It’s not often that a Christian film becomes a box office hit, but with War Room, the Kendrick Brothers made a movie about prayer that reached millions of people - churched and unchurched - around the world. Four years later, they’re back with Overcomer, the story of a high school basketball coach who suddenly loses his team, and is forced to question his place in the world.
Alex Kendrick stars as John Harrison, who loses his sense of purpose when his hometown's manufacturing plant shuts down, and hundreds of families move away. When the school’s principal asks him to fill in coaching cross country, John can't think of anything worse. ‘Cross country isn’t even a real sport!’ he says. ‘Why would anyone want to do this?’
Listen to the Alex Kendrick interview below
Alex, who also directed and co-wrote Overcomer, had finished a two mile run an hour before he spoke to Robbo and Becci on Vision’s Rise & Shine. But like his character, he’s not in it for love. ‘One of the reasons I do it is of course to keep my heart healthy and to keep my weight in check. But as far as running, do I enjoy it? Not really!’
In the film, only one student shows up for trials, and she has asthma. But as John discovers, ‘one runner matters’. Through mentoring her in the sport he hates, and she loves more than anything else, John starts to find himself again. ‘We think this issue of identity is crucial,’ Alex said, ‘especially in this day and time, when people need to know what should define them, and who they are.’
He thinks we’ll leave the cinema asking ourselves the same questions as their characters had to face. ‘We believe that the Creator gets to define his creation, and that our identity should be found in the one who made us. And so we want to inspire people with that message.’
When they started out, the Kendrick Brothers had volunteers from their Church making sandwiches and stepping in as extras. With the success of their previous movies, Overcomer has their biggest ever budget, enough to pay for camera cranes and drones to film the actors running through the woods.
But there’s one part of their work which no amount of money will change. Along with wardrobe and props, the set also featured a prayer department. ‘The cast and crew were in unity the whole time, praying together.’
Listen to the Shari Rigby interview below
Shari Rigby, who plays John’s wife in Overcomer, told Robbo and Becci she’ll never forget her first day on set. ‘We went into rehearsals, and I was working across from Alex. And before anything else happened, he looked at me and said, "I want you to know that God chose you for this role, that you are supposed to be here and tell this story".’
When she first came to Hollywood in 2009, Shari thought God had called her there to be a movie star. But in a class with a group of talented, well-known actors, she had a revelation. ‘I was sitting in the midst of them, and they just looked so broken. And I remember God speaking to my heart, and he said "you’re here for my broken women".’
That calling inspired her to build Women in My World, a mentoring service for women struggling in the movie industry. ‘We’re in a business that’s constantly saying you’re not enough. And that’s really really tough. And so I’ve been able to really be a part of their life, to share identity and purpose, and that God does have a plan for your life, and his timing is perfect.’
Shari has found her calling in mentoring others. But in her audition scene, she was moved by the self-sacrificing generosity of her own character, Amy. Even though Amy was frustrated by her husband’s behaviour, she also understood that he really needed her help.
‘She came back and realised that what he needed was his helpmate, and that he needed this humble spirit to come out and share with him what she actually thought of him, and encourage him. And I just thought "what a beautiful character".’
It felt like God had prepared her to play this character through the lessons she’s learned in her own 21 years of marriage. ‘And that’s what’s incredible to me about moviemaking, and especially when you’re on God’s time, because he’s like "I’m going to blow your mind with the story that I want you to tell".’
Shari thinks Overcomer is going to reach people of all ages and demographics. And for her, it’s just a small part of an explosion in Christian film-making. ‘He’s a God of creation,’ she said, ‘and I believe he’s taking back that creative side to tell more empowering stories.’
‘I believe he’s going to touch more peoples’ lives through moviemaking and television - through believers - than we could have ever imagined. And I’m so blown away that I get to be a part of it.’
Overcomer is rated 'PG' and in cinemas across Australia from August 22.