Chris Dowling, co-writer and director of “Run the Race,” is not a fan of the faith-based film formula. If you look at the top faith-based films in the past decade, each seems to follow a similar story line: a protagonist, a crisis, a spiritual awakening, a renewed sense of hope and purpose [cue inspirational music] and a neat wrap-up of all the story’s loose ends. “But that’s not real life,” Chris Dowling said.
In an interview about the new faith film “Run the Race,” Dowling used the words “real” and “authentic” more than a dozen times. It’s no secret that he considers the film, co-produced with star athlete and Connect Faith 2019 keynote speaker Tim Tebow, unique from those other predictable faith films.
The movie follows two brothers—Zach and Dave—coping with the loss of their mother and the abandonment of their grieving father. Zach hopes that a football scholarship and Dave hopes that a track scholarship will be their ticket to a better life. Though Dave struggles with an ongoing illness, he has a deep faith in God and encourages Zach to attend church with him and forgive their father. Zach, however, is struggling with bitterness, unforgiveness and an injury that puts him at risk of losing his chances at a scholarship.
While the film does have a lighthearted and hopeful tone, not everything wraps up as neatly as you might expect. And that’s closer to authenticity, Dowling might say. Connect spoke with Dowling about how “Run the Race” stands out in its category and the effect it has already had on viewers.
How is “Run the Race” different from other faith-based films?
A lot of faith movies are what I call Christian porn. Everything works out perfectly in the end and everything is ideal. But that’s not how life works. I don’t want people to watch a movie like this and think that when you pray, everything should work out. We all have situations where praying for something doesn’t shake out the way we want it to. We wanted this film to feel like an authentic experience. People told us [after viewing the movie] they had a moment similar to Zach’s “conversion scene.” Where they hit the ground and said, “I don’t know what’s going on, God, but I’m broken and I need you. Help me.”
The film raises the age-old question: If God is good, then why do bad things happen to good people? Do you have an answer?
I’m not God—I don’t have all the answers. But, ultimately, I know that God can work good out of any situation. The characters in the film are discovering this. This morning, an old high school friend messaged me and said, “We just got home from the Mayo clinic. My daughter is having epileptic seizures and we’re trying to figure out why. We watched the movie and I had to get up multiple times because I was bawling my eyes out. But it made me realize how we can get through this.”
I don’t have all the answers to why bad things happen to good people, but I do know that God loves us and can work out all things for good. The Christian walk isn’t an easy walk, but we have someone walking with us.
How has this film affected people so far?
I was doing a radio interview and the DJ told me he was going back to see his father for the first time in 15 years, so he watched the movie. He bawled his eyes out all night and then decided that he and his father would watch the movie together.
I knew we had made a motivating film when people started telling me they had gone to see the movie multiple times. One guy told me he saw it eight times. A lot of parents have also told us that they’ve had great discussions with their kids afterward about different points the film brings up. Most faith films don’t translate well to the young adult audience, and our movie crushed it with high school kids and young adults.
What was your impression of Tim Tebow while working on this project?
In Hollywood, many people have a public persona and then when you’re with them privately, you realize it’s an act they’re putting on. Tim’s not that way at all. During a premiere, the directors and actors may disappear to hide in a room during the after-party. Tim was on the floor until the after-party shut down at 2 a.m. because everyone was trying to take pictures with him. He rotated around and did it. He’s always been very gracious. And his heart for special needs blows me away. I can’t speak any ill of that guy.
What do you want people to take away from the film?
I don’t see this as a message movie. I just want you to be a fly on the wall and watch the characters’ journeys and see how it relates to you. There’s no, “If you follow this, you get a, b and c.” Watch it, enjoy it and be moved.