March 9th, 2012
05:00 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
Raw, gritty, with some foul language - not the typical description of a Christian film. Yet that’s how some are describing the upcoming movie “Blue Like Jazz.”
The film, based on a bestselling coming-of-age Christian memoir of the same name, is scheduled to premiere Saturday at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
“Blue Like Jazz” follows a pious, 19-year-old sophomore at a Texas college who decides to flee his conservative religious upbringing by transferring to one of the most liberal college campuses in America.
The movie is rated PG-13 because of mature themes, and some references to sexuality, drugs and alcohol.
“It’s a little more gritty than a lot of films, and certainly any Christian film,” says Donald Miller, the author of “Blue Like Jazz.” “It’s more raw and real life.”
The film, which almost didn’t get made due to lack of funding, opens April 13 in theaters nationwide. The movie’s financing fell through at one point but was saved after Miller posted an online appeal.
Miller says the “Blue Like Jazz” film is a hybrid in that it will appeal to a Christian and a secular audience.
“We hope that there’s an enormous demographic of people of faith, and people who have walked away from their faith, who will find themselves somewhere in this story,” he says.
Miller has already reached such an audience with his 2003 memoir. The book is a collection of introspective and irreverent essays where Miller writes about everything from questioning his faith to growing up without a father.
The memoir appealed to multiple audiences: evangelicals, progressives and “spiritual but not religious” folks who don’t easily fit into any category. It spent 43 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, tallying at least 1.5 million copies sold.
Miller still sounds stunned at his book’s success.
“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” he says when asked why his memoir has proved so popular. “It’s just one of those rare things. I didn’t expect it to take off. I wasn’t trying to make it take off. I was just really honest about telling this aspect of my life, and other people were able to find themselves in it.”
Steve Taylor, the director of “Blue Like Jazz,” says he tweaked Miller’s book for the movie. The movie’s main character is younger, lives on campus, and comes from a fundamentalist church.
Taylor says he didn’t want to make a preachy film. Some of his favorite Christian films are “Tender Mercies,” “Of Gods and Men” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”
He sighed when describing watching some Christian films.
“It’s a genre that can preach to the choir,” Taylor says. “If you didn’t know that world, it would feel like you’ve gone into one of those foreign movies where you not only need subtitles, but CliffsNotes.”
Miller says that he’s embarking on a 35-city bus tour starting March 1 to promote the film. Though his book has gone Hollywood, Miller says his life is far from glamorous.
When he was called to talk about his film, he was in the process of moving furniture out of his house, which he sold to help finance the filming of “Blue Like Jazz.”
“I’m in a sweat shirt and tennis shoes, and I didn’t hire movers,” he says. “I’m moving in the opposite direction of Hollywood.”
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.