A FAITH-BASED CINEMA?
Opus Zine links to this article by Barbara Nicolosi in Christianity Today in which the author discusses the advice she gives to young Christian artists who want to be “the next Mel Gibson.” The advice contained in the article, itself an adaptation of material from her book Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture, is not what you’d expect. She disses A Walk to Remember (“…a banal, predictable story with underdeveloped characters, pedestrian acting, and saccharine dialogue”), praises In the Bedroom (which “deals with the spiritual and psychological urgency of forgiveness”) and offers — after answering the Gibson wannabe’s — some creative advice that could be considered by artists of all stripes.
(Her answer to the guy who asked how he gets like Gibson: “”Give away everything that you have and are now doing so that you can throw yourself into mastering the cinematic art form. Get your act together spiritually, and then do everything you can to get into a top film school. Study philosophy and theology so that you have something real to say through your movies. Read lots of classic novels and write hundreds of pages so that you achieve command of the language as a creative tool. Get your moral act together so that you won’t get tripped up too easily in the whirl of the entertainment business. Then, come and follow us by moving to Los Angeles. And in ten or fifteen years, maybe you’ll see your name on the screen appended to a movie of lasting value.”)
On the struggle that self-identifying Christians have with the secular entertainment industry, Nicolosi, rather than pointing a finger at Hollywood, challenges the religious community to both invest the effort in mastering the craft of screen storytelling but also to re-examine what a faith-based cinema would look like:
The reason that so many screen projects from Christians fail is because they fail to respect the appropriate role of art. Art has a “prophetic role” in the sense of calling us beyond the mundane to brood and ponder and think as only we, among all creation, can do. It violates the purpose of art when the makers try to do the thinking for the viewers.
I have found that Christians who have money to invest in movies tend to be particularly demanding that they see a “dollar for dollar” return in the screenplay. The “dollar” they want to see on the screen is the overt articulation of theological truth. Ironically, projects like this actually turn off the audience for whom they are intended. It is a subversion of the medium to try and force it to achieve something beyond its possibility.
Entertainment is best when it poses compelling questions, when it is not a lesson for the viewer but a dialogue with the viewer. A movie can show the ramifications of a worldview, but it gets in real trouble when it starts articulating worldviews. Christians will never have real success in Hollywood until we accept that simply delivering the Truth will not help the audience. We must allow the audience to wrestle with the Truth. We need to have the simple trust of the sower who casts seeds out on the ground and then moves on, believing that somebody else will come along to till, weed, and harvest.
Nicolosi goes on to offer half a dozen or so pieces of guidance for theologically-driven but creative stuck screenwriters everywhere.
Here’s an excerpt:
Affirmation of spiritual realities. The twentieth-century Christian apologist Frank Sheed distinguished Christian storytellers from pagan ones by the fact that Christian writers live in a world that is as much driven by spiritual realities as by material ones. He noted, “The secular novelist sees what is visible; the Christian novelist sees what is there.” Created with a Christian sensibility, a movie should be haunted by the invisible world. For believers, everything that we see is a sign of a reality that we cannot see. As Flannery O’Connor expressed it, “The real novelist, the one with an instinct for what he is about, knows that he cannot approach the infinite directly. He must penetrate the natural human world as it is. The more sacramental his theology, the more encouragement he will get from it to do just that.”