films

VIDEOS: Just Vision

In “Stories Worth Telling,” from the August 2013 issue of Sojourners magazine, Lynne Hybels discusses the work of filmmaker Ronit Avni.

As the founder and executive director of Just Vision—an advocacy and media organization—Avni helps generate awareness and support for those in the Holy Land who pursue freedom, dignity, security, and peace without violence. Stories of Palestinians and Israelis engaged in nonviolence and peacebuilding come to life in Avni’s award-winning films.

If you want to be inspired, read Avni’s story. And be sure to watch the trailers below to preview the latest films by Just Vision.

Budrus
It takes a village to unite the most divided people on earth.

My Neighbourhood
A remarkable nonviolent struggle in the heart of the world’s most contested city.

Encounter Point
A true story about everyday leaders who refuse to sit back as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict escalates.

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Beauty as Antidote

THE EXPERIMENTAL psychologist Steven Pinker writes that what we think we have seen will shape what we expect to occur. It doesn’t make the news when people die peacefully in their sleep, or make love, or go for a walk in the countryside, but these things happen far more often—are much more the substance of life—than the acts of terror that preoccupy the media. It was horrifying when a British soldier was killed on an English street in May. But given the ensuing ethnic tension and communal judgment, it might have been useful, not merely accurate, to report that on the same day, almost 3 million British Muslims didn’t kill anyone. Because violence is a pre-emptive act (I kill you because you might kill me), when we keep telling the story that the threat of massive violence is ever-present, we will behave more violently.

According to Richard Rohr, the best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. So perhaps attention to beauty is the best alternative to our cultural obsession with blood. For me, cinema can do this better than any other art form, and is uniquely capable of transporting the imagination. Recently I’ve traveled to the minds of retired Israeli security service leaders agonizing over their achievements and failures in The Gatekeepers, gone to Louisiana for a trip around the soul of a man trying to redeem himself in Mud, empathized with the tragic story of a man making bad choices to get into a better state in The Place Beyond the Pines, wondered at the creative process and bathed in the French countryside in Renoir, been reminded of and elevated into an imagining of love and its challenges in To the Wonder, and been provoked in Room 237 to consider whether or not Stanley Kubrick intended The Shining to be a lament for the genocide that built America.

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Paved with Good Intentions

From "God Loves Uganda"

I’VE WINCED often at the portrayal of religion in recent documentaries—partly out of embarrassed identification with some of the apparently crazy things I’ve witnessed in real life, and partly because some documentarians seem to think that there’s nothing to religion other than those crazy things. God Loves Uganda, a new documentary about the role played by U.S. missionaries in nurturing that country’s homophobic culture and legislation, manages to avoid the mistake of confusing bad religion with all religion.

The concern for the Ugandan people manifested by fundamentalist charismatic Christians is suggested to be far less than the sum of its parts as they become participants in the nurturing of a social structure that aims to eradicate gay people. But the film avoids easy stereotyping of Christian mission work, particularly in the person of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a smiling radical in the mold of Desmond Tutu. His is a face of Ugandan Christianity that is open, generous, alive, courageous, and kind—a prophetic African voice for human rights.

Wendell Berry recently suggested that the expression of anti-LGBTQ sentiment may evoke a kind of subconscious reaction in the proponent akin to autoerotic pleasure. Delighting in the pain of others is a kind of sadism rooted in the insecurities harbored by the person who has decided it’s their job to be the moral police, despite how kind they may think they are being. The fear stirred by psuedo-Dominionist movements may have given the U.S. missionaries in God Loves Uganda a sincere desire to change the world. But their lack of self-reflection leads them to export some of the worst of American cultural imperialism: prejudice, the conflation of sentimentality and cultural ignorance with love, the denial of the gift that the other has for us.

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Time to Start Talking

A scene from the video game Call of Duty.

THE CEO OF one of the world's most popular video-game manufacturers recently denied any relationship between his products (some of which have their users re-enact mass slaughter) and real killing. The substance of such denial appeared to some to be no more complex than "because I said so, and some other people agree with me." Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shootings last year, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein called for a summit of directors to discuss their imaginary guns. He later acknowledged that "I don't have the answers to these questions. ... They're so complicated; you need people with better facts and intelligence. In this situation I have to be a follower, not a leader." Refreshing humility from someone better known for bluster and self-assurance, now opening a door to a conversation on which lives may depend.

Film critics, too, have a responsibility to contribute to this conversation, so let me propose some ideas:

1. Portrayal and advocacy are not the same thing. The violence of Reservoir Dogs and Looper may be visceral, but it tells the truth about the suffering that guns and knives can inflict and may help people think twice about enacting real violence. The violence ofHome Alone andTransformers may be cartoonish, but it lies to the audience and may fuel appetites for further destruction.

2. The shape of the narrative arc may be more influential than any particular acts of violence. Our culture seems to be addicted to the idea that order can be brought out of chaos by ultimate force, that violence can literally "cleanse the world." This myth—this religion—shows up everywhere, not just in the movies. Indeed, it is a keystone of our politics. The best thing movies can do about it is to tell a different story.

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Assassins and Psychopaths

Seven Psychopaths

THREE OF THE best films of the year arrived in early fall and will hopefully still be around to experience by the time you read this. Each deserves to be seen on a big screen—I've long believed that the experience of watching films in a cinema compares with home viewing the same way that visiting the pyramids compares with seeing a mummy in a museum. But whether or not you see these in a cinema, please do see them.

Samsara, Looper, and Seven Psychopaths open up worlds of possibility where the varieties of human experience are respected, the myth of the cool assassin is revised, and the morality of violent fiction is stared in the face, interrogated, and not let go without an attempt at a convincing answer.

Samsara, the sequel to 1992's Baraka, travels the world seeking examples of our diversity and unity: dancers and warriors and builders and menders, broken things and healed things, innocent and wounded. It contains some of the most extraordinary imagery you've ever seen, in tune with vast musical cultures, reimagining our view of what we, a little lower than the angels, are and can be, and, when we're not conscious of our power, the damage we can do.

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Climate Witness as Act of Faithfulness

The earth dries up and withers ... The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes, and broken the everlasting covenant. - Isaiah 24:4-6

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! - Deuteronomy 30:19

During the 1980s, many Christians were at the forefront of a movement to avert nuclear annihilation. They saw this transcendent threat as a moral crisis and felt a responsibility to nonviolently resist, including acts of civil disobedience and divine obedience. Today, we face a comparable danger -- a climate catastrophe which could decimate life on earth. Yet it seems not to have been picked up on the Christian "radar screen" in the same way. For this reason, it is actually more insidious.

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