“The Jesus Music,” a new documentary illustrating the rise of the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) genre, hits theaters October 1.
The documentary features interviews with a wide variety of CCM artists, new and old, including Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Lauren Daigle, TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, Bart Millard and Bill Gaither.
The film tells the story of the CCM from its beginnings as a music closely associated with the “Jesus movement” of the late 60s and 70s, until its transformation into an industry.
Smith and Grant are also executive producers of the project, which is directed by Jon and Andy Erwin, known for the films “Woodlawn”, “I Can Only Imagine” and “I Still Believe”.
“I don’t think you would be able to remake that story because COVID has created an environment where all of the artists’ tours have been stopped, all of our movies have been put on hold and we’ve had this moment to capture and tell this story that doesn’t had never been said before,” Jon Erwin said in an interview with Baptist Press.
Filming began in early 2020 when things started to stall due to the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the Erwins’ film projects were put on hold and told that it was only possible to film content with a production team of 10 people or less.
These restrictions caused the brothers to turn to a documentary project, but that doesn’t mean it was any easier to film than some of their previous biopics.
“These films depict events, but in this film, and why documentaries are actually more difficult to do is that you find out about the story,” Jon Erwin said. “It was a process of discovery, and I never felt more like a detective than our work in putting this story together.”
In addition to documenting the impact of iconic artists such as Grant, Michael W. Smith, Kirk Franklin and DC Talk, the film also touches on the struggles and controversies that have surrounded some of the genre’s most popular artists.
Issues such as death, divorce, conflict and racial reconciliation are addressed in the film, which features interviews with the artists themselves.
Andy Erwin stated that the intention of the film is not to cause more controversy or to shame artists, but to understand the difficulties and challenges that come with notoriety.
“What we’ve told these artists from the start is that we’re not chasing after scandal; we are very interested in understanding wrestling,” he said. “Our desire was to include and explore these topics in a way that hopefully is honest and allows them to be human.”
Andy said the film gave them the opportunity to tell CCM’s story and anticipate what lies ahead.
“Our desire was to look back and honor the legacy of those who came before us, and then look forward to passing the baton to the new riders in this race,” he said.
Beyond the performers themselves, Andy is happy that audiences can see the project together in theaters after a long period in which corporate singing in church was sometimes limited or not an option.
“The timing on both sides of this project was really exciting,” he said. “After a period of not being able to come together and sing, we hope this will remind us of the power of music and the power of celebrating that music as a community.”
Jon Erwin said that despite the difficult 18-month season, he hopes the film will provide audiences with a much-needed “rush of hope”.
“The idea on display is that the best, most relevant, most inspiring and most promising art can come out of the deepest struggles,” he said. “Sometimes the hard things we go through in life are where we find our voice.
“We need a breath of hope, and I hope the public will be entertained and inspired. I hope it rekindles the dreams of the public. What an unlikely group of people (CCM artists), and yet they all have been used collectively to create this platform called Christian Music.
“I hope people see that God can use them just as well or more. … God can use you tremendously no matter what. As the scripture says, he uses the weak things of the world to confound the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Timothy Cockes is a Baptist Press staff writer.)