As I said yesterday, Marc Williamson and I spoke at a national youth work event, “The Youthwork Summit” in London on Saturday around the issue of film and youthwork. You can read the transcript here.
The feedback from our talk has been brilliant and I have had the opportunity to engage with people through twitter and face-to-face about some of the concerns or issues they have surrounding it.
What I’d like to do now is to respond to some of the general queries people have had about what we said so that dialogue can continue. That is the main reason we want to explore films. We want to engage in conversation and I am only too happy to talk to those who agree or disagree with what we have to say.
Let me say first of all that we were not endorsing any of the films that we spoke about. I do not agree that we should be endorsing any film over another regardless of what we think of it. Rather, I am keen to see dialogue with films that young people are watching. We may disagree with what they watch, and there are times when we should say that, but what I want to see more of is youth workers talking about those films with their young people. There were a couple of people who said they didn’t pick up on that aspect so I wanted to state that before I go any further.
Where are the other themes?
We only had ten minutes to try and communicate kingdom themes in five films. Everyone has a different opinion of what the Kingdom is and its values. But we had a limited time to speak of what we say as the overarching narratives: return from exile, reconciliation, incarnation, identity and sacrifice. There are many more and a longer presentation would have allowed us to tease out more of these concepts.
We shouldn’t be encouraging young people to watch horrible films
One of the films we discussed during the talk was “Saw 3D”. I knew that picking this film would cause an issue. Some others also disagreed with our choices of “Twilight” and “Bridesmaids”. I understand that. People have very strong opinions to films; whether it be ones they like or dislike. There are many reasons why we may dislike certain films. We may find them offensive or sick or whatever but we have to be aware of our own preferences and not try to push them them on to others.
I understand that many people will consider “Saw” and other horror films sinful and corrupt and that we should not be encouraging our young people to watch them. I have no issue with that. But in my experience simply telling young people not to watch something often results in them watching it. What I’d rather see is that if you’re young people are watching films like this, rather than simply ignore it or give them a lecture, engage with them. That doesn’t mean you need to watch the film but find out about its theme so that you can discuss it. Talk to them about the good and the bad things about it and help the young people make informative choices.
You won’t be able to work with them all their lives and it is better to give them the tools to critically watch all kinds of films so that they will do this long after they’ve left the youth group.
Suitability of films
This sort of ties in with the last point but I think its slightly nuanced. What are suitable movies? That’s a good question. Those that had issue with some of the films we talked about said that they weren’t ‘suitable’. Either because of violence, or the oppression of women etc. Again, I understand that. But again I ask, what is suitable? If our young people are all over 18, can we not show them an 18 rated film just because it has violence and sex? Is it wrong to show them these kinds of film? Who decides that?
My problem is that in most christian films discussion resources, the only films that are used are ‘safe’ films. Ones that have positive themes and are rated for children. But is this healthy? What is that telling our young people? Now I’m not saying that just because a horror film is really big at the time, that we show that to them. But if they have all seen it then it might be worth discussing it. We too easily put culture into good and bad categories. But that’s not good practice.
I hope this has been helpful and please feel free to comment and keep the discussion going.
- Youth Work Summit Talk (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 1 (smoorns.wordpress.com)
This will be my last post on ‘The Cabin in the Woods” (probably).
I’ve written four other posts relating to different aspects of the film. If you have the time, please have a read.
As usual, this post contains SPOILERS
At the end of the film, we discover that people all across the world are being sacrificed to appease the wrath of the gods who live under the earth. But these are no ordinary sacrifices. The gods crave entertainment and demand that the teenagers be dispatched by horror movie conventions (cabin in the woods, vengeful Japanese spirits, mermans etc). When the sacrificial system falls apart, the gods break out on to the earth to cause destruction.
In other words…the gods depicted in the film are… us!
I believe there are two ways of applying that message to our circumstances:
1) We demand to be entertained. We need horror movies to satisfy our blood lust so that we do no go out and do it in the ‘real’ world. Some would argue that people kill others because of horror movies. “Cabin in the woods” argues that horror movies actually stop us from killing. They allow us to express the dark parts of our humanity and experience all the emotions of horror (fear, adrenaline, excitement, anger, revenge) in a safe environment.
2) We like things the way we are. We don’t want the boat rocked. We have a good system in place and we have expectations that we think should be met otherwise we’ll kick up a fuss.
It’s the 2nd point that is most relatable in my own youth work context.
I work for a church. In my role as a youth worker, I have clear expectations of how the youth work should be done. Whether the congregation voice it or not, they also have an expectation of how youth work should be done. And at times, they kick up a fuss if its not done in the way they think it should be.
Does any of this sound familiar?
Sometimes without realising it, we end up serving the ‘gods’ of the congregation rather than the God of the church. We end up playing to their expectations and their rules. And when we get into a system like that, like the film suggests, it can be very hard to break out of.
