Documentary inspired by presiding bishop’s teachings on love due for nationwide theatrical premiere Jan. 23

'A Case for Love' grew out of Episcopal filmmaking ministry

By David Paulsen
Posted Dec 7, 2023
A Case for Love photos

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was one of hundreds of people interviewed about the Christian notion of unselfish love for “A Case for Love,” a documentary premiering Jan. 23. Photos: Grace-Based Films

[Episcopal News Service] A nonprofit movie company led by Episcopalians is about to unveil its biggest project yet. Its feature-length documentary inspired by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s message of unselfish love is headed for a nationwide theatrical release on Jan. 23.

The film, “A Case for Love,” is expected to appear in at least 1,000 theaters for the one-day initial release, and more dates could be added if large numbers of moviegoers turn out for the premiere. The nonprofit, Grace-Based Films, also hopes to generate interest from streaming services.

“There’s a hunger for stories like this,” director Brian Ide told Episcopal News Service. He founded Grace-Based Films with fellow members of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills, California, some of whom worked in the film industry. Grace-Based Films started as an All Saints’ ministry. Now, as an independent nonprofit, it plans to devote revenue from “A Case for Love” to funding future storytelling projects.

Movie poster

Fathom Events arranged for a one-day nationwide theatrical premiere for “A Case for Love” on Jan. 23, and Grace-Based Films is now working to drive turnout.

The new film is structured as seven chapters featuring 14 individual stories of people from a wide range of backgrounds, whom Ide described as “ordinary people doing ordinary-to-extraordinary things.” The stories cover a wide range of experiences, from racial justice issues and the fight for LGBTQ+ rights to the foster care system and the military.

Between each chapter, the filmmakers include clips from some of their “people on the street” interviews, as well as some well-known public figures in politics, the arts and religion, such as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, actor Sam Waterston and the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian of Washington National Cathedral and interim president of Episcopal Divinity School.

Though some church leaders are interviewed, the target audience extends beyond churchgoers.

“We wanted ordinary people to watch it and feel like they could see themselves in one or more of those stories,” Ide said. That posed a challenge: “How do we tell a story that’s grounded in our faith but is really built for people that aren’t walking into sanctuaries and parishes?”

That also was a driving question that first inspired Grace-Based Films to take on this project. Its origins date back several years to conversations between Ide, his fellow filmmakers and the Rev. Charles Robertson, who serves as canon to the presiding bishop for ministry beyond The Episcopal Church. The starting point for those conversations was one very prominent wedding.

When Curry preached in May 2018 at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan, duchess of Sussex, his sermon was viewed by an estimated 2 billion people around the world and generated an immense wave of interest in the presiding bishop’s teachings about Jesus’ way of love, the biblical “agape.” Curry followed up with a book of sermons in October 2018 and a second book, “Love Is the Way,” published in September 2020, that combined stories from his life with the themes of his sermons.

The overwhelming global response to Curry’s message was unexpected but also encouraging, Robertson said in an interview with ENS.

“I watched as so many people responded, and most of those people were not churchgoing people or active in religious congregations,” Roberson said. Later, in talking with Ide, Robertson suggested that the message could be the basis for a powerful Grace-Based Films documentary.

Robertson emphasized that neither he nor Curry were serving in their official capacity as Episcopal Church employees when they advised Grace-Based Films, but they cooperated with the project because of its great potential for Christian evangelism, especially at a time when the pandemic and political divisions have fractured people’s connections with fellow human beings.

Robertson added that the timing of the movie’s release at the beginning of a presidential election year, though not by design, has proved fortuitous. “If Bishop Michael’s message of unselfish love was important when he talked about it at the royal wedding, how much more so as we go into what could potentially be such an incredibly divisive year for many?”

Ide said the project talks had been gaining momentum in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. He and the rest of the filmmakers turned their focus for the rest of the year to helping their parish, All Saints’, transition to online and hybrid worship offerings.

By early 2021, they were eager to get back to “A Case for Love” and began traveling the country for interviews and to ask hundreds of people what they thought about the power of unselfish love.

The filmmakers also interviewed Curry on camera.

“We were made for each other, and I believe we were also made for the God who made us,” Curry says in the movie’s trailer. “And that’s the ultimate community: all of us together and the God who made us.”

Though “A Case for Love” isn’t a profile of Curry, Ide was grateful to the presiding bishop for providing “the spiritual heartbeat” of the film.

Ide also said the goal all along was to produce a high-quality documentary that could find a place alongside big movie releases. He declined to specify the film’s budget but said it was funded entirely by donations from all over the country, from nonprofit foundations and Episcopal churches with large endowments to individual gifts as little as $25.

Now, Grace-Based Films is seeking as broad an audience as possible for the movie. “It was always built with the hope that this could compete with any film that’s coming out from Hollywood,” Ide said.

The opportunity for a one-day theatrical premiere materialized in early 2023 when representatives from the entertainment distribution company Fathom Events approached the filmmakers after a preview screening in Los Angeles. Much of Fathom Events’ business model involves booking theaters on weeknights, when there may be less competition from big-budget productions and when theater owners are more open to creative ways to fill seats.

With Fathom Events able to get “A Case for Love” into theaters across the country, it’s up to Grace-Based Films to drive turnout on Jan. 23. That grassroots push started within the church, with outreach to individual Episcopal congregations as well as churchwide organizations like the Union of Black Episcopalians, Ide said.

He also is working with the church’s ecumenical partners, such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to promote the screenings, and he is partnering with secular groups that have been receptive to some of the film’s stories. Study guides are available for congregations and other groups interested in organizing discussions of the movie.

Those interested in seeing the movie can visit its page on the Fathom Events website to find the closest screening and buy tickets. A big opening night “really then opens the door” to getting the movie on streaming platforms, even those that normally might be reluctant to back a movie with a spiritual message, Ide said.

“It’s a humongous opportunity,” he said. “I think it’s a huge opportunity for The Episcopal Church to be the place that this kind of content and these kinds of dialogue and questions can happen.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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