Lighting Candles

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that it's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. A band of Christians--priests from the Sacred Heart League--recently gave a wonderful demonstration of the wisdom of this advice. Instead of cursing the degradation of Hollywood films, these Christians lit a cinematic candle: They produced a wonderfully uplifting film called The Spitfire Grill. The movie tells the story of a woman named Percy Talbot who's just been paroled from prison after serving five years for manslaughter. Percy moves into a sleepy New England town appropriately named Gilead and finds a job at a local eatery called the Spitfire Grill. As she gets to know the townspeople, Percy begins to realize that she's not the only Gilead resident with a need for healing balm. Everybody seems a bit lost. There's a mysterious hermit living in the woods just outside of town. And Percy's boss at the Spitfire Grill, Hannah, seems determined to sell the grill and leave town. These characters and their stories serve as springboards to lessons about forgiveness and the possibility of rebirth, of second chances. They're lessons The Spitfire Grill manages to get across with subtlety--a point that secular film critics appreciate. As Carol McGraw of the Orange County Register put it: "the priests [who made this film] were . . . savvy enough to realize that a Bible-thumping script would sink a movie faster than Noah without an ark." These savvy priests are members of the Gregory Company, the filmmaking arm of the Sacred Heart League, whose members work with the poor in Mississippi. The Gregory Company's mission statement says their goal is to create high quality films that present the values of the Judeo-Christian tradition and persuasively move audiences to greater appreciation of these values. Of course, lighting cinematic candles isn't cheap. The priests raised six million dollars to make The Spitfire Grill. When the film was finished, the Gregory Company took it to the prestigious Sundance Festival, which showcases movies made outside of Hollywood. Festival viewers were so moved by The Spitfire Grill that they gave it the coveted Audience Award. The film opened to critical acclaim, and during its first weekend at the box office it grossed more than three and a half million dollars. The priests are using their share of the profits to build a school for poor children in Mississippi. The great success of this movie is just more evidence of what Christians have been saying for years: Americans really do want films with a strong moral message--and they'll pay good money to see films that give an alternative to nonstop sex and violence. That's why I can highly recommend The Spitfire Grill, despite the mature themes and occasional rough language that earned the film a PG-13 rating. Christians spend a lot of time complaining about the trash that comes out of Tinsel Town. The Spitfire Grill is an example of how we can move beyond criticism and boycotts and offer a positive alternative. As Spitfire director Lee David Zlotoff put it, "Why curse the darkness all the time? Why not light a candle? Why not make a movie we think people should see?" Why not indeed?  


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary