<written for small group discussion for class>
The overall experience of the Sundance Film Festival easily exceeded my expectations – which I had preset at a low level to not set myself up for a big let-down. I could not believe how willing filmmakers and actors were to chatting on line or after screenings. So approachable – and so humble! I was inspired and in-“spirit”-ed by all the creativity, insight into humanity, and hard work. I learned how much truth could be packed into a 25-minute short film. I discovered that filmmaking was essentially pulling diverse teams of people to take on a big project together – and keeping the beautiful vision central. Perhaps for these reasons (and the completely full schedule I had, with 15 films in 5 days), I had a harder time transitioning back to my “normal life” of solitary, quiet reading and studying upon my return…and felt off all week…but I digress.
As for what unexpected surprises there were… this actually relates to the third question about recurring themes: each of my movies on a given day happened to “cluster” unexpectedly around a main theme:
Tuesday was about “American romantic relationships” – Save the Date captured the uncertainties in moving in together + getting married. Middle of Nowhere depicted an African-American woman’s love for her imprisoned husband. Love Free or Die showed how same-sex marriage (and ordination) had divided the Anglican communion.
Wednesday was about “world peace/religious conflict” and “the collective power of women.” 5 Broken Cameras showed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective that I had never before understood – but I didn’t realize just how absent women were from that film until I watched Where Do We Go Nowlater that evening. In that film, Muslim and Christian women conspire, with hilariously subversive tactics, to keep their husbands and sons from hearing of neighboring religious conflict– and succeed in preventing a bloodbath. <Corpo Celeste didn’t really fit the day’s themes – and generally feels like it should be in a separate category for how it handled religion and spirituality anyway>
Thursday was about “families and redemption” –the challenge of raising children – because of hunger and food insecurity (Finding North), or because of parental loss and grief (I am not a Hipster and Ethel).
Friday was about “the internal struggles of our teachers” – China Heavyweight depicted a coach who decides to box once again on the international scene to show his students its good virtues. Smashed showed the ups and downs of substance abuse and recovery for a young schoolteacher from her struggles with alcoholism. Monsieur Lazhar told the story of an Algerian teacher helping a class come to terms with the suicide of their teacher –while hiding his own personal grief and loss as a widower and a political refugee.
Saturday was unexpectedly all sad movies about “broken relationship and ageing/dying alone.” In Price Check, a happily married father sleeps with his new boss, perhaps because she treats him as her favorite – and doubles his salary – or simply because he wants to. The Invisible War almost made me sick with its statistics and stories about rape in the US military – and the Pursuit of Loneliness almost put me to sleep with its depressing documentary-style narrative of what happens when someone dies without any next of kin.
I enjoyed most films, and wouldn’t say that I hated any – but I was disappointed in some. At times – as with the documentary, China Heavyweight, that was because I loved the trailer and its potential – but I learned just how important editing was to a good story being told. Great material, full of potential – but its story was confused and it wasn’t clear what the message of the film was. I discovered that if a film’s goal was to say something about religion and spirituality, as with Corpo Celeste, I probably wouldn’t like the message – but find it one-sided and perhaps a bit preachy. I know the Catholic Church has its flaws, but surely it has a few redeeming characteristics?
As for how one might understand theologically an event like Sundance – I don’t know that I have a better answer in my mind than the one so poetically given by Kutter on our the last morning together: we come together to watch and bear witness to the spirit of God at work in these films –to let it infuse our very breath – carry, disperse and scatter our views and thoughts about these films to new places – and in so doing, change us, and give us life.
At the same time – though I appreciate that mental model of how this works, I must confess that I am not sure that was what I experienced. I have felt somewhat drained this week, differently anxious to make my mark on the world, less content with my lot in life, and less certain of my calling. Spending a week soaking in the filmic spirit of this age was NOT as life-giving as I could imagine it potentially being. I found it hard to sit with Scripture during the week of Sundance, because I felt so saturated by words and images and content. But I didn’t feel deeply nourished by those words, images, or content. Perhaps it’s because I spent much of the week paying so much attention to each film + taking notes on the dialogue, the Q/A, and discussing them with others… There weren’t as many transcendent moments as I could have imagined. I know the Sundance experience is an unusual and unique one – when else in life does any normal human being consume 3 movies a day? Perhaps I should have taken a media fast before and observe one now… Was David DeVos right in describing how independent film could be ‘addictive’ – and I am suffering a strange withdrawal?
All this to say that I am confident in Jesus’ ability to redeem, renew, and restore all things. If this week feels a bit like the week after one’s returned from a missions-trip, where one has a million things to process and reflect on, and no one quite wants to or knows how to listen… perhaps there is hope ;). I’m beginning to make sense of what Sundance as an experience may have been about for me – and even if it is still more hazy than I would like, I trust the Lord to walk with me to where he wants us to go.
<CLASSMATE’s * awesome * RESPONSE!>
Thanks, Tina, for sharing not only your astute observations about clustered themes of movies (I like how you pulled that together each day), but also about your personal experience in the week that follows. I do think that you are right in saying that there are some parallels to a cross-cultural experience and “re-entry” after Sundance. Perhaps more pronounced with you as you return to a sabbatical/study type experience with a rhythm of life different than the one you had known for the previous few years. So you know the drill with re-entry: you can anticipate both assimilation and critical internal responses vis-a-vis film and its place in theology, but ultimately want to move toward integration. For me, I haven’t had time to think much at all, as I jumped right into dad duty with an exhausted wife needing a break after holding down the fort (and she did extremely well) for 10 days on her own, and then a ministry work load in full swing that was put on hold for the netherworlds of Sundance.
Perhaps some of your transcendent moments are yet to come, especially as you explore your sense of identity and calling. Maybe some images of characters in the movie – even just pieces and slivers of characters may be cobbled together by the Spirit to spark imagination and ideas of who you really are as you navigate this next season in your life. Perhaps a bit of Monsier Lazhar when he spreads his arms and shimmys to the distant music in his classroom? Or a dab of the cafe owner in Where do we Go now who takes command of the bellicose boys and talks/shouts them down to come to their senses? Maybe a little of Eva who remains faithfully loyal to her husband yet knows she is called to step away from the world and into a new one, not knowing where that path may lead. (those were some of the films I shared with you, but there may be others). For me, some of the “power of film” in the later processing comes from remembering scenes or snipits of characters that serve as witnesses, images, testimonies of true things God is revealing in me or fanning into flame. As you process, may you see the flames of God illuminating your life.
<my response back :D>
Thanks, Tom, for such a kind + thoughtful response… I loved how you called forth those specific moments + images from the movies we got to watch together — recapturing for me some of the real magic I did witness that I loved…
I think you are spot-on: it probably will be the scenes + snippets — moments, minutes, mementos — that will return as “witnesses, images, testimonies of true things God is revealing in me”… THANK YOU. That really, really helps…
I’ve also been surprised this past weekend about how telling friends about Sundance — non-Christian friends on Friday, Christian friends on Saturday — has opened up long, substantive, and rich dinner conversations about movies, favorite movies, why/how…
It’s partly been me continuing to process, but all of them chiming in — curious, interested — contributing their own experiences. So far, film as a dinner conversation topic — more than other things! — is getting us deeper, farther, and perhaps faster… it IS more of a lingua franca than expected.
I can say now, one week later, again, how glad I am that I got to go…