Academics

God’s Compass

By Drew Menard, May 31, 2016

Early success puts wind in the sails of Liberty’s latest cinematic release

Before the Cinematic Arts, Zaki Gordon Center’s Class of 2016 crossed the graduation stage on May 14, their names had already rolled through the credits of a film featured on cable television and at a major film festival.

“God’s Compass,” the third feature film produced in cooperation with the Cinematic Arts Department at Liberty University, debuted on the TV One channel on Easter weekend; it will continue to air through June. TV One has a viewership of over 60 million households.

The film is gaining recognition in both mainstream and faith circles. It was awarded Best Screenplay by the International Christian Film Festival (ICFF) on April 30 and received 2016 ICFF nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Actor. “God’s Compass” opened the Bentonville Film Festival (BFF) in Arkansas on May 5. The festival, co-founded and hosted by Academy Award-winning actress Geena Davis, is a mainstream festival focused on women and diversity in filmmaking.

"God's Compass" movie poster.

And just in time for Mother’s Day, “God’s Compass” was given a wide DVD release on May 3 through Sony Pictures Studios and Provident Films. (It is being sold at Wal-Mart, Lifeway Christian Stores, Family Christian Stores, and other retailers.)

“God’s Compass” features familiar faces from recent faith-based and family films, including “War Room” stars Karen Abercrombie and T.C. Stallings; Erin Bethea from “Fireproof;” and Robert Amaya of “Courageous” and “Mom’s Night Out.” The movie tells the story of a recently retired high school principal (Abercrombie) who takes in a delinquent boy and discovers a miraculous connection that brings her and her son’s family together through healing and a renewed faith journey.

The film, made through the support of Working Title Agency (which funded and distributed the film), has received the Dove Family-Approved Seal and was endorsed by the American Family Association (AFA).

“The importance of Working Title Agency’s financial support holds value well beyond the investment in making a movie,” said Stephan Schultze, executive director of Liberty’s Cinematic Arts Department and writer/director of “God’s Compass.” “Liberty’s cinematic arts program is a leader in cinematic education by creating hands-on, real life experiences for students. The making of the movie created a lasting return in the lives of our students before it was even released.”

While this is just the program’s third film, its reception demonstrates that Liberty’s Cinematic Arts Department — now in its fifth year — is achieving its mission.

“No other film school in the country makes fully funded movies with its students,” Schultze said. “Liberty University’s cinema department is giving its students a tremendous gift.”

During the film production, each student works in two different areas, rotating positions halfway through filming. Not only do students gain valuable experience, they earn two Internet Movie Database (IMDb) credits for their résumés.

“If we can get our students to graduate, move through the ranks, and become the leadership of the industry because they are the best at what they do, we will have a global, lasting impact,” Schultze said. “That comes from creating excellence and demanding excellence. We set a very high bar, and it is high for a reason.”

Recent cinematic arts graduate Marvin Diaz helps stage a scene for “God’s Compass” at a health care facility in Lynchburg, Va.

Recent cinematic arts graduate Marvin Diaz (left) helps stage a scene for “God’s Compass” at a health care facility in Lynchburg, Va.

Marvin Diaz, a recent cinematic arts graduate, said his work on “God’s Compass” (as a grip and a production assistant) will greatly impact his career.

“I learned a vast amount about how the industry works while on set, the way teamwork plays a huge role in achieving the art, and how hard work will allow you to succeed,” he said. “I was afforded the opportunity to grow in a learning environment; it was the best type of classroom for what I want to do.”

Fellow graduate Sarah Gabert said her experience on the film (as a production sound mixer and in behind-the-scenes audio) has already led to job offers on film sets.

“I learned so much about production audio and how the sound department works,” she said. “I didn’t know that audio was something I was good at and something I actually enjoyed (until I worked on the set).”

Schultze said that to “earn an ear” from the world around them, students must strive for excellence in their art. And that is what he has been seeing.

“Students are working on something that is not just competing in the faith-based market — it is competing at the top of the faith-based market and in a secular festival, and it is only the third film we have done.”

The program’s first two productions, “77 Chances” and “Altar Egos,” were made in partnership with EchoLight Studios. Liberty just wrapped up filming its fourth project, the biopic “Extraordinary,” based on the life of Liberty professor and famed ultra-marathon runner Dr. David Horton. Kirk Cameron is among the film’s cast.


Rave Reviews

“‘God’s Compass’ portrays a kind of faith that seems out of reach to most of us and yet affirms its potential for all of us. Bold and brave in its story and its style, this is a film to applaud.”
Writer/director Randall Wallace (“Braveheart,” “Heaven is for Real”)

“It is a powerful, uplifting, heartfelt Christian film, meeting the highest Hollywood professional standards. No other film school in the world, Christian or secular, makes its own feature films. Liberty University has become the UCLA, USC, NYU, and Columbia University, combined, of Christian filmmaking.”
Screenwriter Dan Gordon (“The Hurricane,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Highway to Heaven”)

“The filmmakers achieve a perfect balance between emotion and action. “God’s Compass” offers an engaging cast of realistic characters who evoke sympathy without overdoing the emotional elements. Gripping plot lines are woven tightly together into a cohesive story that entertains and demonstrates how one family lives out their faith in the face of great challenges.”
Randall Murphree, American Family Association Journal editor

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