Friday, April 17, 2009

Good, Unsafe Art?

Let me preface by apologizing if this post is a bit all over the place. It's me thinking out loud.
I went to a discussion group that LAFSC (the film  studies program I attended my last semester of college) puts on for it's alumni once a month, and the speaker was one of the professors. He posed a question along the lines of, "Why are you as filmmakers afraid to make good, unsafe art?"

You have to ask yourself: What is unsafe art? People responded with various answers: Art that may cause your family, or community where you grew up to ridicule you (note: this is from a Christian view point); or, art that faces questions we may not have the answers to (I like that one).There was much discussion regarding the latter. 

"Evangelical" films (Facing the Giants, Live Fast Die Young, Left Behind, etc.) focus so much on this mentality of knowing the answer -- God (Pray to Him, and He will kick the field goal). Why not pose questions through relatable material that may lead to that answer instead of telling people how it is right up front.  Let me step outside of film to explain this better. 
Non-Christians are so turned off by Christians because we like to tell them how it is up front. "Turn or burn." We come off as having all the answers. Yes, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but who's going to listen to you if you sound like a know-it-all prick (Face it. We do sometimes). We really have to form trusting relationships with those around us, and let our lives speak. Remember, actions speak louder than words (cliche, but so true). Christians are as human as the prostitute on the street corner, or the guy pretending to be homeless so you'll finance his addictions. Let's jump back to film.

To me, good art is something that moves people -- something that provokes. It's telling a great story, and facing the truth of the world we live in, and not running from it. It's relating to those who are watching in the theaters, or at home. Personally, I want to write stories of love, sacrifice, and hope. I love redemption stories.  And I may use some foul language, sexuality, and violence to tell these stories. It's the world we live in. I've been thinking about how I always tell people that I want there to be truth in my films. I can't write something that doesn't portray some form of truth. How do I do that as a Christian who wants to write films? Many Christians will say that I shouldn't have foul language, sexuality, and violence because it's wrong, and it will turn people away from Christ. But to not face those things would be a lie. I'm not promoting that content, but it's relatable to my audience. It's everyday life for some of these people. Last night, we talked about how Christians put so much emphasis on the content of a film that sometimes we forget about the message. For example, there could be a film that ultimately is giving a bad message to children, but as long as it's PG, it's okay. Well, what about the films that are R for their content, yet tell amazing stories of hope and redemption, or pose questions that provoke people to positive action? To me, those are great examples of good, unsafe art, but Christians stamp a big old NO on the film because its rating.

I believe that as a Christian in the film industry, I must allow myself to be vulnerable-- to be human. I want to tell stories that contain truth. Sometimes there the story may not end in redemption, but it may get people asking important questions. Now, let me just say that I fully believe that there is a line to be drawn. Every filmmaker is different. While I know Christian filmmakers who can easily tell stories involving explicit sexual content, I don't believe I could. I don't have a problem with some, but I have to know my limits. That could just be where I'm at in life right now, and maybe someday I'll be able to move the line a bit. I don't know.

Just to add to all of this-- besides being unsafe art (whatever that means to you), it should be done well. People respond better to quality filmmaking. Don't make a sucky film, and then write it off as okay because it tells people about Jesus, and the Church fully supports it. John, last night's speaker, mentioned that he has hope that the Church will one day see past a film's rating and embrace it for its powerful message (something along those lines). I'm right there with him. Good for movies like Facing the Giants that remind those of us in the pews that God answers prayers, but bad for movies like that the don't relate well to those on the streets-- not to mention, I don't fully agree with the "God will kick the field goal" theology.

Just for kicks-- films that fall into what I am promoting through this discussion despite their content: The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Crash, Magnolia, The Shawshank Redemption, Schindler's List, Amelie, City of God, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, Lord of War, Man On Fire, Stigmata, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (really good, but not recommended for those who are extremely sensitive to demonic stuff like myself), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Slumdog Millionaire, Saved, Garden State, Juno, Lars and the Real Girl, and much more. Also, I have not seen these movies, but from what I've heard, they belong on this list: The Wrestler, Gran Torino, and The Apostle.

Anyway,  I hope this made enough sense, and wasn't too hard to follow. I would love to get feedback. It's all just a discussion anyway. I don't have the answers. Please take time to share your thoughts.



David Vosburg said...

Definitely good stuff Andy. So much of good art is being willing to let it really ask those searching questions. That's where redemption comes - not in a solve-all moment.

Christopher said...

Well said.
I look forward to seeing (and it appears that i will also be feeling) this good unsafe art.

Live Butterfly said...

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