Archive for the ‘Sundance’ Category

Walking out…

August 9, 2007

Perhaps it’s the heat of summer, maybe it’s the LA mindset, or maybe I’m finally finding some personal freedom… whatever the reason, I’ve noticed I’ve been walking out of things lately. Here’s what I mean:

Class
This is not my proudest moment, but consider the circumstances: eight hours of class (six of which was spent slowly and painfully picking through the Gospel of Luke), consumption of one half of a huge airpot of coffee (can we say over caffeinated!?), and my frustration that this class had failed my expectations. These, in addition to online chatting with classmates, led to a state of humor and delirium that gave me the giggles. I started laughing so hard I couldn’t hold it back, and I had to walk out of class. Again not my proudest moment, but it sure felt good to laugh that hard.

Church
Here it is: I’m having a hard time with church lately. I think it’s a side effect of being in seminary, but it’s really confusing and frustrating. While I’m being spiritually fed in classes, readings, conversations, the 60 minute church service has become unsatisfying and uncomfortable. It’s not for lack of trying, believe me. In addition, my sporadic travel keeps me from regular attendance, and my roommate who I normally go with to a local congregation, is gone for the next 6 weeks. Regardless, last Sunday I was so thirsty for the presence of God that I willed myself to go alone and put up with the rituals of the suburban attractional church. I sat down and waited …

A recent Fuller grad preached so full of theological wit that made me feel I was more in the classroom than church. I started to grimace, but I kept with it … until he flashed a timeline of Israel’s history on screen. This was the exact same timeline I had been studying the past four hours for an Old Testament midterm the following Tuesday. My heart and hungry spirit sank. Another study session was not what I needed to connect with God. I contemplated sitting there as a practice of endurance, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t have the strength. I got up and walked out.

Movies
I’ve seen some pretty crazy movies this past year, especially like Trade, Teeth, or Adrift in Manhattan at Sundance. I’d say I’ve developed a tolerance to sit through almost anything. I can resign it to a filmmaker or Hollywood’s vision, and appreciate it for what it is on its own terms. Yet doing so has desensitized me to the jarring nature of film.

Last night, a friend and I went to see Goya’s Ghosts with Natalie Portman. I got my artists confused and thought it would be about Gauguin and the wife he left behind to pursue painting. Not so. It was a very vivid and disturbing portray of the Inquisition in Spain, including how people were “put to the question” (i.e. tortured) to gain a confession to heresy. My friend leaned over after an intense abuse scene and said, “This is making me uncomfortable, I need to leave, but feel free to stay.”

I thought about it, but decided to walk out too. As soon as we hit the lobby, I knew it was a good decision. While at some point I’ll rent it to see the end, walking out validated how horrible the historical event of the Inquisition was, how powerful the medium of film can be, and how effected we are by the images on screen. It was good for me to say back to my friend, “Yea, this is pretty intense. Let’s go.”

Go ahead and judge me if you will. I know I would. But in the meantime I’m going to relish in these little moments of freedom when my soul and self care become a greater priority that someone else’s program or agenda. Hooray!

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Admonition, a Miners Club Production

April 5, 2007

Cast/crew who could make the screening

Miners Club Productions (missing J.J. and Anna above) at the premiere of our short film Admonition at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA. Hmm…

We just had a much better screening on Fuller’s campus this Monday morning. Will Stoller Lee, Fuller’s Colorado Extension Director (and logistical force behind the Sundance course), gave a devotional on Deuteronomy 30:16 to kick off a gathering of extension directors. He invited us to show our film, based on this passage. Afterwards he facilitated a Q&A for the cast and crew (this group above), followed by the last 15 minutes dedicated to prayer around the themes in the film.

I think the group was pretty encouraged (I know I was) by the positive response from fellow theologians who appreciated the subtile approach we took to framing theme: live, really live, live exuberantly (the Message’s version of Moses’ call to Israelites before they went into the promised land)! This was a relief since we’d gotten neutral to lukewarm reception from the 168 festival.

