Archive for the ‘film’ tag
Parliament Trustee Robert Sellers discusses film as a means of reflecting on human drama occurring across the globe, and as a springboard for conversation regarding shared values and the role of Religions therein.
Every couple of years, I offer a course for both undergraduate and graduate students at my university entitled “Religion and Film.” This theology-prefix course, offered on the Friday nights and Saturday mornings of about half of the semester weekends, is identified by the following course description: “An exploration of the relationship of modern film and religion, particularly Christianity. The focus will be upon theological interpretations of the characters and plots of selected mainstream movies. Students will have an opportunity to explore how specific spiritual and ethical motifs are treated in film.”
Some may question why movies should be a source for theological reflection. There are several good reasons. First, the Divine doesn’t only confront us in sacred texts, so we are challenged to grapple with the Mystery and to “read the text” in all of life’s experiences. Second, the visual and audio, and, (now, even) 4D capabilities of contemporary films greatly enhance the impact that they can contribute to those who experience them. Third, many screenwriters, directors, and actors consciously determine to communicate profound insights through their work, yet many movie viewers assume that films do little more than entertain, which is a notion that should be challenged. And, finally, film is perhaps the most popular artistic medium today, and the largest demographic of moviegoers are young people—the very group that, regardless of their religious (or non-religious) background, might learn to appreciate the power that a good story has to shape one’s moral character.
The way in which I structure my class meetings enables students to watch 14 films during our sessions together, as well as to participate in small group presentations at the end of the semester. Seminar members write a theological reflection on each movie, focused upon a suggested theme such as life, identity, guilt, forgiveness, pain, coping, faith, hope, love, trust, redemption, transformation, acceptance, and interdependence.
Some students enter the course expecting to view overtly religious movies—Christian films, to be precise, since my university has Baptist roots and distinctiveness. But they suppose the course title “Religion and Film” really means “Religion in Film,” and thus we’ll be watching movies that serve an apologetic function, like The Passion of the Christ (2004) or God is Not Dead (2014), or at least films where some perceived Christian virtue is dramatized, as in Facing the Giants (2006). These young people may also believe the movies I select will unequivocally demonstrate the superiority of “our” faith by portraying the bad behavior of persons who aren’t Christ-followers.
Other students think that finding a theological meaning in a movie simply requires identifying the story element that is contrary to their own particular religious upbringing. Thus, they will write a paper decrying marriage unfaithfulness in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), greed in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), or sexual abuse in The Kite Runner (2007). But the theological meanings I want them to engage are more subtle and more gray than black or white. The Bridges of Madison County, for example, could yield a helpful discussion about choices, The Wolf of Wall Street about consequences, and The Kite Runner about redemption.
Such assumptions, however, are wrong and have nothing to do with my purpose or approach. What I want to do is to acquaint students with the human drama as it unfolds in many cultures and among people of different religious traditions. Thus, some of the films I select originate in countries other than the United States, while the values implicitly or explicitly expressed in the stories are grounded not only in Christianity, but in a variety of other religious traditions. Films of this type that I’ve used productively include In a Better World (Denmark, 2010), The Sea Inside (Spain, 2004), Rabbit-Proof Fence (Australia, 2002), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada, 2012), The Color of Paradise (Iran, 1999), Tsotsi (South Africa, 2005), Ajami (Israel, 2009), Innocent Voices (Mexico, 2005), and Five Minutes of Heaven (Ireland, 2009).
I’ve discovered that movies can also stimulate rich conversations concerning perspectives from the Religious Other and, especially, about ways to relate to persons who follow other faiths. One of the best entrees to such a discussion is the sweet story Stolen Summer (2002). Students are particularly interested discussing their idea of the themes in two cinematically gorgeous films by Ron Fricke, neither with a plot or dialogue, entitled Baraka (1992) and Samsara (2011). These visual and emotional “masterpieces” elicit multiple interpretations.
Based upon several years of successfully challenging very bright university students to think creatively about pop culture, I heartily recommend that films be used to initiate conversations about our shared values and virtues as people who practice various religions. They not only entertain hundreds of millions of people around the world—including a host of faithful adherents of our own spiritual traditions—but they are often reservoirs of helpful theological insight about the Divine, our fellow human beings, and the world which we all share.
