The Doorpost Film Project: Enter Now!

All aspiring filmmakers should enter The Doorpost Film Project.  It is a quality contest that funds your efforts. Make a short film based upon one of five themes (forgiveness, freedom, humility, joy, redemption). The top ten finalists are then given money ($30,000) to make another short film on the topic of "hope". The grand prize winner receives $100,000.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting the players involved and this is a strong event.  Start writing and shooting now.  Entries must be submitted March 15th.

Tags | Film

Biola's Bettie Page: R.I.P.

Famed, fifties pin-up queen Bettie Page passed away this December. The Reverend Robert Schuller presided over her funeral, which was attended by Hugh Hefner and a host of admirers and imitators. Rather than waiting for Biola University to pay tribute to their former student, I thought I would consider Bettie Page’s curious combination of sex and salvation.

Born into an abusive family, Bettie still graduated near the top of her Nashville high school class. An early marriage ended in divorce and Bettie pursued an acting career in New York. Her deep Southern accent may have inhibited her dramatic prospects. But an invitation to model for a photographer led to her appearance in all manner of undress. Bettie Page eventually landed on the cover of Playboy magazine wearing nothing but a Santa hat.

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Tags | Film

OBAMA and WARREN: Bruised but Unbowed

As the latest evidence that change has come, consider Barack Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration. Activists on the left have been fuming, wondering, “How the president-elect could turn the stage over to a pastor who opposes gay marriage?” Warren has been on the receiving end of similar attacks, especially when he invited Obama to a Global Summit on AIDS at Saddleback Church. Conservatives were outraged, “How could a Christian leader turn over the microphone to a politician who was pro-choice?” Both leaders have taken heat from the most politicized and vocal wings on their constituencies. Yet, both Obama and Warren have unapologetically defended their decisions, demonstrating a rare form of cooperation across the religious and political divide.

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Slumdog Millionaire may be the best film of the year.  It juxtaposes the hopes embodied in the gameshow “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” with the depressing squalor of slums.     Director Danny Boyle captures the sounds, rhythms, and ethos of India.  Slumdog Millionaire is intense and absorbing.   It works you over.   Yet, heart, soul and romance endure amidst even the most pressing conditions.  

Given the recent madness in Mumbai, Slumdog Millionaire has also become the most prescient film of awards season.   We struggle to understand how a small band of terrorists brought a massive Indian metropolis to a standstill.  We can find parallels to the attacks on Mumbai's financial center to the assault on the World Trade Center.

Tags | Film

CHRISTIAN REALITY TV: 10 years too late?

I get nervous anytime the word, “Christian” is used as a marketing term.  So the phrase, “Christian Reality Television,” invokes an immediate groan.   Yet, a couple of recent shows aren’t as painful as most cringe-inducing “Christian” TV.  The Uprising follows a trio of skateboarders, including the legendary Christian Hosoi, who are ministers with The Sanctuary Church in Huntington Beach. Revolve puts viewers on the bus with a contemporary Christian music tour aimed at tween girls.  Both series are shot and edited in a crisp, professional style. Both undoubtedly satisfy their niche audiences. Yet, I can’t help but feel it is far too little too late. Do we really want to trail a decade behind a dubious trend?

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As another Christmas shopping season cranks up, can we slow down long enough to mourn for Jdimytai Damour? He was trampled to death in the stampede of shoppers that kicked off black Friday at a Wal-Mart in Nassau Country, New York. Damour’s large size placed him in the front of the store, assigned to stem the inevitable tide of bargain hunters. He wasn’t a Wal-Mart employee, but a subcontractor for a security company hired to control the flow. Evidently, Damour had no training in crowd control, but was placed in the line of fire due to his girth. How many shoppers simply ran over him, literally stomping the life (and breathe) out of him? Jdimytai Damour paid a high price for our bargain shopping.

A wide variety of blame has started to be cast. Was it Wal-Mart’s fault for underestimating the fervor of their day after Thanksgiving shoppers? Should the security company have trained Damour and others temp employees before placing them in dangerous situations? Can security cameras isolate (and then make it possible to charge) shoppers who stepped on him? Undoubtedly a pack of lawyers will seize upon this opportunity to sue. Will they be fighting for justice or hungry for a quick buck themselves?

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I’m in Washington, DC this week. I had the privilege of taking my kids to see George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Their home features a commanding view overlooking the Potomac. Yet, that dramatic setting pales in comparison to the dramatic events in American History swirling throughout their lifetime. Our tour took on added resonance during this tumultuous election year. 

George Washington learned many valuable military lessons while serving under the British during the French and Indian War. He suffered a stinging defeat at Ft. Necessity outside Pittsburgh. When British General Braddock refused to heed Washington’s advice, the General and his troops were dealt a crushing blow. These “failures” during the French and Indian War sharpened Washington’s strategy and resolve during the Revolutionary War against the British. A short film at Mt. Vernon’s museum recreated Washington’s daring Christmas crossing of the Delaware River in 1776. Under cover of darkness, the revolutionary army was able to surprise the British redcoats the next morning in New Jersey. 

