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Bible Stories of Broken People: An Interview with David Di Sabatino

The Bible is filled with broken people whom God uses in incredible ways.  David Di Sabatino is interested in these kinds of people.  He has made 2 documentaries so far that DiSabatino likes to call “Bible stories” – “Frisbee: The Life and Death of A Hippie Preacher” and “Fallen Angel: The Outlaw Larry Norman.”  In addition, Di Sabatino is an author who has written about the Jesus People movement (The Jesus People Movement: An Annotated Bibliography and General Resource), and was a former editor with Worship Leader magazine.

As a bonus, is giving away one copy each of the DVDs and CD film soundtracks of "The Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher" and "Fallen Angel" to the first two people to post comments at the end of the interview. 

Read on for part 1 of our conversation:

Christopher: I saw “Crumb” yesterday, and then I saw “The Cove” right afterwards. One documentary was this intimate portrait of this person and his family, and the other one that was really slick and produced, and felt like a propaganda piece. What in your mind makes for a good documentary?

David: Well, documentaries have their own panoply. Good documentary at its center is telling you a story, but it also has to build some sort of conflict into the situation. There has to be a good story arc, there has to be something that’s fulfilling, that’s gonna catch the attention of the audience. I would say story, story, story is everything.

You see documentaries that are very thin on story, and they use a lot of gimmickry to get across stuff and it’s all this slight of hand. Sometimes it works - like Morgan Spurlock – he has a good premise there (with "Super Size Me"), but if you believe that he was gonna die by eating McDonald’’re like “C’mon, all of us have scarfed that down, it’s not that big that you’re gonna die.” When you see that kind of stuff, it gets tiresome.

Michael Moore–the daddy of them all–he does some stuff that I think is outside of the realm of truth, and you should stick to truth for a good documentary. Especially in "Farenheit 9/11" he played fast and loose. I don’t think he’s done that with "Sicko" or the other ones. I just saw "Capitalism: A Love Story" and I really liked it. But again – he’s the highest grossing documentarian of all time, so what are you gonna say?

As a Christian, part of my take on it is I’m trying to offer up something that’s similar to the writers of the Bible that are trying to weave in not only a story, but larger themes for people to grasp.

Christopher: Such as?

David: The book of Luke is very pneuma-centric, centered on the Spirit of God, and these are themes resonant within his book. It’s not overt, but it’s in there.

So in "Frisbee: Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher," there are all these issues I’m throwing at you in 55 minutes. One is, how do you deal with a guy who’s got all this tremendous potential and the Spirit of God is using him, but he’s a tiger by the tail behavior-wise? It raises a pastoral question. What if the prophet Ezekiel walked into your church, laid on his side, and started prophesying naked while rolling around in his own feces? What do you do with that guy? Yet, this is the Bible right? This is the book that we say we follow. Lonnie presents that kind of challenge. God throws this joker in the pack of these southern California tight-asses. In some respects, they embrace him, and in other respects they don’t know what to do.

Christopher: What is it about this time period that draws you most to it? You have the Larry Norman movie, you have Frisbee and your book on the Jesus people movement. What is it about that era that specifically appeals to you?

David: I was trained as a historian, so that’s interesting to me.  One of the problems that I have with evangelical Christian culture is it’s so forward looking – whatever’s hot now. We don’t take a look backwards. I don’t think you can understand the church and the emergent movement or whatever it is that’s coming down the pipeline without understanding the roots of the Jesus movement. I’ve learned a tremendous deal by just talking to these people and asking, “What did you go through?” And I mean like really talking to them – not just getting the story that the “machinery” tells to kind of cover up the abuses and how they’ve thrown away people.  There’s a ton of people that were used in the Jesus movement and that were thrown away by the “machinery.”

I don’t really concentrate on the guys in the power positions because I’ve found that they lie 9 times out of 10. That’s just the nature of where they are. They’re trying to make things sound all rosy. So, I’m more interested in the guy that’s on the side that got burned, or is still serving his church faithfully but isn’t in the limelight. Those guys are much more interesting to me.

The Jesus Movement is a microcosm of something that God did in a tremendous way as these hippie’s looked to God, He came down halfway and met them and a lot of great things happened, and a lot of not so great things happened. Let’s learn from both of them.

My mandate is like the psalmist in Psalm 78 who eggs us to tell of the wonderful works of God. But within that Psalm, he then starts to complain bitterly about Israel’s infidelities. So here’s a guy who says “Tell of all that God has done,” but then presents an honest story. That’s something that I see Christian’s are not doing. They’re not standing up and saying, “This is exactly what happened” or even trying to do that. They’re saying, “How can I make the most money by telling the story that everybody wants to hear.” That’s the wrong way in.


I like the philosophy of storytelling through film that Di Sabatino is describing here. An honest story that resonates with the grand narrative of the world that God's created are the best stories to tell, and especially when done in a compelling manner.

DJ, As the first commenter, you get your choice. Do you want the "Frisbee" DVD and CD or the official soundtrack, or the "Fallen Angel" DVD with the official soundtrack?

So just curious? Did these movies talk to everyone on both sides of the issue? For example, did the Frisbee one interview Chuck Smith himself? Did the Larry Norman doc talk to his bro Charles? Balance & objectivity are important!

Part 2 of the interview directly addresses some of those questions Kevin. Check back next week.

I can't wait. I personally have talked to 2 people close to Larry on both sides of this issue, so I can say I have a little bit of both perspectives. That's a shoe leather hits the pavement use of objectivity and due diligence. AFAICS, if someone can't give us that, then why bother at all?

Nice interview, Christopher did a good job.

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Christopher is a Marriage and Family Therapist completing his license in Southern California.  He loves to write about films, make music, and spend time with his lovely wife.