What methods are you currently employing in your youth work? And who sets them?
Which god is influencing your youth work?
- My Initial Thoughts on ‘The Cabin In The Woods’ (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- The Marginalisation of Young People in “The Cabin in the Woods” (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Thin Places in “The Cabin in the Woods” (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Editorial: The Cabin in the Woods is Not the New Scream – It’s Something Else (dreadcentral.com)
- Satire and Meta-Horror in “The Cabin in the Woods” (joannaparypinski.com)
I finally got around to seeing Daniel Radcliffes’ Hammer Horror this week.
I watched it in part because I was so fed up with ‘The Hunger Games’ bandwagon that many Christians have jumped on. That’s something that really annoys me. That’s not to say that there aren’t some incredible resources that are worth using (Tearfund being one of them) but I find the fact that almost every Christian youth work blogger is writing something about it a little tiring.
Hey, I understand why they (we) do it. It’s a big film. Lots of young people are going to go watch it. There are lots of issues to discuss about it. It’s worth talking about.
But it’s not the only film worth talking about. It’s not the only film with something to say.
Take the “woman in black’ for example. It has grossed more than £20 million at the UK box office and has become the most successful British horror film of all time. At least 60% of my youth group has seen it but a search online to find discussion resources for it yields no matches.
And why is that? I suspect because many Christians do not think it’s a ‘safe’ film. It’s not safe because it’s a horror movie that is created to scare you. For those people who would argue that point but would happily talk about ‘the hunger games’, I would ask whether a film about young people killing each other for the entertainment of adults is ‘safe’ but that would be disingenuous.
We need to be talking about all sorts of films with young people because young people watch all sorts of films. Not talking about films like the ‘woman in black’ or telling young people not to watch it does not help. They will still watch it. Promoting only certain films like ‘the hunger games’ does not help either.
Now I get that I some people don’t want to watch horror because it will scare them or give them nightmares. That’s understandable. But get someone else to see it then and tell you about it. Or check out the resources I’ll put up here and at the reel faith site shortly.
Do you agree with me?
- Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 2 (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- Practical ways of using film in youth work: Part 1 (smoorns.wordpress.com)
- The Story of Film (smoorns.wordpress.com)
I run a website with fellow ICC graduate Mark Williamson called reel faith which seeks to offer an alternative view on how films should be used in youth work. I taught an open evening lecture on the subject at the international christian college on Thursday 1st March and myself and Mark are speaking about the same issue at the youthwork summit in London on May 19th. I have also written a number of blog posts on the subject of why we should no longer be using two minute clips from films to simply make a theological point. Read them here or here.
As you can see, dialogue between film and faith is incredibly important to me.
At the lecture at ICC I offered a couple of practical ways films could be introduced into your youth work programme and over the next couple of blogs, I want to outline those ideas.
One Month Film Study
Start by showing the film at your group on the first week of the month. Show the film in its entirety and have a discussion using the questions I have suggested previously. What will become obvious is that there will be two or three major themes that the young people highlight from any given film and on that evening you can have a brief discussion about those themes and find out what the young people think about them.
For the three remaining three weeks I would suggest looking at one theme a night. I find this a great way to do youth work as the talks and discussions you will then be giving for the rest of the month have been suggested by the young people. It is issues that they want to wrestle and grapple with and the young people should be more engaged with you because of that. It also means that rather than coming with your own agenda for a particular film, you are letting the film speak for itself and allowing open dialogue to flow out of it.
So in theory you could do two or three films over a year and spend a month looking at each one of them. You are no longer spoon feeding young people about issues within films and instead are giving them the tools to critically engage with film and culture in general themselves.
An example could be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Week 1- show the film
Week 2- ‘Going against the flow’
Week 3- ‘Integrity’
Week 4- ‘Sacrifice’
Have a go yourselves and put your comments and thoughts up on here or on the reel faith site. We’d love to hear them.
Over the years I’ve made a number of little short films.
Many of these I have used with youth groups to spark discussions.
And I wanted to make them available for other groups to use.
Included here is an embed to the short film and some basic discussion questions. If you would like a ‘hard’ copy of the films then please message me and I can get one done for you. The cost would be £5 and all funds would go towards making another short.
Short film #1- “Shore”
A man awakes alone on a beach, haunted by a figure in black.
For me, the film deals with a number of themes including hell and the choices that we make in life. The character in the film commits an act that haunts him for eternity. He becomes trapped in his own personal hell because of the guilt and shame that has built up.
Questions for discussion
1) Have you ever felt the way the man in the film does?
2) Where do you think the man is? Is he in hell? What is hell to you?
2) What kinds of things do you feel guilty about?
3) Do you struggle to forgive yourself for these things? Why/ Why not?
4) Do you think God can forgive you for these things?