I think after our experience at Sundance, our group assumed that “Christian filmmaking” like any Christian art, needs to be pushed out of its boundaries into the world where people (Christians and non Christians) are waiting to hear about hope the Gospel offers in relevant ways. We are not Christian artists, but an artists who are Christian.

We will be screening again during Arts Fest week on Fuller’s Campus. We’re in the Fusion lineup Friday night, April 27th. I’m also hoping the film will be online shortly, I’ll be sure to post it or a link here.

Hmm…that was nice

March 12, 2007

Winter quarter is over, and I have to say, it was a good one.

Sundance
If you’ve been reading my blog, you can get a sense how much this class has impacted me. I found God in culture, and turns out he’s been quite present at the movies and with filmmakers for quite some time. Not only is film a culturally celebrated method of storytelling, I’m starting to agree that independent filmmakers are modern prophets who’s work holds up a mirror to our world and show us ourselves for better or worse. Go see a movie – and don’t feel guilty about it!

Theology and Culture
This was a solid class that helped ease the transition back into academic life after the jolting experience Sundance proved to be. I gave up taking notes on my computer so I could doodle as I processed the large vague concepts of spirituality that the wise sage John Drane passed on to us. I took the creative option for my final project and painted a triptych altarpiece of a coffee cup, candles and my iPod. I hope to post more about that in the next few days.

New Testament 2: Acts through Revelation
This class was a struggle for me. My Scottish professor, who unapologetically demanded biblical knowledge from his students, was ironically the same Drane I found so helpful in Theology and Culture. Yet his theology and holistic approach the canon was refreshing and affirming. I will always remember his story about making a wise cracks to his religion teacher in grade school to which his teacher simply asked, “Have you READ the bible?” In response to the challenge he picked up the good book, and hasn’t stopped reading since. I love the range of people Fuller brings in to teach, there is much to learn from each one.

So now I’m done with school and its only the Monday of finals week. While this meant a hellish weekend, I effectively have two weeks of Spring break. Since it’s been in the low 90s here, perhaps a trip to the beach is in order before I leave town to drive north.

168 Film Project

March 4, 2007

Mark

After Sundance, my world was turned upside down. Thankfully, I wan’t alone. The others from Fuller Pasadena were just as moved as I was.

We had been challenged during our class time with the question, “Now what?” We had experienced God in films and conversations at the film festival in Park City, Utah, but what of it? Would this wear off like a summer camp or short term mission experience “spiritual high”? By the time we got the airport to fly back, a few of the group had already been kicking around the idea of entering a film festival together when we got back.

The small group of us dubbed ourselves “Miners Club Productions” after the name of the resort condo (donated!) where we stayed, and set out to enter the 168 Flim Project.

It’s a unique film festival where teams create film shorts, but are only given 168 hours (one week) for production. Also, it’s within a christian context, and the story lines must integrate a festival wide theme and a team specific bible verse. It’s mentioned today in the LA Daily News.

It was actually pretty amazing – within our team we had a screenwriter, two professional actors, director, musician, and fundraiser (plus me with design and fundraising experience). Fuller and those involved with the Sundance course were very excited to hear about our idea of doing a project together, and we raised some money and got some food donations to help with production costs.

Marker

Motivation ...

The film shoot happened last week (pictures here), and we’re waiting to hear back if we’ll be chosen to screen opening night in Burbank. Eitherway, it was an amazing experience to work on a project of this magnatuide with such great people (you can read JJ’s and Ipp’s posts about it too). I knew absolutely nothing about motion film going into it, so it was pretty eye-opening for me. I really liked seeing everyone contribute their part and watch the whole thing come together.

There’s a nagging “Now what?” after the “Now What?” but with a changed perspective and new connections with really talented and cool people, things look good.

Black Snake Moan Review

February 11, 2007

[note: this is part of my film journal for class, and I’m posting it on our class site as well.]

Black Snake MoanBlack Snake Moan movie is up for release in theaters March 2nd. If you’re ok with rated R movies – I’d say go see it. I was a bit nervous walking into it at Sundance after seeing the poster, yet it was one of the most powerful experiences of the week.

