dare” for 40 days.

The movie weaves a tapestry of lessons through the husband’s attempts to follow the the “Love Dare” exercises. A delightful cast of co-workers, fellow firefighters, neighbors and family members provide context, humor and drama.

“Fireproof” takes viewers on “an emotional journey” because it depicts imperfect people in authentic situations, says Mr. Kendrick. The firefighters motif is important, he adds, because their motto is that “you never leave your partner behind.”

Will this movie be successful, given its intense emotional subject matter and Christian overtones?

The sponsors think it will. Some 95 communities presold 1,000 tickets to the movie, say publicists Nancy Lovell and Julia Fairchild.

In addition, B&H Publishing Group says it has 300,000 pre-orders for “The Love Dare” book.

“Fireproofing” a marriage, the movie sponsors add as a final point, doesn’t mean a marriage won’t face burning flames and choking smoke. It means that when the fire comes, the marriage can withstand the heat and survive with its treasures intact.

Cheryl Wetzstein’s On the Family column runs Tuesdays and Sundays. She can be reached at [email protected]

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