“We hunger for the building of solid Christian homes.” —Ken Carpenter
Many would like to see more solid Christian families in America, but Ken Carpenter is actually doing something about it. He has not only built a solid Christian family of his own, he also uses his filmmaking art to promote his vision.
Carpenter is founder, president, and director of two film production companies, Franklin Films and Franklin Springs Family Media, with an office in the historic village of Franklin, Tennessee, near Nashville, devoted to “providing families with God-honoring films.” He and his wife, Devon, with their eight children, live on a 20-acre homestead near the town.
“God has brought us on a pretty amazing journey, learning daily, and still learning, what God has for us in the family realm,” Carpenter said. “I think of the day we were married, 16 years ago: two intensely self-centered people getting married, never dreaming we would someday have eight children to love and care for.”
It is this life journey that drives and informs Carpenter’s art.
Profitable, at Last
Carpenter’s older company, Franklin Films, has produced a plethora of “client-driven projects” — concerts, documentaries, promotional pieces for various churches and ministries, etc. These are films custom-made for particular clients, and still make up the bulk of Carpenter’s work.
“We’re just breaking through to some profitability,” he said. “I’ve been in the filmmaking business, on my own, for 16 years; and it was very hand-to-mouth for a long time. Devon and I spent a lot of time on our knees, praying for money to put food on the table. But I have no other skills; there was never any other kind of work I wanted to do.”
Carpenter, 46, grew up in Detroit, Michigan, and attended a small evangelical college where he wasn’t allowed to go to the movies. “But I always had a desire to be involved in storytelling in some capacity,” he said.
Seventeen years ago he landed a job with a small Christian film company. He stayed there for a year before going into business for himself. His fortunes took a turn for the better as he learned to take advantage of newly available filmmaking technology.
“Just in the last five years,” he said, “the digital revolution has radically transformed the production of independent films. The costs are much, much lower, mostly thanks to desktop editing. And we have access to our target markets via the Internet. We can be talking to the very people we want to reach.
“You don’t need a big studio anymore to make movies. But just because almost anybody can make a film these days, doesn’t mean your films succeed.”
But Carpenter’s films have succeeded; hence the need for a new company, Franklin Springs Family Media.
“This is our company for doing more independent projects, more aligned with our personal convictions,” he said.
You can see descriptions of Family Media films, plus trailers, on the company’s website, www.franklinsprings.com.
A Journey Home won the Jubilee Award for Best Documentary at the 2005 San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival. It tells the story of Tommy Waller, his wife, and their 11 children, and his “journey from 80-hour work weeks to a remote community in rural Tennessee [and] to the other side of the world,” says the copy on the DVD case. The Wallers, wrote Carpenter on his Web page, “strip away all of the conveniences most of us equate with contentment and happiness, [to] possess a joy and contentment quite unlike the average American family.”
The Eden String Quartet tells the story of the Miller sisters, “from their family’s cattle ranch to their distinction as an outstanding stringed quartet,” and features a full-length concert, by the sisters, including classical works by Mozart, Bach, and others.
The Peasall Sisters: Family Harmony features a homeschooling family of six children who became famous when they recorded songs for the Hollywood feature film, Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?, whose soundtrack won a Grammy Award.
Rejuvenate with Serene and The Family Meal Table promote healthy food and eating, and the pleasures of the traditional family meal.
Currently in production, a documentary of the life of General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson is being filmed in High Definition (HD). If the stills displayed on the Web page are any indication, this film will be visually gorgeous.
In the not-too-distant future, Carpenter said, he hopes to build on the success of these films to take his work in another new direction.
“We want to branch out to dramatic productions,” he said. “Of course, the hardest thing about making a dramatic film is to find good writers.”
The Carpenters on National TV
The Carpenter family was recently the subject of an ABC-TV Nightline piece, “Be Fruitful and Multiply” (which can be viewed at http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/) — a film that tells us more about the elite media mindset than it does about the Carpenters.
