Brent McCorkle was researching another project when he came across a Time magazine from June 1971 with a “psychedelic Jesus” on the cover.
The arresting image and accompanying feature story on Christianity among free-spirited hippies shifted the Arlington native’s filmmaking focus toward what became Jesus Revolution, a faith-based period drama that opens in theaters this week.
“I found some beautiful stories of love and including others,” McCorkle said. “There were massive cultural wars and hatred to go around on both sides. In the middle of that, we found this loving narrative.”
It marks McCorkle’s fifth collaboration with Andrew and Jon Erwin, the sibling team behind I Can Only Imagine and the Kurt Warner biopic American Underdog. In this case, McCorkle (Unconditional) — known mostly for his writing and musical contributions — is a co-director alongside Jon Erwin.
The film takes place in California during the height of the peace-and-love movement in the late 1960s, when the pastor (Kelsey Grammer) of a struggling church welcomes a charismatic hippie preacher (Jonathan Roumie), much to the chagrin of his more traditional congregation. At the same time, a teenager (Joel Courtney) tries to find his faith amid the cultural shifts among Christians.
The project, which was in development for about seven years, was filmed primarily along the Alabama coast, with some sequences shot in southern California. Re-creating the fashions and attitudes of the period was a fun challenge for the filmmakers.
“Everything was researched, down to what nicotine does to wallpaper,” McCorkle said. “We didn’t have a super-big budget. The cameras, the lenses, how it was photographed, made it feel very authentic to the period.”
McCorkle was raised in Arlington, where his father was a pastor and where he eventually met his wife, Kim. The couple now lives on a farm in Nashville with their five children.
“I was raised in the church my whole life,” he said. “That’s where I grew up doing music and dramas.”
But it wasn’t until his late 20s when McCorkle decided to enroll in film school at SMU, where he discovered a new passion and career path.
“I’m a college dropout, but the stuff I learned there set me on a path of wanting to continue to learn and grow,” McCorkle said. “They thought me how to theorize about film.”
He hopes that his movies can inspire and bring people together regardless of spiritual or ideological preferences, which is the primary message of Jesus Revolution.
“We had a wonderful collaboration,” McCorkle said. “We wound up with this time of love and inclusion, where a completely disparate group of people who would never be welcomed in the church found the true meaning of the word sanctuary.”