Film

Otis Moss III 02-04-2014

U.S. cinema has been an enforcer of our racialized imagination -- but that’s changing.

Cindy Brandt 02-03-2014
Photo Courtesy of Disney

The queen of the kingdom of Arendelle, Elsa, was born with a special ability to manipulate ice. Photo Courtesy of Disney

Just as polar vortices sweep through America, Elsa, one of the main characters in the latest Disney princess movie, Frozen, unleashes her icy power in the fictional kingdom Arendelle, across theaters everywhere. In addition to delighting progressive audiences by satirizing Disney’s own trope of “marriage at first sight,” the story compels viewers, young and old, to find courage to be their true selves. The Oscar-nominated signature song, “Let It Go,” poignantly expresses the sentiment of letting go of fears, secret pains, and pretense. Fans of the song, from celebrities to little girls, have been belting the tune theatrically anywhere from kitchens to car rides to the Internet.

G.K. Chesterton says,

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.

A good story is more than a pleasurable experience — it empowers us to live a changed life. Frozen is filled with beloved characters and catchy melodies, but also has much to teach us about power, privilege, and community.

Dick Staub 01-30-2014

Dick Staub is author of “About You: Fully Human and Fully Alive.” Photo by Karen Mason-Blair. Via RNS.

In days of old, God used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention. Today’s prophets are often the truth-telling artists, singers, songwriters, and filmmakers whose modern version of “Thus sayeth the Lord” bursts forth in a stunning, sensual explosion of sight, sound, and touch.

They get our attention, and their prophetic word is visceral. It often goes beneath the rational radar and it can disturb more than it comforts. The annual Sundance Film Festival is like a tribe huddled around a campfire listening to the stories. These stories function like burning bushes, as prophetic calls to action. These films are meant not just to be watched, but to change us and, through us, to change the world.

Here are some of the messages I heard at Sundance 2014.

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

Still from 'Usoni.' Via the series' Facebook page.

CNN reports on Usoni , a futuristic television drama produced in Kenya that is about reversed immigration. The show depicts Europe in 2063, where life has turned unlivable after a deadly series of natural and economic disasters.

Europeans are desperately seeking a way to get to a livable continent south of them: Africa. The hardships in making the trip are unfathomable, and once the immigrants arrive, they are unwelcome, harassed, and rejected. The story follows a young couple, Ophelia and Ulysse, who are seeking to make their way with their unborn child to the land of promise.

Yes, the comparisons today to those seeking to immigrate to Europe (with obvious parallels to America) are intentional. Marc Rigaudis, the Kenya-based French filmmaker who created the program, is making a point to help us walk in the shoes of those whom we know the Bible calls “aliens and strangers.”

The chilling trailer depicting people like me being treated as illegal immigrants is enough to make one’s hair stand on end.

Ben Sutter 01-15-2014

An IMAX camera films at the Western Wall. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society/RNS

The old city of Jerusalem is smaller than one square mile. In 5,000 years of recorded human history there have been 180 conflicts around the city. It has been conquered 44 times, and completely destroyed twice. The story of conflict in this city is clearly not a new story.

When the producers of Jerusalem, a new movie for IMAX and other giant screen theaters, decided to approach the topic, they wanted to bring a fresh perspective to the long history.

“Jerusalem is a city in conflict,” said Taran Davies, one of the producers of Jerusalem, at a recent screening of the movie. “We wanted a new way to think about it. This [movie] is more a celebration.”

Christian Piatt 12-04-2013
Courtesy of Burnside Books

'Cinematic States' explores fifty films that help define something about each state. Courtesy of Burnside Books

Lots of people like movies; Gareth Higgins loves movies. But the founding director of the Wild Goose Festival and long-time peace activist engages popular culture with a different eye than most of us. And he’s used that keen eye for deeper meaning to create his latest book.

I asked Gareth about his new book on American film, his peace work, and what it’s like considering American culture both as an insider and as a non-native. Here’s what he had to say.

Rev. Laura Barclay 11-26-2013
Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons

Jose Antonio Vargas Flickr Photo by Tiffany L. Clark/Creative Commons

Last week, I attended a screening of Documented, Jose Antonio Vargas’ film about his coming out as an undocumented immigrant after winning the Pulitzer Prize. His journey is honest, poignant, and humorous. A lesser subject would have cut some of the material showing the strain of the situation on his familial relations, but the film never flinches from the raw story.