What we see on the screen is healthy, happy, clean children, dressed in clean, presentable clothes, orderly without being repressed, living in a tidy, well-kept house with food on the table and a father who has time to play with them. Judging by the raised eyebrows and the incredulous tone of the interviewer, this kind of large, loving, father-directed family is viewed as at best exotic, at worst, abnormal.
“Considering the source, I don’t think they treated us too badly,” Carpenter said.
Part of Ken Carpenter’s vision is to pass his work on to his children, all of whom are homeschooled. His eldest son, Cole, 15, “is an active participant in most of our shoots,” he said. “He will follow me into the family business. We’re committed to the return of old-fashioned family entrepreneurship. Sure, it’s not the only way for a family to go — but we want to give it a chance to blossom.”
The oldest daughter, Peyton, 12, “is getting involved in the office work of the business — bookkeeping, and all that.” But what is Carpenter’s vision for his daughters?
“Our goal is to set forth the incredible nobility of the role of motherhood,” he said. “My wife, Devon, is my hero — always has been, always will be.
“In our popular culture, the mother’s role has been trampled on, demeaned, and disrespected. We’re trying to teach our daughters the opposite point of view. And that does get ridiculed. It does get set forth on a national news program as an anomaly.”
For girls to be taught to aspire to motherhood, he said, is “intentionally countercultural. We are purposely going against the prevailing media influence on our culture.
“But becoming a mother doesn’t mean a young woman’s education has to stop. Even mothers with many children can continue their education at home, on the Internet, online college courses, and the like.
“I am staunchly opposed to automatically sending daughters off to college as soon as they turn 18, just to see what happens. And that goes for sons, too. But strong, committed mothers are needed for Christian families, and our family considers it an important goal to raise up daughters who can be strong mothers.”
So the Carpenter family works consciously to fulfill a Christian vision, with Devon doing most of the homeschooling, cooking, and housekeeping, and Ken earning the money the family needs to live, leading the family in Bible study, and playing with the children.
“I think television killed America’s vision of the family,” he said. “Sitcoms show fathers as being absent, or buffoons. But there really is a kind of reformation going on in some parts of America’s Christian community — a movement to reclaim the way the family used to be.”
The Nightline piece referred to a “QuiverFull Movement” dedicated to the production of large Christian families. But it is not an organization with official members pursuing an agenda. There is a website, quiverfull.com, “dedicated to providing encouragement and practical help to those who are striving to raise a large and growing, godly family in today’s world.” To quote from an article on the site, “QuiverFull Response Letter,”
“We recognize that in our society today this is a very sensitive issue. How you plan your family is between you and God and we sit in judgment of no one in this area.”
“Of course we realize that having a large family is not for everyone,” Carpenter said. But he has chosen to live his own family life, and to make films, in direct opposition to what he describes as an ungodly worldview disseminated primarily by the entertainment industry.
“Too many people, even some who call themselves Christians, have the TV on all the time, like wallpaper,” he said. “I don’t think folks are counting the cost of allowing this media worldview into their homes.
“It’s a worldview of self-serving humanism. It preaches that the purpose of life is self-gratification and that the acquisition of material things is happiness. There’s no hint of God in it. What a landscape it is out there!”
If he can continue to make a profit on his documentary and promotional films, and if he can find talented Christian screenwriters, Ken Carpenter looks forward to the day when he can make dramatic films.
“I want to use my films to communicate truth that exists in real life,” he said. “I want to tell stories about heroic people doing triumphant things, empowered by faith — not ‘heroic’ in any kind of Hollywood sense, but ordinary people doing heroic things by faith.
“I think there’s something brewing in Hollywood, too, these days — all this talk and activity, and a growing awareness of Christians as a strong potential market. If Hollywood can make more Christian films, and if those films are done well, it would open doors for small Christian filmmakers like us.”
Meanwhile, not waiting for Hollywood to open doors for him, Carpenter pursues his own artistic vision.
“I am encouraged about the prospects for transforming our culture,” he said. “With all the new technological tools now available to young people, it does give me hope for the next generation. Young people, theologically sound, homeschooled — they might accomplish great things. I’m excited about where things could be headed for the next generation of filmmakers.”