Robert P. Sellers is professor of missions and theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and represents Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches, USA. He is a member of the Board of Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.
by Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix, Filmmakers, “The Light in Her Eyes”
In a courtyard off a busy street in Damascus, Syria, boisterous girls run and play before class starts in the women’s side of Al-Zahra mosque. Inside the mosque, preacher Houda al-Habash teaches the Qur’an, educating women and girls about their religion, and their rights, within their faith. Julia Meltzer lived in Damascus in 2005, and from the moment she first entered Al-Zahra mosque, she recognized what a unique place it was. Houda’s school was well-organized and energized—filled with women and girls supporting each other in their studies.
Most people don’t associate Islam with women’s rights, and that’s exactly what we found interesting about the Al-Zahra Mosque Qur’an School. Inside this community, we uncovered a lively debate about women’s roles as mothers, teachers, wives, workers, sisters and daughters. Houda insists that secular education is an integral part of worship, because it gives her students the tools to make decisions about their futures. However, the school also emphasizes the importance of modesty and piety. These women and girls are following “the straight path” of Islam, because they want to live according to its structure, rules and ethics.
Houda’s version of women’s rights doesn’t look like ours. We were raised in the West by feminist mothers, grew up attending marches for reproductive freedom and identify as third-wave feminists. But the deeper we dove into Houda’s community, the more we realized how much our guidelines for judging women’s liberation and autonomy were informed by the parameters of our culture and experiences. As filmmakers, we believe it’s our job to understand our subjects, and to tell truthful stories about their worlds.
This hopeful documentary gives voices and faces to 200 courageous Muslims and Christians – diverse young women and men – who unite successfully in Jos, central Nigeria.
Refusing to be enemies, they are together during days and evenings of the 2010 International Conference on Youth and Interfaith Communication.
They are tense yet excited to finally cross lines of religion, economics, tribe, and gender to transcend the status quo and discover empathy for each other’s personal life experiences.
Together they realize that “an enemy is one whose story we have not heard,” while listening-to-learn and thus dignifying themselves and the “others.”
Face to face and in small circles, they begin with ice-breakers and continue in depth to discover one another’s equal humanity – fear, grief, needs, hopes, and concrete plans for a shared future.
These determined young Nigerians illustrate how others worldwide can successfully connect and communicate to create authentic community.
from Huffington Post
The 2012 Sundance Film Festival began Jan. 19 and will continue until Jan. 29 in Park City, Utah. Sundance takes place annually in Utah and is the largest independent cinema festival in the United States. Religion and spirituality featured prominently at the Sundance Film Festival 2011, with 26 films exploring themes of ultimate meaning, bigger questions of life and the complicated role that religion plays in our world.
This year’s festival features at least nine films touching on the topic of religion and spirituality. While most of these films are set against a Christian background, “5 Broken Cameras,” directed by a Palestinian and Israeli duo, is a thought-provoking personal documentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Additionally, “Bestiaire” uses humans and beasts to explore the Hindu concept of darshan (an act of beholding the Divine).
From exposing the hypocrisy of the church to commenting on the sexual lives of rebellious religious teenagers to chronicling the hopeful story of Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, these films explore a variety of themes.HuffPost Religion has compiled a list of films highlighted at Sundance Film Festival 2012 that explore the topic of religion and spirituality. Enjoy!
Changing the Conversation: Tools for Talking About Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolence Efforts in Your Community
|Wednesday, January 11, 2012
10:00am U.S. Central Time
With negotiations stalled, what constructive nonviolent alternatives are Palestinian and Israeli civilians pursuing at the grassroots level to resolve the conflict and end the occupation? This webinar introduces a variety of online multimedia tools and documentary films Just Vision has developed to help communities learn about and connect with Palestinian and Israeli nonviolence leaders and peacebuilders. Recognizing that too often violence, extremism and diplomatic stalemate dominate the headlines on this issue, we will look at ways to shift the conversation from spoilers to solutions, and how our attention as a global audience factors into the growth and success of these efforts.
Ronit Avni is an award-winning filmmaker, human rights advocate and media strategist with an expertise in Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution efforts. Ms. Avni is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Vision, a non-profit organization that researches, documents and creates media about Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders in nonviolence and peace building. At Just Vision, she recently produced the documentary film Budrus and directed/produced the film Encounter Point.
Title: Changing the Conversation: Tools for Talking About Palestinian and Israeli Nonviolence Efforts in Your Community
Date: Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Time: 10:00 AM – 11:00 AM CDT
After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.
Required: Windows® 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server
Required: Mac OS® X 10.4.11 (Tiger®) or newer
Space is limited.
Reserve your Webinar seat now at:
This program airs throughout December and will be online after Dec 18.
FINDING COMMON GROUND: TODAY’S INTERFAITH MOVEMENT looks at how the interfaith movement has evolved over the years.