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
1) Fill a large jar with water and have a number of small soluble tablets. Ask the young people drop the tablets into the water and watch them dissolve, explain to them that this is just like God forgiving the bad things they have done.
2) The rocket confessional on proost
an interactive flash confession created by Jon Birch. Type in your confession and watch as it is launched into space and be absolved.
the “prodigal” facebook page is here.
check out the trailer/ prequel below
The DVD is available for £5.
Please make a payment through paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org with your address and it will be posted out to you.
That time of year again where I look back at all that cinema has given me over the last 12 months. This year, unfortunately, it was easier to pick crap films than good ones. Spiderman 3 and Right at your Door hold the joint titles of WORST FILM OF THE YEAR! Why did you do it to me Spiderman? Why?!I generally rate films on if they inspire me to make more films so my top 10 might be very different from yours. 1. The Bourne Ultimatum 2. The Nines3. Superbad 4. Planet Terror5. Atonement 6. Death Proof (first half. second half was really boring)7. Casino Royale8. Transformers9. 28 Weeks Later10. Jesus Camp What u think? The films that didn’t quite meet the top 10 areThe Fountain, Smokin’ Aces, 300, Hot Fuzz, Zodiac, 30 Days of Night, Stranger than Fiction, Notes on a Scandal, Knocked Up and Venus. All great films in themselves.
My mind is racing with thoughts, questions and I thought the only way to try and make sense of it all was to put down a blog. I don’t normally do these things. It’s not really for anyone else to see (although if you are reading this then it is). It’s more a way for me to explore my thoughts.
I’m a student youth worker, studying at ICC in Glasgow and working as a youth worker, part time at a Church of Scotland in Mauchline and I have a lot of questions.
How do we communicate to young people that FAITH/ GOD should not be something else that we have to make time for in our life…but that it should be our life. It shouldn’t be another activity we have to do. I have to read the bible, go to church, spend more time praying…Yes these are aspects but that’s not Faith. God is in the time that we spend with our friends, the films we watch, the sports we take part in, the food we eat. faith is the our life.
My wife and I have a picture wall in our hall of all the places we have been, all the people we have met along the way. It covers most of the wall in our hallway. That is ‘the christian faith’. That is life with God. I’m still wrestling with it, sure, but how do I communicate to the young people I work with?
How do we get a balance between information and formation? How do we take the things we learn and let it change our life? I don’t want the young people to leave our groups thinking that they don’t have time for God or enough space for God. He’s in it all anyway.
As God said to Moses, “The ground you stand on is holy”. The ground was always holy because God created the world and saw that it was good. He’s in the dirt, the grass, the sky, the people we walk by every day.
Do you see what I’m getting it. My whole being longs to se my young people ‘get’ this. To see a relationship with God as something completely different from religion. A way from rules and traditions. It is something we opt out of, not opt in on. God is there whether we believe it or not. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one gets to the Father except through me”. Does this mean that the door is now open whether we believe in God or not? That he has already chosen us, loved us?
I don’t know but it’s things I think about.
I found out today that there is no Hebrew word for spiritual. In Jesus’ day no one would ever have asked him how his spiritual life was because to say that means that there has to be a part of your life that is not spiritual. I don’t believe that there this. The whole earth and all of us are saccred beings. The breath of God was blown in to us to allow us to live. There is no sacred and secular. It…is…just…life. I don’t believe some movies are sacred and some are secular. God is in them all and can work through them all. The same with music.
At our youth group last Sunday I talked about the song ‘Run’ by Snow Patrol. I have no idea of what they believe about God or faith or any of that but God is in their music and their lyrics. The chorus goes…
“light up, light up as if you had a choice.
Even if you cannot hear my voice, I’ll be right beside you dear”
I can hear jesus singing that song to me, to us, to the world.
But how do I communicate this to young people who are stressed out by exams, parental pressure, homework, school, college, university?
How do I show them that God is ‘in them’ and ‘through them’. He’s in their good and their bad days.
I shake with excitement, frustration, hope, regret, longing, emptiness.
“Discipleship is not just about the process of studying; sooner or later we have to do it”. Faith and God needs to be more than what we are told, it needs to be who we are and what we do.
How do we show young people their part in God’s story? Since the fall, he has been in the process of restoration. Jesus came to bring restoration to the earth and to our relationship with God. “The rocks cry out” for the day when the earth will be restored to what it originally was when God said, “It was good”.
So often we preach a faith of ‘do nots’ rather than ‘do’s’. Jesus got at the pharisees for loading heavy burdens on believers (Matt 23). jesus wanted the opposite, to lift off burdens. To show them that faith this like the wind (this is what Jesus said to Nicodemus) It blows where it wants, picking people up and dropping them off. Doesn’t that sound like a life you want to get it on?
Join with me as we wrestle with these issues or life, love and God and how we communicate to our young people. Boy, I feel better.