Recently I had the opportunity to field 18 questions from Sean Salai, SJ for a profile piece in the Jesuit magazine America. I had a lot of fun answering Mr. Salai’s thoughtful, sometimes surprising questions, ranging from how my faith informs my film writing to what I gave up for Lent.
If an actor in a faith-based indie like Son of God told you he felt God had told him he was meant to play the role in question, you might not bat an eye. It’s more striking to hear such a thing from the star of a $20-million Hollywood film like the civil-rights drama Selma.
Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12) is the year’s second major Old Testament epic from a director who is not a believer — but don’t get Scott started on Noah’s rock-monster Watchers.
Scott Derrickson is such a great interview subject that it was hard for me to cut down our sprawling 45-minute discussion to the 2500-odd words of the text article that ran earlier this week. I’m very pleased, then, to be able to offer the Reel Faith video version of the entire interview.
Scott Derrickson is a very nice guy who makes movies about things that aren’t very nice.
In 1998, a former gang biker named Sam Childers joined a church mission trip to the Sudan to help repair huts damaged in the Second Sudanese Civil War. Most of the people on that trip finished their charitable labors and left Africa behind, but Sam didn’t — not completely.
Opening on Mother’s Day weekend, French director Thomas Balmès’ Babies documents the first year in the life of four babies from four different corners of the world: Mongolia, Namibia, San Francisco and Tokyo. Balmès, who lives in Paris with his wife and three children, discussed his film over the phone with me.
British filmmaker Michael Whyte lives in West London’s Notting Hill area across the square from a Carmelite monastery, Most Holy Trinity. For years he wondered about the building across the square; then one day he inquired about making a documentary there.
Speaking by phone from New York, producer Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson and heir, suggested that the new film’s more mature tone was partly a reflection of the book itself. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was written very much to be read aloud,” Gresham explained. “With Prince Caspian, in [Lewis’s] mind his audience had moved up a few years in age, and so Prince Caspian was written for them to read to themselves.”
In 1984, filmmaker Philip Gröning had an idea for a film. He took his proposal to the prior of the Grande Chartreuse monastery, the head monastery of the Carthusian order, high in the French Alps between Grenoble and Chambéry. Gröning wanted to shoot a documentary inside the Grande Chartreuse — not an ordinary documentary, concerned with the transmission of information, but a spiritual voyage into the inner meaning and experience of monastic life.
A lot of thought and effort went into getting the feel, the look, the period and the characters of C. S. Lewis’s beloved fairy tale The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe right for the screen… At the same time, judging from the unanimous testimony of the filmmakers, one crucial element of the book was not a consideration one way or the other in adapting the story: its religious significance.
For German filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, the appeal of making The Ninth Day, a fact-inspired film about a priest in a Nazi concentration camp who is briefly released, goes back over five decades to Schlöndorff’s film-club days at a Jesuit boarding school, where he first encountered Carl Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Constantine might sound like the latest entry in Hollywood’s string of violent costume dramas (Alexander, Troy, King Arthur), but it’s not actually about the Roman emperor who was the subject of such religious films as Constantine and the Cross. In this film, instead of a sign in the sky, the cross is a weapon in the ero’s hands. Starring Keanu Reeves, Constantine is a sort of a cross between Hellboy and The Exorcist with some Matrix attitude thrown in, a violent R-rated action-thriller of the supernatural based on the DC/Vertigo comic book Hellblazer, about a cynical demon-hunter antihero who’s literally been to hell and back. Though he knows that what God expects is belief, self-sacrifice, and repentance, he is futilely trying to earn his way into God’s good graces.
It’s not just a buzzword, either. There’s a special hand gesture that goes along with it. First you hold your hands up, palms outward, fingers spread apart. This where we are: no synergy. Then you clasp your hands into fists with the tips of the fingers of each hand inside the fist of the other hand, so that your hands make a sort of "S" shape. This is where we need to get to: synergy. Get it? (If you think this kind of thing doesn’t really pass for deep thought in corporate convention halls and conference rooms, you don’t know corporate America.)
It isn’t only Jim Caviezel, the Christ of The Passion, here another nobly self-sacrificial prisoner who freely allows himself to be wrongly condemned in order to save another. It’s also the actor who plays the complex, conflicted official who suspects his prisoner is innocent but must pass judgment anyway — Pontius Pilate in The Passion, "The Man" in I Am David. In both films, the role went to Bulgarian actor Hristo Shopov.
Actually, Spin, adapted by the younger Redford from Donald Everett Axinn’s debut novel of the same name, is an intimate coming-of-age drama set in 1950s small-town Arizona. Starring Ryan Merriman, Stanley Tucci, Dana Delany, and Paula Garcés, it tells the story of an orphan named Eddie (Merriman) whose parents were killed in a flying accident, and who was left by his uncle (Tucci) to be raised by a Mexican employee (Rubén Blades) and his Anglo wife (Delany), a schoolteacher.
“I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged,” said
Does he think of himself as being part of a generation of filmmakers? Smith reflects. "If I am part of a generation of filmmakers," he says with typically self-depracating candor, "it would be the generation that got in too easily." He recounts the epiphany he had after seeing Richard Linklater’s 1991 low-budget indie comedy Slacker: "I thought to myself, ’This counts? This is a movie? ’Cause I think I could do that!’" The result of this epiphany was Smith’s first film, Clerks, a cheerfully obscene comedy that Smith admitted he "never expected to play outside Monmouth County" in New Jersey.
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