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Sean Astin, ‘Woodlawn’ creators share heart for impacting culture

Actor Sean Astin (“Rudy,” “Lord of the Rings”) spoke to Liberty University students during Convocation on Monday.

Film is one of the most influential mediums in today’s culture. During Monday’s Convocation at Liberty University, students got to see a familiar face from the silver screen as Sean Astin — of “Rudy,” “The Goonies,” and “Lord of the Rings” fame — shared some life wisdom before joining colleagues from his upcoming film, “Woodlawn,” for a Q & A.

An introductory video featured clips from Astin’s career, delighting the audience and inciting cheers as the renowned actor took the stage.

Though he is a “proud Christian,” Astin confessed that he had long been judgmental of evangelical culture because he did not feel that it has made the Gospel relevant to modern culture, life, and politics. Astin said that when he saw the way the student body received Bernie Sanders last week — whose views were profoundly different from many on campus — he was blown away.

“You embraced him with love and that was a clinic to the world for what it means to represent a peace-loving God,” Astin said.

He then shared life wisdom that he gleaned from his father, John Astin, known for his leading role in “The Adams Family” television series. One anecdote the younger Astin has taken to heart from his father is “monkey see, monkey do.”

Astin allowed the crowed to be baffled for a moment before explaining, “People will listen to what you say. Words matter. But more important than those words are actions. People will learn from you; people will follow you; people will embrace the ideas that are important to you if you lead by example that is worthy of their support.”

He reminded the students how critical it is to grow in wisdom, especially at a time in their lives when learning is encouraged rather than discouraged, as it too often is in modern society.

“Your minds are being sharpened now. You are developing and growing,” he said. “It is just incredible how much life and learning and knowledge (you are gaining). I hope you don’t stop when you get out of college; I hope you keep that quest for understanding going.”

Astin challenged the students to model their lives after Jesus, noting that if they do, the results will transform society.

His own faith, he explained, is shaped by “Christ’s message of peace, love, and forgiveness — those three things will save the world.”

David Nasser (left), Liberty University’s senior vice president for spiritual development, moderates a Convocation Q & A with talent from the movie “Woodlawn,” including actor Sean Astin, actor Caleb Castille, writer/director Jon Erwin, and producer Kevin Downes.

David Nasser, Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, then moderated a “Woodlawn” Q & A panel with Astin, who starred in the film, along with Jon Erwin, writer/director; Kevin Downes, producer; and Caleb Castille, actor.

Erwin, who shared directing credit with his brother, Andrew, said that creating quality content to share the Gospel in a relevant way is what drives his career. (Astin starred in the brothers’ previous film, “Mom’s Night Out,” which included several Liberty cinematic arts students behind the scenes.)

“It is time to put the Gospel on a bigger stage,” he said. “Liberty models that. This place, you guys are on fire. It is unbelievable, the excellence, the scale of what is going on at Liberty University; it is amazing.”

It is because of places like Liberty, where Christians are encouraged to engage in culture, that Erwin said faith-based films are poised to thrive.

“We believe in you. We believe God is going to do something in this time, in this generation, through you that is going to be unprecedented. We believe there is another Jesus Revolution coming.”

Downes (an actor/producer known for “Courageous” and “Mom’s Night Out”) added that because film is influential, it is important for Christians to have a voice in Hollywood. He told the students not to be shy when it comes to their passions: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” (Downes was a guest panelist at Liberty’s recent film festival.)

Issues like racism, which “Woodlawn,” a true story set in segregation-era Alabama addresses, resonate with many people, according to Downes, and Christians have an opportunity to share the love of Christ, the truth of the Word, and hope of the Gospel when meaningful films with Christian messages are in theaters.

But before those conversations can happen, personal transformation must happen, even in a Christian’s life. Castille shared a bit of his personal journey, which, in spite of athletic success (he won two national football championships with the University of Alabama) was empty as he tried to look for fulfillment outside his faith.

“I was so lost in the world that I didn’t have a vision for what God really wanted me to do,” said Castille, who plays the film’s main character. As he turned his life to Christ, he found direction and meaning. “God gave me a vision for my life … I wanted to impact people, I wanted to (embody) those characteristics of Jesus, love, peace, and forgiveness.”

Students were shown clips from the film, which opens in theaters Oct. 16, including a never-before-seen video with Christian Hollywood producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey — who have visited Liberty before — sharing their excitement about the film.

It was also announced that Castille will return to Liberty for the movie’s opening weekend.

“Woodlawn,” is based on a true story set in 1973 Alabama. In the film, a racially divided high school football team encounters the transformative power of God’s love. Liberty had 10 students from its cinematic arts department serve as interns on the set.

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