Faith film industry is small, but growing
While working on their first feature film Adam’s Testament, Toronto director-producers Rafael Kalamat and Jason Barbeck discovered a problem. "There were no venues for a film like ours in Canada," says Barbeck.
To have a setting where faith-based films could gain an audience, they felt they had to create their own. So Barbeck and Kalamat founded CIFF, the Canadian International Faith & Family Film Festival (www.CIFFlix.ca) as a division of Artists in Christian Testimony.
The festival’s first run in 2017 was remarkably successful, receiving 108 submissions from around the world. It attracted over a thousand attendees and live streamed on YouTube in 11 countries. CIFF’s mandate is to help young people struggling with their faith. "It’s a way to speak to younger adults and youth in the world who are not getting that message in the churches," says Kalamat.
Every film screened at the festival has a panel or Bible study afterward to create open conversations about faith. Often what was intended to be a brief discussion would become an hour-long dialogue within a mixed audience of secular and nonsecular people. "We don’t want to sugar coat what is actually happening in the world," says Kalamat. "We want people who are struggling to relate."
CIFF co-founders Jason Barbeck and Rafael Kalamat.
For both Kalamat and Barbeck, media provides endless opportunities to share the gospel. "As soon as you open up to the internet and media technology, you’re able to reach millions–instantly," says Barbeck.
This year, CIFF will take place at Innis College on the University of Toronto campus from Sept. 14–16. Its goal is to double the number of submissions and attendees from last year.
"We’re actually miles ahead," says Kalamat. For instance, last April they only received three or four submissions, while this April they received about 75. They are expecting submissions will come in even more rapidly as the deadline approaches at the end of July.
However, competing with the mainstream secular industry can prove challenging. "Finances are always difficult," says Kalamat. "The faith film industry is very small compared to what everybody else watches. We’re going up against Marvel and DC." And yet the duo sees the success of last year’s festival as a testament not only to the demand, but also God’s faithfulness. They hope CIFF will inspire Christian filmmakers to openly stand up for what they believe.
"Canadians are quiet about these things," says Barbeck. "They don’t want to share how they feel about a number of issues. We’re trying to encourage everyone to step forward and tell their stories of hope, redemption and faith."