Christian filmmakers praise Walt, fault Disney Co

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 23 (Reuters) Hundreds of Christian filmmakers gathered in Texas to study entertainment pioneer Walt Disney and how they believe his corporate heirs at the Walt Disney Co went astray from his family-friendly legacy.

The Christian Filmmakers Academy, which trains aspiring filmmakers and promotes the making of films with ''biblical values,'' contends that the Walt Disney Co has became ''an engine of cultural decline after Walt's death'' that exercises an alarmingly vast global influence.

The two-day analysis of Disney, the man and the corporation, is part of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival and Third Annual Christian Filmmakers Academy.

Despite their admiration of Walt Disney, the focus on Disney the company reflects growing discomfort among some evangelical Christians with the content and reach of the company's entertainment products.

Disney's relationship with the US Christian community has been strained over the past decade over issues such as Disney policies considered friendly to gays, although Christian groups in 2005 halted a nine-year boycott of the company.

The Texas event gives a rare glimpse into the world of Christian entertainment and filmmakers who are trying to create alternatives to mass-market fare using as a model the founder of a company they have widely criticized.

''What we really see is a decline in the ethics and standards of where (Walt) Disney was coming from,'' Academy founder Doug Phillips said yesterday. ''We are making the case that there is a departure toward politically correct filmmaking that has a negative effect on family.'' Disney did not respond to requests for comment.

Over the years, evangelicals have been angered by what they described as Disney's gay friendly policies that included airing a ''coming out'' episode on the ABC television show ''Ellen'' and allowing gay and lesbian days at Disney parks.

The groups also objected to some films with graphic or anti-religious themes released by Disney's art-house film unit Miramax, including ''Priest,'' ''Dogma,'' and ''Pulp Fiction.'' The company has made big marketing pushes aimed at Christian consumers in recent years with the films ''The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'' and Mel Gibson's ''Apocalypto.'' ''I have no illusions that the Walt Disney Company is motivated out of love or even deference to Christians in America in their filmmaking decisions,'' Phillips said. ''They follow the dollar and they play different sides against each other.'' Budding filmmakers will study Walt's mastery of cutting-edge technology and classic storytelling and the ''19th century values'' -- monogamy, faithfulness, patriotism and virtue -- that infused his stories, Geoffrey Botkin, an Academy faculty member, said.

''Walt really was inventive in ways that were really valuable to the filmmakers we are training,'' Botkin said. ''Walt was not tied into the dominating filmmaking center in New York.

Our filmmakers want to be outside of Hollywood.'' Botkin said early Pixar films created by Walt devotee John Lasseter have ''an understanding of classic storytelling'' but he described Disney blockbusters like ''Pirates of the Caribbean'' as ''incoherent'' and ''not made for families.'' Reuters AK VP0420

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