I sat in on a panel discussion after the screening filled with members of an organization featured in the film, “DREAMers Moms.” I had a chance to speak with several of them, and one story stuck out in particular. One mom left her country for the good of her children so they would have hope of a positive future in the United States. She hasn’t seen her mother in 13 years and won’t until immigration reform is passed into law. If she leaves the U.S., it’s likely she wouldn’t be allowed to return and care for her children. This would leave them essentially orphans who would be placed into foster care. Her mother is now in her 80s, frail and sick. This woman is losing hope of ever again touching the woman who cared for her, but still prays daily for a miracle.

Still photograph of “Lost Faces of the Bible” Title Graphic. Photo courtesy of AP Faces Ltd.

Many artistic renderings of biblical figures hang in churches and museums, but no one really knows what they and their contemporaries looked like.

Now, an international team of archeologists, forensic anthropologists, and facial reconstruction experts has tried to answer this question by recreating the faces of three adults and a newborn whose skeletal remains date back to biblical times.

A new four-part TV seriesLost Faces of the Bible (airing on the National Geographic Channel beginning Monday), follows the experts as they recreate long-gone faces utilizing the same state-of-the art technology used by police investigators.

Ryan Herring 11-22-2013

Russell Crowe as Noah. Courtesy © 2012 Paramount Pictures

Following the success of the History Channel's mini-series, The Bible, which appeared weekly last March, Hollywood seems to have renewed an avenue in which Biblical adaptations are allowed to enjoy a significant amount of limelight.

Two blockbuster titles are to set to be released in 2014: Paramount Picture's Noah and 21st Century Fox's Exodus. These two films both boast a star-studded cast as directors Darren Aronofsky and Ridley Scott hope to astonish audiences by combining stunning visualizations with two of the most popular accounts from the Old Testament, the Great Flood and the Exodus out of Egypt.

As a Christian and an avid movie-goer, I was thrilled to read that these two films were in production. However, once I saw the actors cast to play the leading roles in these two films, my excitement quickly turned to disdain. Not a single one of the leading roles in either movie was given to a person of Middle Eastern descent.

Cathleen Falsani 11-19-2013

Mary J. Blige performs during a scene from the movie “Black Nativity.” Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

In her book “The Funny Thing Is …,” Ellen DeGeneres describes being invited to God’s house for wine and cheese. When the Almighty walks into the room, Degeneres describes God this way:

“I would say she was about 47, 48 years old, a beautiful, beautiful black woman. And we just immediately hugged.”

When I think about the guardian angels who I’ve been told surround me like spiritual body guards, I picture the Angel In Charge as looking and sounding a lot like the Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige.

How appropriate, then, that Blige portrays a character in the upcoming holiday film, Black Nativity, (based in part on the Langston Hughes play) who appears to be an angelic being with a huge platinum-blonde Afro, dressed head-to-toe in silver-colored leather.

An IMAX camera films the Western Wall during Pesach. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society

It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.

The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.

Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.

“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”

Gareth Higgins 11-05-2013

About Time is funny, beguiling, and even profound.

Diogo Morgaldo (center) plays Jesus in a scene of “Son of God.” Photo via RNS/courtesy Lightworkers Media

Studios and filmmakers are rediscovering a classic text as source material for upcoming mainstream films: the Bible.

Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.

Alongside the string of upcoming Bible-related films, producers from the History channel’s “The Bible” miniseries just announced that the series’ film adaptation “Son of God” will be released in theaters nationwide in February with 20th Century Fox.

Christian Piatt 10-18-2013
 via The Fifth Estate Facebook Page: facebook.com/TheFifthEstateMovie

Still from 'The Fifth Estate' via The Fifth Estate Facebook Page: facebook.com/TheFifthEstateMovie

Am I the only one who finds it deliciously ironic that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange objects stridently to how he is portrayed in the new movie, The Fifth Estate? The film, which hits theaters in wide release today, turns its attention to the organization best known for publicly sharing otherwise confidential information of various governments, including our own.

Assange is clearly a study in eccentricity. From his tow-headed locks to his lock-down work environment, he fascinates as often as he infuriates. To demonstrate their displeasure about the coming film, WikiLeaks actually leaked the screenplay to the public ahead of the movie release and has published numerous corrections they deem necessary to more accurately reflect history. They have also labeled the movie "irresponsible, counterproductive and harmful,” adjectives made that much more poignant, given that similar epithets have been leveled at WikiLeaks for their own work.

