From the full-color stills on the cover to the richly illustrated interior, Reel Faith screams “Look at me!” It is a cry that is hard to ignore.
In Reel Faith: Where Meaning Meets the Movies, Abingdon Press has produced a series of resource that are compelling and practical. For small-groups, each issue in the series is a well-designed collection of aids. Three issues are already out. The fourth is due this spring.
Each issue follows the same format: short Quips and Scripture references; three Current Releases (with a synopsis, comments, biblical parallels and questions); a Series section addressing three movies on a common topic; Video Illustrations designed for preaching and teaching; one Classic movie recommendation; and a Point/Counterpoint highlighting two movies which look at the same subject from different directions.
The first issue of Reel Faith offers the “Top Ten Christ Figures in the Movies.”
The first discussion guide explores redemption and hope in hopeless situations as seen in “The Green Mile.” In “Meet the Parents”Ben Stiller’s “everyman” character leads to a discussion of human failure, attempts at “works” and the need for grace. “Proof of Life”is divided into seven questions which examine trust, values and conscience.
The movies in the Relationship Series, “As Good As It Gets,” “Notting Hill” and “Shadowlands,” could hardly be more different in the types of relationships they portray. Yet in all three movies real-world relationships connect with grace, compassion and risk.
For Video Illustrations, “The Shawshank Redemption”and “Simon Birch” highlight hope and the purpose of life. The Classics selection, “The Treasure of Sierra Madre,” reflects on the use of power. Point/Counterpoint finds that the starkly contrasting movies “It’s A Wonderful Life”and “The Crow”both offer the same nugget of truth: nothing in our life is trivial.
The second issue of Reel Faith opens with quips and a listing of the “Top Ten Movie Preachers,” but it moves quickly to “Traffic,” a movie about the drug trade. Along with approximately 30 discussion questions, there is information about the drug war and one response to the drug problem by faith-based organizations.
“Chocolat” is the basis for discussion on law, love and the role of religion in addressing life’s deepest needs. (Note: this discussion will take place best over a piece of mud pie.) The guide for “What Women Want”offers an icebreaker for a co-ed group and questions on the transformational power of listening.
The Political Film Series uses “The Contender,” “The Candidate”and “Bob Roberts”to enter the tumultuous arena of politics, integrity and faith. Video Illustrations looks at something old, “Spartacus,” and something new, “Gladiator,” and finds common threads. “Lilies of the Fields,” the Classic Movie selection, is fertile ground for examining providence, salvation and racism. Point/Counterpoint touches on the popular subject of angels. While the good-natured archangel in “Michael”bears little resemblance to the evil warriors in “The Prophecy,” both movies deal with faith lost and found.
The third issue of Reel Faith opens with a techno flavor. The quips are taken from “The Matrix”and the Top Ten List names movies in which a computer attempts to play God.
For the three current movies, “The Matrix,” “Memento”and “A Knight’s Tale,”thequestions go beyond special effects to deeper issues about human destiny, redemption and, yes, rock music.
The Film Series is on World War II, featuring “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Thin Red Line” and “Pearl Harbor.” After biblical materials on “just war,” the guide tackles the nature of war and the experiences of warriors. There is also a section for Christians in light of the attacks on Sept. 11.
In Video Illustrations, two films, “Pollock”and “Lust for Life,” examine the lives of two artists, Jackson Pollock and Vincent Van Gogh. For each of them to be fruitful, they must have solitude, a discipline also needed by believers.
The guide for “Schindler’s List,” a true classic, points to the powerful truths evident throughout the movie. In Point/Counterpoint, two works by Steven Speilberg, “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial”and “A.I.:Artificial Intelligence,” both address questions of human existence. But the discussion guide then asks, “What has changed in twenty years?”
Don’t be deceived by the slick production of Reel Faith. There is real meat inside. The discussions lead thinking people to issues of substance and help them connect with secular thought and biblical concepts.
Reel Faith does include movies which contain adult themes. But for those who can use it appropriately, it is a resource that will be welcomed and well-used.
David Benjamin is pastor of King’s Cross Church in Tullahoma, Tenn.