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Fuller Seminary’s Travis Auditorium was sold out on Saturday for a solo show by acclaimed musician, David Bazan. Sitting center stage with his guitar, Bazan entranced his devoted fans with an hour of songs and stories. He is a poet of uncertainty, excavating his Christian roots in search of the authentic. His acoustic show packed plenty of punch with his signature dry wit. Performing on the heels of America’s historic presidential election, Bazan basked in the outcome. Amidst his downboat, introspective songs, David Bazan sounded genuinely happy.

He introduced a host of new tunes from his long-awaited debut on Seattle’s Barsuk Records. Acknowledging the countless recording devices in the room, Bazan bargained with his fans, “Don’t be a hero” and post things online before the album’s Spring release. Bazan performed the parabolic, “Weeds in the Wheat,” the haunting “Curse Your Branches,” and his jaunty new track, “Please Baby Please.”

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Tags | Music

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

It is suddenly serious season at the movies. The powerful, Oscar worthy film, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, arrives in theaters at an opportune time. Based upon an acclaimed novel by Irishman John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas explores the horrors of Auschwitz with childlike wonder. It is driven by remarkable performances from two young actors, Asa Butterfield as Bruno and Jack Scanlon as Shmuel. As the son of a Nazi commandant, Bruno literally crosses the barbed wire that separates him from the imprisoned Shmuel. As Jesus crossed borders, so Bruno discovers that while barriers may divide us, bold sacrifices will unite us.

As we conclude a divisive American presidential election, the question remains, “How do we work together?” Can we embrace those we disagree with, “the Other,” as more than an enemy? French philosopher and Talmud scholar Emmanuel Levinas suggested:

I am responsible for the Other without waiting for reciprocity, were I to die for it. Reciprocity is their affair. It is precisely insofar as the relation between the Other and me is not reciprocal that I am in subjection to the Other; and I am “subject” essentially in this sense. It is I who support all…The I always has one responsibility more than all the others.
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Tags | Film

Change Has Come: Obacalypse Now?

Did you weep?   As Barack Obama was announced as President-elect, I cried for a while.   Whether you shed tears of joy or disappointment, we all witnessed a historic victory.   I never dreamed that our country would elect a black president in my lifetime.   Our nation seemed too haunted by our past.  In 1964, as the Civil Rights movement began, Sam Cooke sang, “A Change is Gonna Come.”  Yet, after a remarkable voter turnout, an unprecedented, multicultural moment has arrived.   The election of Barack Obama as president proves that “Change has come.”   So how shall we respond?

Despite a Democratic majority in Congress, will President-elect Obama be met with cooperation or resistance?    Many white evangelicals may be tempted to view Barack Obama’s presidential victory as  “Obacalypse Now.”   Seventy-five percent of white, born-again voters backed Senator John McCain.   Do these Christians want to go down in history as having led the opposition to one of the most important and beloved presidents in American history?   Or can Caucasian Christians come to see this election as more opportunity than tragedy?    It is not too late to come alongside this remarkable moment.   Before anyone starts throwing stones, I encourage the conservative Christian community to pause, reflect, and maybe even repent.  

Countless emails were forwarded to me during the waning days of the campaign.  They took on an increasingly desperate air.   I was told our nation was “in harm’s way.”  I was encouraged to pray for “a person of righteousness to rule.”   One compared Obama’s infomercial to the techniques of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi propaganda.   It was alleged that Barack was actually an African-Arab.    Clearly, some people of faith are very scared.   

Focus on the Family’s incendiary “Letter from 2012” spun the most alarmist scenarios.    Under President Obama, they predicted a left leaning Supreme Court would embrace homosexuality with such aplomb that the Boy Scouts are banished, Catholic adoption agencies are outlawed, and Christian broadcasting will be prohibited as hate speech.  (Perhaps they understood the spirit behind their letter better than they realized.)  Time will tell whether Focus will be seen as a prophetic or pathetic.    Obama’s victory may be a financial boon to ministries baptized in the politics of fear.  They may redouble their efforts to divide those that God longs to join together.   But as people of faith shouldn’t we repudiate such blatant appeals to our worst instincts?  

Are we ready to resume our role as agents of reconciliation?   Can we recover our biblical calling to pursue righteousness and justice?   Those noble words are linked 55 times in the Hebrew Bible.   Memorable verses like Isaiah 1:16, Proverbs 21:3, and Amos 5:24 unite justice and righteousness as complimentary aspects of a glorious vision.   This is where things are made right, where God’s people begin to resemble a peaceable kingdom, where shalom reigns over our relationships.   

Some churches emphasize personal piety, stressing our need for purity and righteousness.   Other congregations focus upon our public responsibility, the need to reform social structures and provide for the poor.  The ancient Jewish community could not imagine one without the other.   Their faith was holistic, not subdivided into public and private realms.   

We must not mistake America for ancient Israel or anoint ourselves a “Christian nation.”  (See Pastor Greg Boyd's excellent Myth of a Christian Nation for more detail).   The Christian left must not mirror the misplaced hopes of the Religious Right.   We do not place our faith in a political party, but in a single person, Jesus of Nazareth.   Our allegiance is not to Republicans or Democrats, red or blue states, but to a king robed in purple splendor.   But we must live out our private faith in public ways, practicing personal purity while advocating liberty and justice for all.   Now is not the time to go Amish (although I respect their fervent commitments).

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Craig Detweiler, PhD is a filmmaker, author and professor. He directs the Reel Spirituality Institute for the Brehm Center at Fuller Theological Seminary.