Last month, I spent some time at the Sundance Film Festival. In a recent post, I noted the difference between marketing films to Christians and the possibility of film as a transformative space in the life of a Christian. Instead of imagining Christians as a set audience whose worldview we don’t want to disturb, I wonder if we could use Christianity’s specific theological language to enliven our understanding of film. Could Christianity’s theological lens illuminate elements of film that other cultural perspectives miss?
Perhaps the best example of this possibility that I saw at Sundance came from watching the Justin Kelly film I am Michael.
Sitting beside my best friend, we tensed as policemen clubbed civil rights protesters. We teared up as Martin Luther King Jr. marched alongside James Bevel, as Coretta Scott King talked with Malcolm X, and as the leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee strained to relate to their elders. Selma was an experience: visceral, soulful, inspiring, and shocking.
A visual image that struck me was based in sound: microphone before King, organ pipes behind him.
2014 has been described as the year that Hollywood found faith. But if the first-ever panel on faith and film at the Sundance Film Festival is any indication, the discovery of theological depth is still quite a ways off.
Why does the moon seem so intent to cry, and yet it is your tears that give us dew? Why do the flags grasp silently at wind? Why does the sun refuse to let me stare, and yet it is your hand upon my face that burns? Why does my mother die without remembering my name, while she still sings in church? Why does the IV bag float like my prayer does in this emptiness? Where was it that I lost my way? Why do I see the cross in window panes, in two downed branches broken in the road, in shirts hung out to dry? Why does the mystery of faith sustain us when we keep on asking such questions? Why must we ask such questions?
Danielle Snyderman, a geriatrician, says it isn’t possible to work successfully with an elderly patient without knowing about that person’s relationship with his or her spouse. This awareness led her to start collecting stories about the love lives of the couples she was working with. These stories are “packed with humor, history, wisdom, and grace. Who wouldn’t feel better after bearing witness to love that has weathered child-rearing, war, poverty, financial success, and physical decline?” Couples have difficulty addressing one question: “How do you anticipate a time without each other?” (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14).