December 2011 – Human beings dream. They imagine, they plan, they pursue, they create. These capacities mark off mankind from the rest of nature, manifesting the sublime truth that we were created in the image of God.
But not every dream comes to fruition, and for Christians – who believe in an all-powerful God who is said to work miracles – this can create a debilitating and faith-threatening spiritual problem. In fact, why good things don’t happen to good people may be as troubling as the other side of that vexing issue – why bad things happen to good people.
Paper Dream is a short film that explores the lives of a Christian couple facing an unexpected and troubling challenge. They have always wanted to have children and expected that they would be able to do so. But infertility threatens that dream.
Struggle with infertility
Paper Dream is the first dramatic film produced by American Family Studios, a new division of AFA. But infertility is an out-of-the-ordinary topic for the pro-family community. After all, it’s not part of the more traditional litany of issues such as same sex marriage, abortion or embryonic stem cell research.
The idea originated almost two years ago with Don Cobb, AFA director of new media and executive producer of the film. The father of 10 children, Cobb said he stumbled onto the issue of infertility when he announced to staff members that his wife was pregnant with another child.
“I made an insensitive remark,” Cobb explained. “I said, ‘Well, we’re pregnant again. I don’t know how we do it. I just go to sleep and we end up pregnant.’ I told a woman who worked for me at AFA, and she started to tear up. I could see there was something going on there.”
Cobb asked around and he was told that the lady and her husband could not have children because the man had gone through cancer treatments and was infertile. Cobb discovered that others on staff were going through similar trials.
They aren’t alone. According to the National Infertility Association, almost 13% of U.S. couples of childbearing age are diagnosed with infertility.
“As I talked to each one of these women on staff it seemed to be that same thing,” Cobb said. “They were having this painful conversation with God.”
The challenge for many people, Cobb insisted, is that most of us are told by our parents when we’re young that we will grow up, marry and have children of our own. Christians often assume this is God’s perfect will for every man and woman. Cobb said such teachings are what he calls “little ‘God-isms’ that really aren’t in the Bible.
Cobb said, “I think sometimes we have become a society that says, ‘We are in America – we can make it happen.’ Sadly, in a lot of cases, we just can’t make that happen.”
Is Christ enough?
Cobb said many Christian films give the impression that dreams always come true for believers – especially if they simply have enough faith in God.
“Sometimes dreams do come true for Christians, but sometimes they don’t,” said Jeff Chamblee, production manager for American Family Studios and producer of Paper Dream. “Does that mean you abandon God and believe that He doesn’t love you? Or are you going to continue to pursue Him?”
Chamblee said this was the way the producers of Paper Dream ensured that the film could impact people who have never struggled with infertility per se.
“If everything is taken away from you, everything you hold dear, even good godly desires and dreams that never happen, what if your greatest aspirations never materialize – is Christ enough?” he said. “Or do you have to have these things?”
Kendra White, writer and director of Paper Dream, said it’s frequently very difficult for Christians to change their view of God when it comes to His purposes for their lives. It is true that He has a good plan for our lives, but those plans aren’t always what we expected – or wanted.
“Each one of us has something in life that we wanted at one point in time that just didn’t happen and won’t happen. That is the truth,” White said. “How do you respond to that?”
Some people react by feeling sorry for themselves, while others will spend the rest of their lives pining for something that won’t ever come. Yet there is a way to dream a greater dream – to be in love with Jesus Christ regardless of whether or not earthly goals are grasped.
“Paper Dream contains a message that hope comes in the contentment arising out of a life centered in Christ,” White said. “You can have joy, peace and fulfillment right now no matter what the circumstances are – if you look to Christ.”
On the other hand, some Christians experience life in such a way that many or most of their dreams do come true. White said the film had the same message for those people.
“If your dreams are coming true and you are still not centered in Christ, you won’t be living an abundant life, either,” she said.
The power of stories
The power of that message makes it clear why American Family Studios exists in the first place. Films employ stories, and when a film carries a redemptive message, it can be a compelling force for the kingdom of heaven.
“People remember stories that impact their lives,” said Austin Brooks, director of photography for Paper Dream. “As a Christian filmmaker I feel called to tell stories that are going to touch peoples’ hearts and open their eyes to Christ. Sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly, but ultimately I want to touch people on a personal level and tell a story, visually, that they will never forget.”
Telling stories is also why White loves film and the arts in general. Like Brooks, however, the story’s power to affect hearts is what she loves most. “When a life is changed, that is new – it’s a new creation,” she said. “I love being able to communicate a story that changes people.”
Some Christians, however, eschew the use of films as worldly vehicles, and insist that believers should stay out of entertainment and even the arts. Brooks said he understands the reticence of those Christians.
“In a media driven society, we are constantly looking for ways to be visually stimulated,” he said, “but most of the stimuli out there are unrighteous and degrading to the name of Christ.”
Still, there is a way to use films in a manner that honors God. “In my opinion it’s not either-or but both-and,” Brooks said. “I know we can challenge the unrighteous use of film with projects that will be both entertaining and have a positive message that upholds solid morals and the name of Christ.”
White said that the arts certainly reflect culture, but the opposite is also true: Culture reflects the arts. That was why, she argued, Christians should not abandon the arts but use them to help influence people who love well-made films.
“I think as Christians we need to stop thinking of Hollywood as Sodom and Gomorrah and start looking at it as Nineveh,” White said. “Maybe God is calling us to be like a Jonah and go and impact the culture with a redemptive message.”
Both Brooks and White pointed to the greatest of all teachers – Jesus Christ – who frequently engaged people’s hearts and minds by telling stories.
“That is what Jesus did with the parables,” White said. “He would say, ‘There was a man,’ and he would go into this story. Then He would say, ‘You are that man’ or ‘The kingdom of God is like what happened to this man.’
“He would turn it on its head and give people the analogy that made them think and sent them away with questions. We want to send people away in the same manner. We won’t give you all of the answers, but we hope to help you ask the important questions.”
“Sometimes the parables Jesus told were not understood by those who were listening,” Brooks said. “Stories don’t always have to be simplistic, with a message that is easily understood. The stories that Jesus told sometimes confounded people, and either repelled them or drew them deeper. The parables often raised more questions than they answered, and that was OK.”
Cobb said American Family Studios does not want to represent life – even the Christian life – as an easy thing with simple, one-size-fits-all solutions to the few problems that might arise.
“With Paper Dream, I didn’t want to use words like ‘God will fill that hole in your heart,’ because that assumes that God fills every hole in terms of the circumstances of our lives,” he said. “But some holes – some circumstances – remain, and that hole can still be used for God’s glory.
“Those circumstances can cause us to draw closer to God or they can cause bitterness toward Him. Paper Dream proclaims that that hole is there and God knows about it. You have to have a private conversation with Him. And that is what this movie is all about.”
Although it’s a new direction for us, AFA’s decision to get involved in creating and distributing films is really a return to Dad’s original passion. The ministry was founded to encourage clean entertainment. By and large, Hollywood has refused to give the majority of Americans what they want. So AFA hopes to help fill that gap.
Tim Wildmon, AFA President