Film Fests Gather the Faithful
- Christian Hamaker Senior Editor, Arts & Culture
- 2002 5 May
Actor Judge Reinhold will take part. So will director Tom (Ace Ventura) Shadyac, producer Ralph (Star Trek IV) Winter, film critic Michael Medved and musician David Wilcox. They'll judge the nominees at this year's Damah Film Festival, a burgeoning, touring showcase for films of "spiritual redemption, struggle, inspiration or surprise," according to the fest's Web site.
By the time Damah rolls around in October, Christians will have had plenty of other opportunities to present their own work or to discuss feature films with strong spiritual components, gathering for fellowship and discussion about a medium that -- until not too long ago -- was dismissed by many believers as the devil's playground.
"Film is the new way of having conversation about whatever your particular spiritual journey might be," said Damah spokesman Spencer Burke. "[It's] the new cultural language. We're trying to start a conversation."
Upcoming film festivals exploring spiritual and moral themes include the Flickerings fest, part of the Cornerstone gathering in Illinois; the 3rd Annual National Film Retreat, reaching the East Coast (Arlington, Va.) and the West Coast (Orange, Calif.); the City of the Angels festival in Los Angeles; and the Heartland fest in Indianapolis.
Named for a Hebrew word meaning "a metaphor that transforms," Damah festival organizers hope to discover and encourage filmmakers with unique stories to tell. Submissions must run no longer than 30 minutes and capture a spiritual experience, "preferably with unexpected endings," according to the Damah site (http://damah.com). The stories, not film aesthetics, determine which films receive top honors.
So far, the results have been encouraging. Last year's fest in Seattle pulled in nearly 250 submissions and more than 800 attendees, but the story doesn't end there. Event organizers took many of the submissions on the road, stopping in St. Louis to showcase four hours' worth of last year's films.
Integral to the festival's success is its refusal to cater to any one particular spiritual perspective, Burke said. "When we came on the scene, people said 'We've been waiting for this kind of festival.' . . . It's different from other festivals in the sense that we're really trying to pull toward the power of story with spiritual experiences."
The festival returns to Seattle Oct. 10-12 before moving on to other host cities. Festival winners will share a prize pot totaling $15,000.
"We have documents on our Web site for people to find out how to bring the festival to their community," Burke said. "We'd love to see it happen in a wide variety of cities across the nation or even internationally."
The first stop on the tour: Oct. 15 in Minneapolis.
Jesus People USA's annual Cornerstone festival continues to broaden its film focus. The Flickering Film Showcase, July 2-6, will present more than 20 short films, supplementing the showcase with seminars, workshops and nightly screenings focusing on Iranian cinema (last year's featured films, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue series, played to packed houses).
Flickerings' film showcase isn't juried, nor are films restricted by what they communicate, the expertise of the filmmakers or by the format in which they're filmed. Entries for last year's Flickerings included the work of professionals, students and amateurs.
Flickerings' seminars this year focus on independent cinema and ways to promote film screenings and drum up interest in participants' hometowns. A workshop allows attendees to make a film of their own, putting their theories and ideas into concrete form. The final films can be submitted into a new competition at the 2002 fest. The seminars and workshops, along with nightly gatherings for filmmakers to share war stories and network, comprise the new "Deep Focus" portion of this year's Flickerings festival.
The list of Iranian films includes the recent Kandahar, Majid Majidi's lovely The Color of Paradise, Abbas Kiarostami's Close-Up, the dark comedy Hamoun, the tragic Leila and the internationally acclaimed The Circle.
The festival is part of a larger thematic discussion titled "Between Jihad and McWorld," an examination of the strictures of Middle East society and the libertine impulses of Western culture. The Web site for the broader program zeroes in on what sets recent Iranian cinema apart from other world cinema, and why Flickerings is showcasing Iranian films this year: "What is really amazing about these films is the vitality of discussion about Iran's own problems, especially connected with the role and rights of women in revolutionary Islamic society," read an essay posted on the site.
Flickerings ties in the McWorld side of the equation by screening Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World, about two young women searching for meaning and identity in the American suburbs.
National Film Retreat
Now in its third year, the National Film Retreat, which originated in Camden, N.J., is expanding to Marymount University in Arlington, Va. The smaller event is sponsored by the Daughters of St. Paul but is an interfaith event, with attendance at each venue capped at 30 participants.