The program visits with Rev. Dirk Ficca, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. The Parliament hosts the world’s largest interreligious gathering, meeting every five years in a different part of the world. People of every faith are invited to share their religious identities, dialogue and voice their hopes and concerns for the future.
One of the most interesting things about the modern interfaith movement, according to Rev. Ficca, is that cooperation among people of different faiths is more mainstream than ever. He says, “For me, it’s when a local imam and rabbi and Catholic priest in Downers Grove meet every Thursday for lunch and talk about how to get their three communities to know each other, and somehow replicating that all over the United States, all over the world. That’s where I put my hope.”
We also hear from Dr. Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) based in Chicago, Ill. This nonprofit organization was founded in 2002, based on the idea that the most powerful common ground between all faith traditions is the inspiration to serve others. Dr. Patel and his organization are working with the youth of today as a means to thwart religious extremism and encourage interfaith understanding and leadership. “I think the world looks different,” Dr. Patel says, “if America’s college campuses become models of interfaith cooperation and graduate a critical mass of interfaith leaders.”
When the White House announced the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in March of this year, IFYC worked as an advisor and partnered to craft the nationwide program.
One of the schools participating in the President’s challenge is Albright College, a private liberal arts school in Reading, Penn. Rev. Paul Clark, the school’s chaplain, will be shepherding the project with a group of interfaith student leaders. He says, “If we can apply this kind of model of talking to one another, and then reaching out to the larger community, then something really important could happen here.”
Recently, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Reading, Penn. has the largest share of residents living in poverty per capita. In an effort to help the marginalized, the religious community of Reading has come together and worked in partnership to help alleviate the symptoms of poverty. We hear from Rabbi Brian I. Michelson, Rabbi of Reform Congregation Oheb Sholom; Elsayed [Steve] Elmarzouky, President of the Islamic Center of Reading, and Michael J. Kaucher, Executive Director of the Reading Berks Conference of Churches, about how working together to serve their community has reinforced their belief in the need for interreligious dialogue and cooperation at the local level.
John P. Blessington is the executive producer and Liz Kineke is the producer. FINDING COMMON GROUND is produced in cooperation with the National Council of Churches, Consortium of Roman Catholic organizations, the Islamic Society of North America, the Union of Reform Judaism and the New York Board of Rabbis.
by Celia Wren
from Commonweal Magazine
Painted stars splay across the ceiling of an old Greek church. A flower blooms in slow motion. Tree roots twine serenely round the rocks of an ancient ruin. The images in the nonfiction film Journey of the Universe are luminously beautiful—and so well meshed that their flow feels almost effortless. But a great deal of effort has gone into this hour-long work, which aims to knit modern scientific knowledge and religious and humanistic perspectives into a seamless, eye-opening chronicle of cosmic and earthly evolution.
Indeed, the genesis of Journey—airing on PBS stations beginning December 3 (check local listings)—stretches back more than three decades, to the publication in 1978 of an article titled “The New Story,” by Thomas Berry, the influential thinker who taught at Fordham University and directed the Riverdale Center of Religious Research. “The New Story” argued that humans were positioned between important narratives—namely, the scientific narrative about the unfolding of the universe and the creation stories offered by religious traditions. Might a new narrative be possible—one that integrates these worldviews?
Mary Evelyn Tucker and Brian Thomas Swimme, scholars who worked closely with Berry (he died in 2009), have responded to the challenge. The two have coauthored both the film Journey of the Universe and the companion book, published by Yale University Press. Tucker, who codirects the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, has also done yeoman’s work on Journey’s educational DVD, hosting twenty half-hour conversations with scientists, educators, and environmentalists, including Sr. Marya Grathwohl, OSF, of Earth Hope in Wyoming, and Sr. Paula Gonzalez, SC, of EarthConnection in Cincinnati.
It’s the affable Swimme—professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies—who hosts the film, speaking with enthusiasm about matters like the Big Bang (he prefers the term “The Great Flaring Forth”); the arrangement of the solar system (he illustrates it with vegetables, using a cabbage for the sun); the significance of plate tectonics; the advent of life on earth; the nature of photosynthesis; and the development of art and language among humans. The film even addresses the phenomenon of compassion, suggesting that it is a natural, if rather marvelous, part of human evolution—perhaps an extension of the maternal instinct (a shot of a koala and her baby helps illustrate this theory).
by Alisa Roadcup
from Amnesty International
Amnesty’s Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group member Alisa Roadcup was fortunate to sit down with Pamela Hogan, Director of Women, War & Peace, a bold new five-part PBS television series challenging the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain. The first part of the documentary airs Tuesday, October 11, on PBS.