It’s a movie about sin, and the only thing more powerful: unconditional love. Christina Ricci plays a southern girl, Rae, with a sex addition who’s left alone as her boyfriend Ronnie (Justin Timberlake) leaves for the army. Lazurus (Samuel L. Jackson) is a well-respected blues musician in their southern small town who finds Rae on the side of the road beat up after a rough night of partying and promiscuity. He takes her in to tend to her physical wounds and ends up mending the emotional and spiritual wounds as well, albeit in a very unconventional way: a chain around Ricci’s wait.

It’s an incredible story that dares to look at Ricci’s out of control and taboo sin, and then poses the question of healing and care. While there’s danger in the chain being taken as exploitive, there is more depth to the film as you see Rae start to cling to the chain and her relationship with Lazurus. Finally with healthy boundaries and safety from her past abuse and developed patterns, Rae finds respite.

Now, what could that chain be a metaphor for?

In the Q&A after the film, director Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow, 2000) actually said he almost wanted to put a church bell clang behind the chain clank. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He openly talked about the bible and asked how God must have felt about Adam and Eve’s sin. What do you do when you’re filled with sin?

Ricci said it best when asked if she thought her character needed to be fixed. I will never forget her answer: no, she didn’t need to be fixed but, “needed someone to show her appropriate love; unconditional love.”

Bingo.

p.s. I don’t know much about music or the blues, but the soundtrack on this is going to be killer.

Let’s talk about sex…

February 11, 2007

I just got back from seeing Because I said so with Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore. I figured it’s your typical chick flick, good answer to fill in “lets do something” of a spontaneous girls night out. I’m still working through my Sundance film journal, and heaven’s knows I’ve seen enough heavy films lately and could balance with some lighthearted fun.

The story is a feel good mother daughter journey that I feel I’ve been on before. Start with a mother projecting insecurity and clumsy relationship skills on her daughter(s), then mix in comedy, conflict and climax and wa-la: they both learn, grow and find love.

Ironically, I walked out disturbed from this light-hearted comedy.

I saw a lot of sex on screen at Sundance, and it didn’t bother me too much. I knew what i was walking into, and in many movies like Save Me and Black Snake Moan, its use on screen was taken seriously and helped further the messages of these films (sin, redemption, unconditional love). Yet as Moore and Keaton explore their relationship skills in this flick, sex was thrown around like having dinner or making chocolate soufflés

Now, please don’t get me wrong – sex is great and I’m not saying it should be removed from the filmmaker’s tool box. But on the other hand, I don’t think it’s such a light hearted matter to be assumed. Just a thought that struck me…

de-prune

February 1, 2007

I admit it … I traded my last movie ticket for a beer.

I just got to the point where I couldn’t watch anymore movies. I was numb to the humanity I was seeing on screen since I’d been soaking in it all week, and my fingers (i.e. soul) were quite prune-like.

Now that I’m back in LA, I’m trying to get my head back into working on the Avant magazine again, not to mention that school starts next week and I have a literal library of books I need to be reading. The deep wrinkles are starting to fade, and it’s almost as jolting. Who thought re-entry from a film festival could be so intense?

There is so much more I want to post, at least on the themes I saw coming out from the festival, and some of the theological insight from our class sessions (general vs. special revelation, etc). I might need to un-soak more a bit. Stay tuned, I don’t think I’m done yet.

Journey home

January 31, 2007

Sandwiched between luggage and the suburban car window on the way to the airport, it hit me: Sundance is over and we were leaving. The snow packed hills of Northern Utah that had become so familiar over the past week flew by the window, and I suddenly realized I didn’t want to leave.

My week at Sundance was life changing. I had a hard time getting my head around the experiences. The movies, the Q&A’s and meet-and greets. What was the highlight? Where specifically had I seen God move? Definitely the Save Me Premiere and the Q&A after Black Snake Moan. And of course sharing a (donated) condo and making 9 new friends from the Pasadena cohort (including our countless discussions and rapidly growing supply of inside jokes). But there were so many more, and I’m not sure if I could point out one single highlight.

I kept starring out the car window as if I’d find a nicely packaged interpretation of the week I could carry back with me. Instead I was hit hard with how real God’ presence had been the entire week – it was a profound spiritual experience. We were all living life together in our mess, seeing other people’s mess on screen, and God revealed himself desite ourselves.

