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 ( -- 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, 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 ( -- 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?

I believe that humans are spiritual beings. It makes sense then that their creations are spiritual as well. You are right to say that many films have a spiritual component to them. I would suggest that all do on some level. Even if it is a reflection of disconnected sense of spirituality. Maybe what is happening now is that we are recognizing not only good acting, directing and apeical effects, but also how this spiritual component is shown in film.
We humans are a superstitious lot that love to believe in the big primate in the sky and the tooth fairy and all that and we embrace magical thinking because it feels good. It makes us feel like we matter on some cosmic scale. Makes us feel like we're more right, more clean, more honest than our opponents in the endless struggles for resources on the planet. The more threatened we feel, the more we turn to symbols and myths and obsessive rituals and the more we use those symbols and myths and obsessive rituals to close ranks within our own herd. There have always been material rewards available to shamans who can convince people that they have access to some special realm that defies logic and experience. People will gladly trade material posessions in this world for intangable rewards in some other magical land and the studios and Mel Gibson have figured out what religions have known for all recorded history: there's gold to be made from people's fears and insecurities. You can take people's inability to accept the world for what our minds and senses tell us it is and get filthy rich if you do it right. There's really nothing new about the creators of art and entertainment leveraging our superstitions to increase the perceived value of their products. The selling of religion is certainly the world's oldest marketing job, if not the world's oldest profession. And if film distributors have found a way to tap into that to get asses in seats (or pews as the case may be) you can bet they will.
Free medium popcorn and one indulgence with every admission!
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