1. Tell me about your initial idea for this project. Why “Women, War and Peace” and why now?
It’s hard to remember back that far! My partners Abigail Disney, Gini Reticker and I had a fateful lunch at which we realized we’d all been noticing the same trend in war reporting: a focus on the men and the guns, and a dearth of stories about the women and families who are disproportionately targeted in today’s conflict zones—but seldom covered in news reports. We’d all individually witnessed this blind spot in the coverage of conflict, and we agreed that the gap between what’s reported and what’s occurring on the ground was enormous. Women, War & Peacewas born!
2. Why do you think documentary film, specifically, can serve as a powerful medium to ignite social change?
Documentary film has the power to bring the work of individuals to life in a way that policy reports and court documents, and even the printed word, doesn’t have. One of the lead funders of Women, War & Peace said it so well: “We’ve been writing reports on these issues for years but in your films the women jump off the screen and people feel an emotional connection and really get the urgency.” Documentary storytelling is a visceral medium, and when the lights go up audiences often feel a call to action.
3. Tell me about a portrayal of women in war captured in “Women, War and Peace” that somehow plays against type or was unconventional.
So often women living in war zones are portrayed as victims. Big mistake.
In The War We Are Living, two Colombian women – Clemencia Carabali and Francia Marquez – brave constant death threats to prevent their communities from being forced off of the gold-rich lands their ancestors have lived on for generations. In Peace Unveiled, Afghan women are excluded from the international conference where President Karzai first suggests negotiating with the Taliban – so they crash the event anyway. InPray the Devil Back to Hell, ordinary Liberian women who are sick and tired of 14 years of war stand up to President Charles Taylor and the warlords. In I Came to Testify, sixteen women from a village in Bosnia take the witness stand in the first trial ever to focus exclusively on sexual violence in wartime – and the landmark judgment establishes wartime rape and sexual slavery as a crime against humanity.
All of these women are taking personal risks, risks that jeopardize not only themselves but also their children and extended families. All of them make me ask myself, could I summon the courage to make that choice if I were in their place? Given the stereotype that women targeted by war are victims; they most certainly break the mold. These women are revolutionaries!
4. As human rights activists, what can we do to spread the message that violence against women in conflict has to end?
What a great question. That is exactly what we are asking people to do: spread the message. I think human rights activists and advocates are crucial members of the Women, War & Peace audience. As broadcast journalists, one of our responsibilities is to investigate and uncover stories that may otherwise go unnoticed and to seek to give them a national and global platform through film and television and the web. The human rights activist community can broaden that platform, ensuring that the world hears these stories not only on their televisions and in their living rooms—not only on PBS—but also from the mouths of those working in the field and on the ground. One first step in ending violence against women is turning the world’s eye on this violence–growing the number of people who can bear witness to instances in which rape, attack, intimidation, and assassination of women is used as a deliberate tactic of war. The activist community can help us accomplish that.
from Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera’s Donata Hardenberg interviews filmmaker Raffaele Brunetti about his look at the cult of beauty in the era of globalization.
For centuries Hindu pilgrims have donated their hair in a ritual of purification. Today this hair has become a precious commodity and an extraordinary economic resource.
Hair India follows the journey of human hair from the holy temples of Southern India to the production lines of Europe and on to high class beauty salons around the world.
To watch a short documentary about the film and to read an interview with the filmmaker, click here
by Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn
from Huffington Post
“The best way to find your self is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi
What we seek from religion is a sense of meaning, purpose, belonging; a stronger connection to each other. This is what seva is and this is what seva does. When we speak of seva, we mean ego-less service in which we put ourselves to work in aid of the greater community. It answers all these needs in a profound way. Vikas Khanna and I began exploring seva in True Business, our first Holy Kitchens film about Sikhism. We were intending only to show how people shared food but quickly discovered that sharing food was just the beginning of seva. This work of quiet dignity allows its practitioners to directly benefit from the work they do in that they can see its effect in front of their eyes. Hungry people come and they are fed. The fear of starvation is removed from their lives. When you take away someone’s hunger, you make it possible for him to think about his existence on a higher spiritual plane. In the secular world we refer to this as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In a spiritual setting it is putting someone in reach of the divine. When you put a roof over someone’s head, provide access to clean water, give children medicine to keep them alive, this is seva. It is keeping the promise of the covenant that we are all our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.