Films without morals: Those you can see almost any week at the local cinemas.
This week, though, you can see films with morals at Lawrence's Showcase Cinemas during the Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival.
The free festival will include five feature films and four children's matinees from Palm Sunday, March 16, through Easter Sunday, March 23.
Lawrence native Tom Saab, a Methuen/Salisbury real estate agent and "foot soldier for Jesus," is bringing the festival back for its 16th year.
Former "Love Boat" Captain Gavin MacLeod will make an appearance at the festival, Saab said, along with New England Patriot Don Davis and comedian Joe Manno. Manno's children's film is featured in the festival.
"We are expecting it to be a big event, with Gavin MacLeod," said Saab, who lives in Salem, N.H. "He was on 'Fox and Friends.' They were interviewing him about the 'Love Boat' DVD and he plugged us."
Saab began the festival in 1993 at the now closed Salem Tri Cinemas. Attendance has been consistently over 10,000 since then, he said. He organizes this festival — and others like it across the country — to share the Gospel.
"The most important thing we can do is share the Gospel with people," Saab said. "It's a unique way of sharing it through motion pictures. A lot of people want to hear about Christianity and what the Bible says."
For the past eight years, Saab has held his festival at the Showcase Cinemas in Lawrence. This year's lineup includes the world premier of "The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry," starring MacLeod. The festival also will feature the New England premiere of "Pilgrim's Progress — Journey to Heaven."
Picking the films is never easy. Sometimes, Saab said, the films find him.
"I am becoming the 'Siskel and Ebert' of Christian films," Saab said. "I probably watch anywhere from 25 to 30 films, some multiple times. Then I pick and choose what is going to work."
Saab tries to bring in brand new films and some old favorites every year. He looks for films with good messages and good production values.
Donations are greatly appreciated to help defray the cost to bring this free film festival into the Merrimack Valley area. Send them to Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival, 25 Jackson St., Methuen, MA 01844.
About the films:
"The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry": This film premieres at this festival. Former "Love Boat" Captain Gavin MacLeod plays a kindly gentleman who befriends three boys and teaches them good values through the use of the Bible. Rated PG.
"Pilgrims Progress – Journey to Heaven": Scheduled for release in May, this New England premier is based on the 17th-Century book written by John Bunyon, about a man named Christian on his journey to the Celestial City. Rated PG.
"Facing the Giants": An inspirational football movie returns. Audiences stand and cheer for this movie about an underdog team and their quest for a championship. Rated PG.
"Another Perfect Stranger": In this sequel to the 2006 thought-provoking Christian film "The Perfect Stranger," Jesus takes a plane ride around the country with a college student and shares a wealth of information. Rated PG.
"Time Changer": Also staring MacLeod, this humorous time travel movie returns with a serious look at today's deteriorating society and moral values. Rated PG.
"All in One": Christian comedian Joe Manno plays six different characters in this film, for which he won an Emmy Award.
"Veggie Tales — The Wonderful Wizard of Has": The popular series uses a "Wizard of Oz"-like theme to tell the story of a prodigal son.
"The Eric Liddell Story": The life of the runner made famous in the film "Chariots of Fire" is explored in this film, including his work as a missionary in China.
"Veggie Tales — Gideon Tuba Warrior": This film tells the story of the biblical character Gideon in a way that only the Veggie Tales can.
For the complete movie schedule, to download a poster and for other information visit www.christianfilmfestival.org or call 978-686-4242.
If you go
What: Merrimack Valley Christian Film Festival
When: March 16-23
Where: Lawrence Showcase Cinemas, 1-6 Route 114
How: Admission is free