Sunday, February 19, 2006
Holy Cinema, Full of Grace
Gone, it seems are the irreverent days of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and Meaning of Life. We are now living in a post-Passion world of cinema. The New York-based "God on Film" festival (http://www.godonfilm.com/) -- designed to provide filmmakers with an opportunity to showcase their talents and receive prizes for their exploration of spiritual themes -- is now entering its third year. The spiritual web site http://www.beliefnet.com/, has, this year, launched the "Beliefnet Film Awards" to honor to most Spiritual Feature Film of the Year (nominees: Cinderella Man, Walk the Line, Junebug, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Brokeback Mountain), Most Spiritual Documentary of the Year (nominees: Grizzly Man, Murderball, March of the Penguins, and Mad Hot Ballroom) and a Spiritual Lifetime Achievement recipient (nominees: Steven Spielberg, Morgan Freeman, George Lucas, Mel Gibson, and Meryl Streep). Last year, Sony Pictures opened the religious-themed film Left Behind: World at War in 3,200 churches, instead of theaters, across the country (see Movies on My Mind: "Separation of Church and ...Theater?," 10/24/05). and Walt Disney marketed its biggest film of the year, the Jesus-themed The Chronicles of Narnia, directly to churchgoers (see Movies on My Mind: "Can Disney Create 'Passion' for Narnia Audience?," 11/30/05). The new film End of the Spear -- the story of missionaries working in the eastern rainforest of Ecuador -- was made by Every Tribe Entertainment, a Christian film production company, founded by Mart Green, the former head of the Mardel Christian and Educational Supply company, with the mission "To create quality entertainment for a broad audience that inspires hope through truth." The biggest stir at this year's Sundance Film Festival was for the film Son of Man, which portrays Jesus as a black African revolutionary (see Movies on My Mind: "Should Jesus Get an Agent?," 1/22/06). Recently founded by marketing and public relations consultant Joan Holman, the non-profit Spiritual Cinema Alliance (http://www.spiritualcinemaalliance.org/) -- which operates under the umbrella of the National Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C -- is (as you might imagine) dedicated to the development and promotion of spiritual films. So what's going on? Are movie theaters becoming the new churches? Why the sudden surge in spiritual cinema? Certainly there have been spiritual themes in movies since the beginning, but never before has it seemed so organized or magnified. Is it just good business? Or is it also good for the soul?