Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Call for Artist-Apostles: More on Faith and Film

Believers interested in pursuing careers in film production would do well to heed Barbara Nicolosi's counsel in a commentary recently published in Christianity Today called "Escaping the Creative Ghetto" (HT: Think Christian). Here are some points that stood out to me:

It's not that Christians aren't making stabs at moviemaking and television production. It's that most of these efforts come to naught because our fears and misconceptions have us standing on the sidelines, cursing and boycotting and begging for favors from the pagans who have paid their dues and have the power to green-light stories for the screen.

The whole church needs to brood over what it means to be the Patron of the Arts in a post-Christian setting. We need to wrangle over how best to nurture our young artists and media professionals, and how to maximize the influence of those Christians with talent and charisma. But first of all, we need to figure out what success in Hollywood will look like for the Christian community. What does a Christian worldview mean in entertainment, and will our own brothers and sisters in the church recognize it when our artists start producing it?

....our efforts in entertainment cannot be limited to making movies about saints and the Bible, as though we have nothing to say to the modern world about anything that is not part of our subculture. Borrowing from St. Paul, Christians in entertainment don't have to be always talking about God. They should be talking about everything in a godly way.
Nicolosi goes on to make a point similar to one made by Andrew Fellows (whom I mentioned in the previous post). Fellows warns against evaluating films solely through what he calls the grids of truth and morality. He's not denying that these are important. He's just concerned (rightly, I think) that in doing so, we obscure a film's narrative power by dealing only with abstractions. Rationality and conscience are important but shouldn't be emphasized to the neglect of other areas of our inner lives such as the imagination. Nicolosi writes:

Many godly people think that the goal is for movies to be "non-offensive" in terms of sex, language, and violence. But the problem with that standard is it only describes a void. It doesn't give any creative guidance. A lot of Christians lauded the 2002 release A Walk to Remember mainly on this basis: "It didn't have any bad language, and the two teenagers didn't sleep together." Yes, but it was a banal, predictable story with underdeveloped characters, pedestrian acting, and saccharine dialogue.
I think that what Nicolosi is getting at is that like a lot of Christian music, many Christian attempts at filmmaking lack an honest depiction of depravity, the very thing that we claim makes the gospel so necessary and such marvelous news. There is often a lack of reality about life's fallenness, pain, and confusion on account of the desire to quickly resolve the messiness of life with the gospel. The answer is not to gratuitously depict immorality but to portray it within the context of a truly biblical worldview.

Nicolosi suggests some themes that define a Christian movie and offers the following explanation and remedy for the current state of the film industry:

The principal reason for the moral confusion that ends up on the screen is the paucity of happy, well-catechized believers in the entertainment industry. We do not have enough witnesses to Christ living and loving and working alongside the witnesses to Mammon or secular humanism that have overrun the creative community. We do not have enough thoughtful, godly filmmakers who can draw compelling stories from a mature faith experience.

The world does not need a "Christian cinema" so much as it needs Christians in cinema.

We do not need our churches to set up production companies and make movies. We need the church to approach Hollywood as a missionary territory, to preach and teach and minister.

We need a new generation of artist-apostles to come to the industry with humility and pastoral love.

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