"In a post 9/11 world, we want to focus on what the world of cinematic storytelling can offer us as we journey toward the future in trust," said retreat founder and director Dr. Frank Frost, elaborating on this year's festival theme of hope.
Retreat participants watch four feature films before discussing the works and taking time for prayer. This year's films are A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Places in the Heart, Moonstruck, Bagdad Café and a showcase of favorite film clips.
Rose Pacatte, vice president of Cine&Media, the U.S. affiliate of the International Catholic Organization for Cinema and Audiovisual and moderator of an online interfaith community on cinema and spirituality, said last year's retreat in Boston drew 31 participants from the United States and Canada, and "folks who were Baptist, Episcopalian and Catholic." For the kickoff event in 2000, the retreat "had 27 participants from all over the country, representing six faith groups," Pacatte said.
Scott Young, co-founder of the City of the Angels Film Festival (CAFF), lauded the National Film Retreat as "a robust way of discovering and discerning God's presence in the movies," and he called the retreat a worthy alternative, or supplement, to the CAFF.
City of the Angels
Founded by Fuller Theological Seminary and backed by such corporate sponsors as Showtime Networks, the L.A.-based City of the Angels festival stretches across two venues this year: Oct. 31, at the Writers Guild of America, and Nov. 1-3, at the Directors Guild of America.
The event grew out of L.A.'s racial unrest in the early 1990s, with the encouragement of Cardinal Roger Mahoney. Starting in 1994, the fest has explored how films portray dreams, reconciliation, community, apocalypse and things sacred, using diverse fare such as Robert Duvall's The Apostle, two of Krzysztof Kieslowski's films from his Decalogue series, Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, Terry Gilliam's Brazil and Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
Set in the hometown to many major film studios, the CAFF has attracted its share of high-caliber panelists: Last year director Wes Craven, best known as a maker of horror films, participated in the appropriately themed "Touches of Evil" CAFF.
"Our festival is primarily a retrospective, committed to great conversations about great films," said CAFF producer Craig Detweiler. The Angelus Awards, a sister organization of CAFF, judges student films.
This year's CAFF, focusing on "American Dreams," kicks off with a conversation with Paul Schrader and screenings of Light Sleeper (written and directed by Schrader) and the Schrader-scripted Taxi Driver (directed by Martin Scorcese). Schrader, a graduate of Calvin College, also adapted the controversial Nikos Kazantzakis novel The Last Temptation of Christ.
This year's CAFF also features screenings of such relatively recent American cinematic fare as Bottle Rocket, Fight Club and Thelma and Louise, as well as a new Vietnamese film, Green Dragon. Earlier eras are represented by The Music Man, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and A Raisin in the Sun.
Marymount University, the East Coast host of the National Film Retreat, also counts itself among the sponsors of the CAFF.
Although the one-week Heartland Film Festival doesn't open until Oct. 17, it's already under way in one sense: This year's fest includes four summer screenings of previous festival winners. Each of the four films -- The Basket, No Easy Way, Shiloh and The Spitfire Grill -- have taken home the fest's Crystal Heart Award.
The Heartland event, which has no religious affiliation, showcases independent films that "leave audiences feeling entertained, satisfied and inspired," according to the fest's Web site. Festival organizer Jeff Sparks elaborated: "We are looking at films that explore the human journey, that express hope and respect for the positive values of life. It is not about family films. . . . We're about films that inspire and encourage. That includes family films, but it's not just family films."
Sparks said the festival grew out of a shared concern among several people about the power of film. "We were wanting to have an impact on the culture. We were wanting to do something that would get people to put their viewing efforts behind the kind of films that change our culture in a positive direction," Sparks said.
This year's winners of CAFF's Crystal Heart Award will share a prize pot of $100,000, with half of that going to the fest's grand prize winner.
Beginning with the Denzel Washington film Remember the Titans, Heartland also has bestowed an Award of Excellence upon theatrically released films during their theatrical run, allowing the film studios to use the award as a promotional tool. Hearts in Atlantis, The Princess Diaries and The Rookie are other winners of the Award of Excellence.
Festival organizers have broadened their mission to include distribution of certain Crystal Heart winners, many of which have, despite Heartland recognition, not been able to find domestic distribution.
"We got tired of all the films not getting distributed, so we decided to do it ourselves," Sparks said. Best Man in Grass Creek, the first film distributed by the group, played briefly in Indiana and will be available in video stores July 25, Sparks said.
The independent films screened at this year's Heartland Film Festival will be selected Aug. 8.