Hollywood Banks On The Bible

Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, and Oscar Isaac as Joseph
Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, and Oscar Isaac as Joseph in New Line Cinema's The Nativity Story - 2006
New Line Cinema

It was a Vatican first: Thousands of the faithful gathered not for an audience with the pope, but for the premiere of a movie called "The Nativity Story, CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric reports.

The film depicts Mary and Joseph's arduous journey to Bethlehem.

"This little girl, after she saw the movie, she said 'Mary speaks!' She always thought of her as a little statue, and not a human," says Catherine Hardwicke, the movie's director.

Screenwriter Mike Rich says there was a time when getting the green light for the film would have been a miracle.

What changed?

"Well, I think 'Passion of the Christ' changed the landscape a little bit. The phenomenal success of that film opened the door," Rich says.

Mel Gibson's 2004 blockbuster, "The Passion of the Christ," earned a staggering $1 billion in box office and DVD sales. Since then, Hollywood studios have been saying, "lights, camera, Alleluia!"

"God is enjoying a renaissance in Hollywood," says Steven Feldstein with Fox Faith, a new division of 20th Century Fox devoted entirely to faith-based filmmaking. But he admits that Fox Faith is more about the bottom line than belief.

"It's a significant market," Feldstein says. "We as a studio, we're in the business of entertainment. It's not our business to preach or proselytize."

But 2,300 miles from Hollywood, at the Sherwood Baptist Church in southern Georgia, they've moved the sermon to the screen. Baptist Minister Alex Kendrick directed and starred in "Facing the Giants," about a Christian high school football coach's struggles on and off the field.

It was made for $100,000 and has grossed almost $10 million.

"There is a large part of America that shares our faith and values, and that longs to see something that they can take their kids to — that they believe in," Kendrick says.

But what if you don't believe? That was Chicago Mayor Richard Daly's concern last week when he banned ads for "The Nativity Story" from the city's annual Christmas festival.

"I think you run that risk if you isolate yourself in your approach to either one faith or just the faith-based audience," Rich says. "I think there is a place for these stories, stories about faith, inspiration stories, spirit of the heart, I think there's going to be a place for those for quite some time."

"The Nativity Story" grossed $8 million over the weekend, but its creators hope it will resonate even more at the day it depicts approaches.