But despite this latest round of drama revolving around WikiLeaks and its lightning rod of a front man, the question still remains:

Is WikiLeaks good for America?

Brian McLaren 10-15-2013
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

I pre-screened 12 Years a Slave the same weekend I saw Gravity. The two films couldn’t be more different, although they do have some fascinating (if not immediately obvious) commonalities.

As for commonalities, they’re both powerful and both deserve to be seen. Both are about people trying to get home — one, in a harrowing adventure that takes several hours, the other in an agonizing 12-year struggle. The protagonists of both movies demonstrate heroic resilience and courage. One struggles with physical weightlessness, the other with a kind of social or political weightlessness. 

Although Gravity impressed and fascinated me, 12 Years a Slave affected me and shook me up. Now, several days later, scenes from the film keep sneaking up on me and replaying in my imagination — three in particular. 

Paul Louis Metzger 10-14-2013
'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

I watched 12 Years a Slave today. The film is based on Solomon Northup’s autobiography by that name. Northrup was a free black man living in Saratoga, N.Y. He was lured away from his home to Washington, D. C., on the promise of lucrative work and was kidnapped, transported to Louisiana, and sold into slavery. He was rescued 12 years later.

Some of the questions and issues that the movie raises are: What right do people have to own others? Do money and might make right? Unjust laws — such as slave laws — exist. It just goes to show that something can be legal, yet morally wrong. Still, laws come and go. We must not confuse laws with rights, which are universal and enduring truths that do not change. What is true and right and good is always so. So, too, that which is evil is always evil. Even if unjust laws are overturned and abolished, evil can still return in other guises.  

I asked myself as I watched the movie, “Could it happen again?” Some of us may think, “Surely, something like this could never happen in our day.” And yet, people are abducted and sold into various forms of slavery here and abroad on a daily basis. Granted — people are not publicly bought and sold on the slave block in America today because of skin color; however, people are enslaved based on race and class divisions.

Ben Sutter 10-11-2013
Screenshot from 'Before God: We Are All Family'

Screenshot from 'Before God: We Are All Family'

As a boy growing up, Joanna Maria Cifredo wasn’t like her brothers.

“My brothers looked at females because they wanted to be with a female,” Cifrado says, in new video resource by the Human Rights Campaign that premiered Oct. 1. “I looked at females more like, ‘Oh, I wish I was her.’ ”

Now, Joanna has decided to physically identify as a woman full time.

Her voice joined many others in Before God: We are All Family, a new film focused on the experiences of Latina LGBT people. She also participated, along with her mother Maria Vega-Cifredo, in a discussion panel that included the filmmaker at the first public viewing of the resource at the GALA Hispanic Theater in Washington, D.C.

Focusing on the important role family and faith play in Latino communities, the video resource is the newest component to a bilingual discussion guide produced by the HRC and the National Latina/o LGBT Human Rights Organization, among others. The organizations developed the guide with the aim of helping Latinos have a conversation about faith and LGBT inclusion.

The guide, written by Rev. Dr. Miguel A. de la Torre, with help from Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera and Lisbeth Melendéz Rivera, gathers 14 testimonies into six chapters, each with stories, questions, and exercises focused on what it means to be LGBT and Latina. Inside the guide, created in 2011, are sections on family, the gift of our bodies, the Bible, and solidarity.

Jeffrey Weiss 10-07-2013
Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in  'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Sandra Bullock as Ryan Stone in 'Gravity.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Reviews of the new hit movie Gravity note that it’s an unusually fine science fiction film. What they don’t mention is that the main character represents an increasingly common theme in American religion: The spiritual “none of the above.”

Yes, the special effects are splendid. And I’ll take the word of astronauts who say the visuals capture amazingly well what it’s like to work in the microgravity of near-Earth orbit.

But there are moments where spiritual and philosophical themes take center stage.

(Spoiler alert: I’ll give no more away than I’ve seen in most reviews, but if you really want to know nothing about the movie, see it first.)

Gareth Higgins 10-02-2013

The makers of The Butler have told a kind of truth about the struggle for "beloved community" that has rarely been seen so clearly on multiplex screens.

Kathryn Reklis 10-02-2013

Why are blockbuster movies so bad at imagining life after the end of the world?

Pages

Subscribe