Posted by: keepfishing | October 30, 2007

A Festival of Films

This weekend I traveled south to the L’Abri community in Hampshire for their second annual ‘Twenty Four Frames per Second’ film festival. I could you bore with details about all the films I watched and what people thought about them, but that would be dull and not the point of this. (For the record, I watched Breaking and Entering, East of Eden, The Legend of the Weeping Camel, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Little Miss Sunshine and The Seventh Seal all in a 29 hour period).

Despite all the films being fascinating, the most interesting and useful part of the weekend was an ongoing discussion about how Christians should view films. Too often you can you find Christians trying to label a film “Christian” or not. You find some Christian websites and magazines reviewing films and rating them by content, measuring how much swearing, nudity and violence there is, rather than by their message or what it says about their content. Christians find themselves watching films depending on whether certain content aspects have reached a threshold level or not.

The problem with this is that it can be part of an attitude that persists throughout a persons life. We create laws for ourselves, do’s and dont’s about what we’re allowed to do, absolutes about right and wrongs. In some cases, absolutes are a good, even essential, thing, but there is an inherent problem with this way of critical thinking. On one level, it is protective, shielding us from things that might potentially damage us. On another much deeper and more important level, it is potentially extremely destructive.

You see, following a list of rules is not only un-Christian and legalistic, it reduces our ability to think, to critically analyse. It stops us from looking at something and engaging with it, from discerning whether what it says is good or evil, empowering or destructive, provides a useful social commentary or not, and reduces it to one-dimensional, tick-box labelling. We end up participating only in what we label ‘Christian’ and the ‘non-Christian is excluded’.

It’s a tragedy that many Christians never develop the critical mind. This avoidance of thinking can leave us in a highly vulnerable Christian bubble, where everything is in or out and the ability to learn that most important of disciplines, self control, is never learned. One day, the bubble will get pierced and we’ll be forced to face the world and the storm of it’s reality. When it happens, will the foundations of our convictions be able to stand up to the wind, or will they collapse at the first breath of questioning inquiry.

In 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1, Paul talks to his readers about engaging with their culture. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive (v23 – NIV)”. Without wanting to give a sermon and full exegesis of the passage, I think it’s worth saying that Paul is not advocating a list of do’s and dont’s. He’s saying that we have freedom to go and engage with the world around us. If a friend invites to go for dinner (v27), we don’t sit around with a check list debating whether it’s a ‘Christian’ dinner or not, we go. It’s important to note that freedom to engage isn’t total freedom, because that is ultimately destructive, but it’s real freedom, freedom to engage that enriches us and makes us more human. Yet before anyone takes this to mean that anything really is permissable, Paul reminds us that it’s only actually good if it’s beneficial and constructive.

Realise though that ‘beneficial’ does not necessarily translate as something that is nice, safe or comfortable. Some of the things in life that benefit us most are the things that make us feel the most uncomfortabel, that make us think the most, that cause us to properly engage in a situation. Paul encourages us to participate with our culture, not to be neutral. And in the context of films, that means engaging, participating with them.

It has been said that treating a film as a commodity is to prostitute it. Directors make films to say something. So let’s start participating and learning to hear what they’ve got to say!


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