By Jacob Sahms
Producer Kevin Downes has two feature films based on true stories coming out in the next six months, the Kurt Warner biopic American Underdog and Unbreakable Boy, but in March 2020, the industry ground to a halt as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world. Downes’ film I Still Believe about Jeremy Camp was number one in America on March 13 only to find theaters closed on March 14. Kingdom Story Company, founded by Downes, the Erwin Brothers, and Tony Young, looked for stories, knowing that the way they told them would (at least temporarily) change.
“Josh Walsh, who produces for us, asked, ‘What if we do a documentary on the origin of contemporary Christian music?’” remembers Downes. “‘Why don’t we start with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, the king and queen of prom – see where it goes?’”
“They’re two of the most wonderful people. They’re the most selfless people in our space. It’s amazing how much they bear their soul, and want to talk about their history and where they came from, their trials, their victories, and it just grew from there.”
Over a hundred Contemporary Christian Music artists provided the team with three hundred hours of interviews. The resulting documentary tells a story from the 1970s through the present day, thanks to Jon and Andy Erwins’ ability to tell stories and edit the material together. “I’m not a doc connoisseur, but the Erwins put a compelling story together,” the producer explains. “I love CCM so as a fan I love it but even if you’re not a fan, it’s interesting to see what they’ve gone through!”
Over time as music video producers, and then directors of music biopics I Can Only Imagine and I Still Believe, the Erwins had developed relationships with the musicians that moviegoers will see on the screen during The Jesus Music. People like Lecrae and for King & Country join members of Stryper and DC Talk in sharing their stories, providing viewpoints from the origin of CCM to the way that the music currently provides platforms for artists to speak to contemporary issues, like a call for unity in America.
“I love the unification theme, and it was a repetitive beat that kept coming up in the interviews,” Downes reveals. “Kirk Franklin’s story was so compelling that the first time I watched the footage, I cried.”
“Maybe it’s because I have a son adopted from Haiti, but there were some things I could relate to. Kirk’s willingness to not give up, or the fact that conversations were hard and people were mean. He didn’t give up and that’s inspiring. Coming out of the pandemic, there are people, churches, and families that are hurting. Pastors are sharing with me that the documentary message is one they want to share with their churches, because they say, ‘the musicians didn’t give up and we shouldn’t give up either.’”
“The film is a great tool to encourage the community and the body of believers. It’s a chance to come back to theaters for something inspirational. I think the lifespan of this is going to be extraordinary. Part of why I want to make movies is to leave a legacy that far outlives me. This is one that will last a long time.”