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Kickstart Fight Church
Paul Burress, a pastor and fighter, preaching to his church in Rochester, NY.
Kickstart Fight Church
John Renken, a former professional fighter and pastor, coaches one of his Christian fighters from outside the cage.

Kickstart Fight Church

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Daniel Junge is a filmmaker whose work includes the Oscar-winner “Saving Face,” Oscar-nominee “The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner,” Emmy-nominated “They Killed Sister Dorothy,” Toronto-premiere (and Sundance Documentary Fund recipient) “Iron Ladies of Liberia,” and Tribeca award-winner “Chiefs.” He is currently using Kickstarter to raise funds for his new film “Fight Church.” Click here to help the film reach its goal.

I've been very fortunate to get my previous films funded through a variety of angles—through ITVS's Open Call, through broadcasters like HBO, through Sundance Documentary Fund and other grants, and through tried and true method of hitting up everyone I know for spare change.

For my most recent project, with co-director Bryan Storkel (Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians), we're going the Kickstarter route. It's been an education.

First of all, I'm very impressed by Kickstarter and have fellow filmmakers who have used it very successfully. Some people think it's over-saturated now, especially for documentaries, yet there continue to be success stories there. But I've learned some projects are more viable than others.

For those projects which tug at the heart strings of a very specific audience, it seems to be a very effective tool. Our film, however, is a little different story. FIGHT CHURCH is about confluence of Christianity and mixed martial arts (including Ultimate Fighting).  It's about churches that espouse MMA and about fighters who are devout Christians.

Obviously this cross section is controversial, and the question our film poses is asked very directly by one of our subjects: "Can you love your neighbor as yourself while kneeing him in the face?" 

I myself had skepticism about Christian MMA, but when you hang out with a guy like Pastor Paul Burress you can't help but be impressed with his devotion and earnestness. One thing you can say emphatically and without question is that nowhere in the Bible does it outlaw Mixed Martial Arts. Therefore religion is such that everyone has their own interpretation—sometimes a very passionate interpretation of whether or not it encompasses their lifestyle. The people who inhabit this lifestyle, fight, and are devout Christians believe that there are no contradictions there. 

I have made a number of films that have faith implications including the murder of a Catholic nun in Brazil (They Killed Sister Dorothy, narrated by Martin Sheen), and I just did a film on acid violence in the Muslim world (Saving Face). In general, when I make these films I immerse myself in them, but they don’t profoundly impact my outlook on the world.

We are not intending to be overtly critical of this sub-culture, nor are we intending to support it. Rather, we're giving these passionate people a voice and allowing viewers to come up with their own conclusions. I think the best documentaries come from this "middle way." 

But what we've discovered is that this editorial approach is not necessarily what sells when crowd-funding. We're as happy to get contributions from devout Christians and hardcore MMA fans as we are to take money from people who are unabashed critics of one or both of these cultures. But we don't want to skew our film, or our fundraising, to appeal to either of these very dedicated audiences. This leaves us to fish for money from lovers of documentary film—and this is the audience I feel has already "tapped out" (pun intended) on Kickstarter.

We're doing OK and with a last big push I think we'll make our goal. But it's been an education, and I hope other filmmakers who are considering this route will consider their film's editorial viewpoint (or lack thereof) and how that affects their ability to get dedicated audiences to fork out money early on.

We are currently 50% of the way to our goal and have raised over $15,000. We have just 5 days to go. If you are intrigued by this project and would like to see it finished, you can visit our Kickstarter page to help out. Thank you.