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Weinsteins put faith in film

Company forms Christian-based distribution label

The Weinstein Co. is getting into the Christian-film biz, forming a faith-based distribution label and inking a first-look production deal with Christian shingle Impact Entertainment.

TWC will finance, co-produce and distribute the theatrical pics under the multiyear Impact deal. It also will look to pact with other production companies to help fill the slate of the as-yet-unnamed label.

First two theatrical projects to go into development on the label are adaptation of books “The Penny,” by radio and TV host Joyce Meyer and Deborah Bedford, and “The Christmas Candle,” by Max Lucado, a preacher whose books include “Cure for the Common Life.”

Goal is eventually to release six theatrical titles per year, execs said.

An unspecified number of DVD projects will also be released through TWC homevid arm Genius Products.

“This is a rapidly emerging and important area in the entertainment industry, and this deal fits perfectly into our strategy of acquiring and producing films that target niche audiences,” said TWC’s Bob Weinstein.

Impact principals Tom Newman and Tom Winters will produce all titles that are part of the Impact deal. Pair were involved with release of sleeper Christian hit “One Night With the King” earlier this fall and have been fixtures in the Christian entertainment world.

Newman is known for producing pics such as faith-based doc “Hymns: Portrait of the Human Soul” and missionary-themed movie “End of the Spear.” Winters is a lit agent for many of the country’s top Christian authors.

“The Penny,” set to be published next year, follows the adventures of a girl in 1950s St. Louis who finds hope after discovering a penny, all set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement.

Novel “The Christmas Candle,” released in October, is a holiday tale set in 19th century England about a candlemaker who receives a visit from an angel.

First homevid release will be “Resurrection” this spring. Pic, based on a Lucado book, is described as “picking up where ‘The Passion’ left off.”

Some of the Genius titles will be movies that have already been produced and released on Christian homevid labels.

TWC will be hiring marketing staff to help reach Christian auds. Execs acknowledged that these titles, more than those on other genre labels, required creative marketing ideas, such as courting pastors not just ahead of release but before a project goes into production.

But they said that despite the faith-based focus, they hoped movies could cross over.

“We don’t want to limit the scope to a Christian-based audience,” said Shannon McIntosh, a Weinstein exec who helped bring the Impact deal to TWC.

Move continues the TWC pattern for pursuing niches.

The Weinsteins are distributing a slate of pics aimed at the African-American market and being developed by BET founder Robert Johnson, started a fund devoted to Latin American-themed projects and initiated the Dragon Dynasty label, which will center on Asian titles.

Christian label also helps increase access to the fertile family-friendly market; TWC has lately released or climbed aboard a number of animated and family-oriented pics and also strengthened ties with Wal-Mart, a key entry point for family-based homevid market.

While a renaissance in faith-based films did not immediately catch on after the success of “The Passion of the Christ” as some predicted, Christian-themed films have lately become an object of interest for mainstream Hollywood.

In addition to the homevid-oriented Fox Faith, former UTA agent Marty Bowen and Anonymous Content’s Adam Krentzman are among those who have begun to put together faith-based projects.

And this fall, Samuel Goldwyn’s faith-themed “Facing the Giants” and Gener8xion’s “One Night with the King” each earned at least $10 million at the box office.

More recently, New Line’s “The Nativity Story” earned a modest $8 million in its opening weekend.

TWC’s effort reps the most coordinated entry into the Christian theatrical market; 20th Century Fox label Fox Faith focuses on religious auds but so far has concentrated more heavily on homevid.