Even more, it was a safe place to actively engage with this mess and culture with in the context of a class, while we were full participants in the festival: we saw the movies, mingled with the directors and stars at their parties, shared our film aspirations with other up and coming talents (didn’t find another designer though). And we saw God stir is us, and more exciting, in others.

I don’t know how you can duplicate this – there’s not formula to get people to show up ready to talk about spirituality, let alone experience it, in film especially at a place like Sundance. But I do know what you can do to thwart it: close your mind and shut your eyes. Turn your heart off your heart off to where God might be moving. Because a project is made by non-Christians, or Christians different than you, assume God is not involved.

Newsflash: He’s there and speaking loudly.

Back in the Suburban staring out the window, the tears welled up as I thought about going back. I haven’t been around so many open hearts in such a long time, and the thought of leaving it was scary. Can I be a steward of this experience? Can I speak to this around those who didn’t go or wouldn’t understand?

I struggle with this everyday to share the hope and meaning I’ve found in Christ. I prefer to show people my sentiments rather than telling them. I’m the quiet one who doesn’t speak up a whole lot, but is probably lost in a deep well of thought. How do I share? Are you ready? Am I ready? I’m coming out of the cocoon, back into real life where many Christians are sacred of cinema (or “sin-ema”) and avoid it (or make harsh uninformed critiques about films they haven’t seen.)

I don’t know what’s next … and perhaps in that way, the journey isn’t over.

I’m here for all the films.

January 25, 2007

Inevitably when I tell people I’m a student here for the Festival, the next question is, “Do you study theatre?” or “What school do you go to?”

Then I have a choice. Do I brush off the Christian context that brings me here, or mention the spiritual and theological dialogue?

Heck, maybe I am a missionary after all. I’ve been going for it and gotten positive responses overall. Some people turn out to be local church goers and resonate (they’ve had time to engage themselves with the festival since its in their town). Others instantly tell me about the alternate films showing in churches around town with Christian content (Bonhoeffer documentary, etc.). My favorite so far has been the glazed over look with, “Oh, you’re here for those films.”

I told those ladies, “No, I’m here for all the films.”

What is a Sundance film?

January 24, 2007

That was one of the writing prompts for an article review I wrote for class. I said it was simply the absence of a studio backed film – independent, sans Hollywood. This could be a wide range in styles carrying an even larger number of themes. I watched two movies tonight that spanned this spectrum.

Waitress with Kerri Russell (I started calling it ‘Felicity’) about a woman trapped in an horrible marriage who finds solace in making crazy pie creations. Enter unwanted pregnancy and the new cute town doctor, paired with hilarious dialogue and pie recipes along with real questions about happiness and responsibility – I walked out with a new favorite. Thanks to a good reaction plus a few newspaper articles in town, it’s becoming a festival favorite, and my professor Craig mentioned it’s already been picked up for 3 million (meaning it has studio backing and will get distributed to theaters and DVD). I’m so excited – you’ll love this movie!

Longford, a British film about the true person, Lord Longford, who advocated for the redemption and chance at parole for infamous murderer Myra Hindley. Are there crimes that are unforgivable? The British public seems to think so with the horrific murder of five children in the countryside, but Lord Longford says no to drawing such lines and struggles with the consequences of such a forgiving and lavish love. There was a Q&A that was unfortunately hijacked with horrible questions about the details of the British prison system and self-awareness.

Jim Broadbent from Longford

Michelle and Janelle with Tim and Jim

We did somehow manage to sit directly infront of the film’s director Tom Hooper, among others involved with the film. In addition, the director of Queen (which was nominated today for best picture – my bet is they get it) was just two rows back.

Anyway, after the Q&A, and before they were mobbed with the crowd, Michelle talked to Hooper and lead actor Jim Broadbent (from Moulin Rouge and Bridget Jones among others). I was busy snapping the picture, but I think there was a comment about the theme of redemption in the film. A first for all of us, Hooper mentioned we were good sit behind – we laughed at all the right places!