Fatherhood will be at the forefront when Sherwood Pictures releases its fourth inspirational Christian film, Courageous, on Friday to more than 1,100 theaters throughout the United States and Canada.
Sherwood's last production, Fireproof, was the No. 1 independent film at the box office in 2008.
The Rev. Luis Leon, pastor of Jesus Cares Ministry in Hernando County, says fatherhood is a subject that needs attention and discussion. He and several other area pastors will take groups from their churches to see the film at the Beacon Stadium Cinemas on Cortez Boulevard next weekend.
"I plan on using the film to motivate our parents, especially the men, to get involved with their children," Leon said.
Courageous is a story about four law enforcement officers and their friend, Javier, who come together after a tragedy to wrestle with their hopes, fears and faith.
"As law enforcement officers," says a news release, "Adam Mitchell, Nathan Hayes and their partners are confident and focused. They willingly stand up to the worst the streets have to offer. Yet at the end of the day, they face a challenge that none of them are truly prepared to tackle: fatherhood."
The film is rated PG-13 for violence and drug content. There is no foul language.
Leon previewed the film this summer in Tampa.
"I literally cried from the minute the movie started until it finished," he said. "It touches just about every area a man could struggle with in his relations with his children."
Fatherless homes produce 85 percent of all youth in prisons, 90 percent of all homeless and runaway children, and 63 percent of youth suicides, according to statistics on the movie's website, courageousthemovie.com,
Leon, who has a heart for men's ministry, including prison ministry and a group called Mighty Men that he leads on Thursday evenings, said the film addresses these issues.
"It shows the reality of a man wanting to be a man and not knowing how, the reality of the frustrations of men who want to be good dads but don't understand the influence or the power that they have and the damage that can be done in the family when the father is not there," he said.
Robert Amaya, 34, of Miami, plays the role of Javier Martinez. He and Angelita Nelson, who plays his wife, are the only two actors who live in Florida.
Amaya, a husband and the father of a young daughter, said the role he plays reminds him of his own father.
"My dad was an immigrant in this country who married and had two kids — myself and my younger sister," Amaya said. "He had to struggle really hard to learn the language and worked really hard to maintain a job while still being an awesome dad and a great husband.
"My dad's always been a hero in my life, and to do this film and play this role, for me it felt like I was able to honor him even further by experiencing his life."
Amaya also prayed over his role and said the writers and producers at Sherwood ask all of the actors to pray throughout the filming process. Their emphasis was for fathers who see the film to realize how important their roles are.
"For those of us that have the blessing of being believers, we believe fatherhood is a calling from God," Amaya said. "We're hoping that fathers walk away inspired to raise the standard in their home — that they will be stronger men, better husbands and, ultimately, better fathers."
While the theme of the film is fatherhood, there is inspiration for wives as well.
Amaya's wife in the film has the same name as his own mother, Carmen. That helped him relate to his parents' relationship, he said, particularly one scene in which Javier puts on a new suit and says, sheepishly, that it makes him feel like a rich man.
"You are a rich man," Carmen responds. "You have a strong faith, children that love you and a wife that adores you."
Words such as that from a man's wife are important, Amaya said.
"We do display some really strong women in this film," he said.
"We show how important it is for a man to have that strong support."
As with Sherwood's previous three films, Courageous has drama that Leon says will have audiences on the edge of their seats, as well as some humorous moments that he said will have viewers laughing hysterically.
A particularly humorous scene was one Amaya's favorites to play.
"My new friends, Adam and Shane, had invited me to go out to lunch with them," he said. "They had to take somebody to jail. So that entire time, I have to pretend to be a criminal myself in the back seat of the patrol car. It's really funny."
Although his previous acting experience has been on the stage, Amaya said he has been a big fan of Sherwood films for a long time.
"This film is really, really entertaining" he said. "It never backs away from the fact that it's a faith-based film, but it is full of action, full of laughter, full of drama. I can't imagine people not loving this film."
He also thinks it is Alex Kendrick's best acting work to date. Kendrick, who co-wrote the film with his brother, Stephen, and also directs it, plays Adam Mitchell.
"If I could give him an Oscar for this, I would," Amaya said. "I think he's phenomenal."
Leon thinks the film will have a strong influence on people who see it.
"I see this movie as so impacting that it can literally bring an awakening to the family," he said, "and especially to men."