Why National TO SAVE A LIFE Week matters to me….
When I first read the script for TO SAVE A LIFE and met with the screenwriter, Jim Britts, I questioned out loud to him. “I wonder how many teens will be able to relate to this story.” Jim, a youth pastor of 10 years, simply said, “You’d be surprised.”
When I watched the first cut of the film in the back of New Song’s youth room, nearly a year later, I thought to myself, “This is crazy. There are too many issues addressed. How many students really wrestle with this stuff?” As the closing song begin, one of the guys sitting by me turned with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m surprised how much that reminds me of my high school years.”
When I hosted my first screening for thirty or so leaders and teens, I looked around to see if anyone was ‘getting this’ and saw my 14 year old son, who had wanted to come with me to ‘see what dad’s working on now’, totally glued to the screen. We had a quiet drive home until he said, “There’s a kid in my school who cuts himself. No one talks to him and we all treat him like he’s just weird.” We talked for an hour about things I didn’t know I was supposed to talk with him about yet.
When I first hosted a screening for teens-only at a national youth conference in LA, I wondered if the hundreds of kids cramming into the room, standing shoulder to shoulder or sitting behind the screen, were there just because they we’re wanting to hang out with friends or see a free movie. It was when I saw the same teens dragging their friends back for the 2nd showing and then when the conference asked if we could do a 3rd showing and we had to set up another screen and the room wouldn’t hold the press of teens trying to get into the expanded room, even after they took the wall separators down that I thought to myself, “I guess Christian teens can relate.”
A few months later, my Film’s partner, Marc, and I climbed aboard a train leaving downtown Denver after showing the movie to 2 standing room only audiences of middle aged bookstore owners and he asked me, “That was encouraging, but will kids who don’t ‘get church’, ‘get this’?” I shrugged my shoulders as I noticed the black make up, black hair, and black clothing of two typical Goth teenagers in the same section of the train as us. “That’s a cool movie,” one of the girls said, pointing to my TO SAVE A LIFE t-shirt as we sat down.
Marc and I looked at each other with big eyes and he asked. “Have you seen the movie? How do you even know about it? It’s not even out yet.” As she shared about recently being forced by her Mom to attend a local youth group and how that group had taken a trip to see the movie at a conference in LA and how she thought that maybe ‘this church stuff might be good for her,’ I thought to myself, “I guess some teens might need this.”
As we opened in theaters, we continued to reach out to youth pastors, to pastors, to community leaders, and to anyone who would listen, I heard more and more heart wrenching stories of teens who had believed the lies and ended their lives and I heard more and more inspiring stories of teens who had seen the movie and were determined to be the difference for their generation and I thought to myself, “I wonder if this might become a big thing?”
After we came out of theaters and created a summer of youth group-only showings leading up to our DVD release and eventually a renewed focus for National TO SAVE A LIFE week in September, the stories continued to flood in, the Facebook fans and their comments continued to grow, the movie released in South Africa, Brazil, Korea, and the Middle East and theaters in Mexico, Germany, and France asked for the movie in their language, and new people were exposed to the film who’d never known the journey on which this story had been. A parent I spoke with asked me a pretty simple question after he rented the movie from Redbox for a dollar. “It was a really great film, but I wonder how many teens will be able to relate to this story?” I thought back over the last 26 months I had experienced and I simply said, “You’d be surprised.”