On Thursday night, I had the pleasure of hosting an evening at the International Christian College in Glasgow, looking at how we use film in christian youth work and how it could be developed. Below is a summary of what I said:
I started by asking three questions to get folks thinking:
1) What is your favourite genre?
2) Can you think of a time when a film changed you in some way?
3) How do you use film in church or with young people?
Films are stories and stories have been around for thousands of years. Judaism used a form of oral storytelling as a way of self definition. It helped them to understand who they were, how they came to be and who there God was. Jesus used parables (stories) to communicate the kingdom of God. And today, we use film to do the same.
Moses encountered God in a burning bush. Moses would have walked past that bush many times but on that occasion God chose to make that place holy. On that occasion heaven collided with earth. In Celtic theology, this is understood as a ‘thin place’. A place where heaven and earth collide. I believe film can be thin places. Places where we encounter the divine.
Historically there has been five ways in which people have interacted with film:
1) Avoidance- (steer clear)
2) Caution (watch with suspicion)
3) Dialogue (a belief that films can have theological themes)
4) Appropriation (we can achieve greater insight about god and ourselves)
5) divine encounter (we can encounter God and be transformed)
1) which view do you most often hold?
How we have historically used film with young people?
The Matrix Red/ Blue Pill clip
1) Who has used this clip in their youth work or seen it used in youth work before?
It’s not wrong to show a two-minute clip but what you need to ask, is, the theme I am communicating through the clip true for the rest of the movie?
What other themes appear in ‘The Matrix’?
The blurring of humans and machines, Sex and sensuality, Fate and freewill, mirrors. The blurring of the real world and the simulated world. Philosophical themes of Descartes, Socrates, Plato, bondage and S&M, sexual ecstasy and orgies.
Do any of these ideas conflict with the Christian worldview? By endorsing one theme, are we endorsing the themes we do not agree with?
Now you make think this is all nonsense and unnecessary. Maybe there is nothing wrong with cherry picking scenes from movies that fit the message we want to share. We realise that we shouldn’t read the bible out of context. the bible out of context. Because it’s wrong and can and has lead to all sorts of misunderstanding and oppression. The bible has been used to condemn and oppress all sorts of people because readers have cherry picked what they have wanted to hear. We come to the bible, not with an agenda, but to hear the inspired words of God. I believe we should be doing the same with film.
So what’s the alternative?
Part 3- A new kind of film criticism
Rather than picking out specific scenes to a film your young people might not have seen, why not start by watching a film and then allowing a discussion to take place over a period of time. Rather than having an agenda, let the film speak for itself. You could then do a whole series of discussions and chats around the themes of one particular film, showing a short clip to refresh their memory.
This also gives young people the tools to be able to do this on their own when their watching films or TV programmes.
Here are the questions that I believe are useful to helping people unpack a film.
What the key themes that this film is trying to engage with?
Ø What is the film trying to tell you about this?
Ø Is this the commonly held perception of this?
Ø What’s your perception of this?
Ø What’s the biblical perception of this?
Ø Do these compliment or conflict with each other?
Can you see yourself in any roles / do you identify yourself with any characters?
Are there any background influences from writers/directors that shape the view?
We then watched my short film ‘prodigal’ about a repentant Satan trying to re-enter Heaven and used the questions as a test-case study.
Higgins G “How movies helped save my soul”
Johnston R “Finding God in the Movies”
Johnston R “Reframing theology and film”
Johnston R “Reel Spirituality”
Ortiz G “Explorations in theology and film”
Sogaard V “Media in Church and Mission”