Friday, December 01, 2006

Toward a Soul Food Film Course?

One of my favourite places on earth is Schloss Mittersill in Austria. A couple summers ago I led their annual arts conference. Holy smokes. Can you imagine: two weeks in a castle that's half a millenium old, talking and making art with Christians gathered from more than a dozen European nations? Musicians, painters, filmmakers, actors, writers, architects, poets... Sheesh.

Anyhow, I'll do anything to worm my way back onto their schedule again. Why shouldn't a once-in-a-lifetime experience happen twice, that's what I'm thinking. So there's been talk of something to do with film. We thought of a mini film festival, we thought of a film-making workshop course, and now we're talking about a film appreciation course. To give you a glimpse of the possibilities, here's the email I sent them this morning: all completely speculative at this point, but hey, I'm excited! And if something doesn't come of it all over there in Europe, maybe a venue or occasion will take shape on this side of the pond? Could be fun though, don't you think?

There are a lot of directions such a course could take. Indeed, it's easy to imagine a series of courses that would inter-relate and build on one another.

My greatest strength in this area is in encouraging and equipping others to look at films well, and in modeling and offering a variety of ways to integrate our faith with our experience of film (and, by extension, the other arts). I'm an amateur theologian (I have a Diploma of Christian Studies from Regent College) but a professional theatre artist (an MFA from the California Institute of the Arts, and 22 years experience as actor, playwright and director, as well as being founder and artistic director of Pacific Theatre, a professional stage company in Vancouver Canada). So my approach will always be to start by looking closely at the film itself, then moving in the direction of placing the work in dialogue with our experience of Christian faith, with scripture, with Christian thought.

One possible shape for such a course would be to survey film-makers who have a particular interest in Christian faith or Christian themes; Dreyer, Rossellini, Bergman, Bresson, Jacques Tourneur, Tarkovsky, Scorsese / Schrader, Peter Weir, Agnieszka Holland, possibly the Dardenne brothers, Kieslowski, Ermanno Olmi, even Lars von Trier?

For the most part that is a pretty daunting list of auteur directors: maybe that would be best as a more advanced course, preceded with a survey of more accessible films that might culminate in a Bresson or Kieslowski? Something like "Landmarks of Spiritual Film: Looking Closely at Faith at the Movies"? Maybe a progression from CHARIOTS OF FIRE (England), SOPHIE SCHOLL (Germany), THE MAN WITHOUT A PAST (Finland) and NOT OF THIS WORLD (Italy) through TENDER MERCIES (USA) and JESUS OF MONTREAL (Canada) or RUN LOLA RUN (Germany) or BABETTE'S FEAST (Denmark), culminating in something from DEKALOG (Poland), maybe L'ENFANT (Belgium) or SONGS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR (Sweden). We could compare and contrast two recent films created from the same historical incidencts, REQUIEM (Germany) and THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (USA). Or look closely at the original CAT PEOPLE by Paul Tourneur, a fifties B movie which is immensely admired by cinephiles the world over, and compare it to Calvin-haunted Paul Schrader's remake in the eighties, which aimed to be a tribute but turned out to be an embarrassment.

I think two weeks would be far preferable to one. Three weeks would actually be ideal, but I don't know if you offer courses that run that long. Each "working day" we would want three to five hours of class / seminar time to interact about the films, plus an evening or late afternoon screening of the next day's film. Actually, in this day of notebook computers, we could make a number of copies available for people to view on their own as well, which could be helpful for people who would rather view selected films with different subtitles in their own language? If that were available.

Those are just a couple of ideas. Can you give me some ideas of the parameters on your end? More specifics about length, format, content. Any response to the ideas I've started expressing above? Which may spark more ideas on my end, or help me refine those?

Exciting even to be considering these possibilities!

Ron Reed

No comments: