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Don't like film violence? Make a difference

After 26 people were killed in Newtown, Conn., it was revealed that the killer steeped himself in violent films and games, as well as shooting his mother’s assault weapons.

As the nation has debated what might be done to reduce gun violence, many have asked if anything can be done about violence in movies and television. In December the Hollywood premier for “Django Unchained,” a vengeance film packed with bloody shootouts, was cancelled in the aftermath of the Newtown killings.

But not for long. The film quickly earned more than $116 million and won the Academy Award for best original screenplay.

“Movies have been transfixed by violence from the beginning,” writes Manohla Dargis in The New York Times.

He reports that the inventor of films, Thomas A. Edison (of light bulb fame) made a film in 1895 about the spectacle of death in “The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.”

“Far more disturbing is Edison’s ‘Electrocuting an Elephant,’ (1903) in which Topsy, a real Coney Island elephant, was killed on camera with 600 volts of electricity,” Dargis notes.

However, Ted Baehr is making a difference in Hollywood. A lawyer with a doctorate in theology, Baehr produced “The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” for CBS-TV in 1980 – viewed by 37 million people and winner of an Emmy Award.

He went to Hollywood, where he created the Christian Film & Television Commission at a time when Disney had stopped making feature-length cartoons.

“Hollywood was like General Motors who decided one year to stop making convertibles. It was a stupid decision,” he declared. “GM realized it had to make different kinds of cars for different kinds of people. Today there are films for Hispanics, African Americans and we’ve shown them that the church is gigantic, and they need to make films for it.

“Now 40 percent of films are aimed at families,” he says. “You have to have conflict to have a story, but you can build conflict without violence. ‘Finding Nemo’ shows it can be done.”

And movies aimed at families can be very profitable. “Ice Age” has earned $740 million worldwide. Furthermore, Baehr has helped Hollywood understand that if they put too much violence and sex in movies, they do not earn as much as family films. Why? They don’t earn as much internationally (can’t be shown in Muslim countries).

Baehr has fashioned three tools to educate Hollywood. Most important he created Movieguide, which reviews all major films and gives Christians a trustworthy guide to the best in new films and TV shows. Go to Movieguide.org and sign up for two weekly e-mails with reviews of films that will lift your spirits and offer wholesome entertainment to your family.

Second, Movieguide bestows awards to the best films and TV each year, right after the Academy Awards. This year the Hallmark Channel aired Movieguide’s 21st Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala.

“Les Miserables” won the $100,000 Epiphany Prize for the Most Inspiring Movie of 2012. In accepting the award, the president of Universal Pictures Mike Knobloch said the movie’s message is “to love another person is to see the face of God,” which represents “the spirit of this award.”

He added that the prize money will be donated to charity. The Epiphany Prize has been funded by the John Templeton Foundation since 1996.

A game show, “The American Bible Challenge” won the $100,000 Epiphany Prize for the Most Inspiring TV program of 2012.

My prediction for the 2013 TV winner is “The Bible,” running Sunday nights during Lent on History (formerly The History Channel). Episode 1 depicted Noah, Abraham and Moses’ most exciting moments. Historically accurate according to Scripture and inspiring, it was viewed by 20 million people, crushing competing networks’ ratings.

What’s most remarkable and encouraging is the fact that “sex and obscenity don’t sell,” as Movieguide reports: “Moviegoers prefer clean movies without explicit sex, nudity, foul language and rampant immorality.”

In its Annual Report to the Entertainment Industry, Movieguide gives hard evidence. Films with no foul language earned $51 million on average compared to only $27 million for those larded with the “f” word. Movies with no sex earned $51 million versus only $19 million for those featuring sex.

By contrast, movies with “Christian, redemptive worldviews and values earn the most,” reported Movieguide. “Les Miserables” has earned $148 million so far, and “Lincoln” (a nominee for the Epiphany Prize), earned $180 million.

Why are so many good guys winning in Hollywood?

Credit goes to Ted Baehr and his creation of “Movieguide.”

Michael J. McManus, an author and former Time magazine correspondent, is president of Marriage Savers, a ministry whose goal is to help churches and communities cut their divorce rate and raise their marriage rate.