Let's Get Metaphysical at the Damah Film Festival
Largely unknown Christians who direct imaginative, story-driven films will enjoy wider audiences because of the annual Damah Film Festival, which met on October 10 to 12 at the Seattle Art Museum.
Some winning films stream on the festival's website and others are available on two DVDs sold on the website. Others will join a touring festival (tentative cities for the 2002-03 tour are Boston, Boulder, Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Portland, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, England).
Damah, festival organizers say, is "an ancient Hebrew word that means a metaphor that transforms." The festival is the brainchild of a seven-member board. All board members are Christians, but they do not limit entries to films by Christians. Indeed, Damah welcomes entries under a theme of "spiritual experiences in film."
Damah's board watches all the submitted films, decides which to show during the festival, and nominates a shorter list (24 this year) to a jury of 11 film-industry professionals. The jury, consisting of both Christians and non-Christians, then selects winners in these categories:
- Up to 60 Seconds ($500 prize).
- Up to 5 Minutes ($2,500).
- Up to 15 Minutes ($2,500).
- Up to 30 Minutes ($2,500).
- Best of Show ($7,000).
This year's jurors included film critic Michael Medved, an observant Jew; New Age producer Stephen Simon (What Dreams May Come); and Scott Derrickson (Hellraiser: Inferno and Urban Legends: Final Cut) a graduate of Biola University and the University of Southern California.
All faiths welcome
Damah is designed to encourage storytellers, regardless of their beliefs, and build community among them. Films featured at Damah offer sympathetic (and even some proselytizing) perspectives on Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Sufism.
One director, Sanjiban Sellew, makes humorous films about his New Age beliefs. In "The Fight That Never Ends" (streaming; DVD, Vol. 1), Sellew dons boxing gloves to fight God, pounds away at a large, upturned tree stump, and ends up on his back with a bloody nose. "Me Against You" (DVD, Vol. 2) consists entirely of four bloody self-flagellants and terrorists, all identified merely as "Fanatic" in the credits, chanting the title phrase. Sellew's intensely personal films drew laughter and lively applause during Damah screenings.
Many of the winning films reflect Christian beliefs:
- Audience With God by Travis Reed (Winner, Up to 5 Minutes). On-the-street interviews achieve new depth as people describe what they would tell or ask God if they knew they had his ear. The prevailing themes: "Help me," "Thank you," and "Relieve our suffering." Even when people declare in this film that God doesn't exist, they sound wistful about it.
- Jillian's Vantage by Geno Andrews (Best of Show) depicts a date between Jillian, a blind therapist, and John, an emotionally wounded man. Despite John's initial discomfort about her blindness, Jillian helps John see with "the eyes of the heart." After a breakthrough moment, Jillian's Vantage digresses into a stylish music video (Andrews has worked as a songwriter for years). But its final plot twist is a stunner.
- The Least of These by Rik Swartzwelder (Winner, Up to 30 Minutes; Old Fashioned Pictures). This film, which Swartzwelder completed to show an investor his abilities, retells Tony Campolo's story about organizing a surprise birthday party for a prostitute. Swartzwelder makes the character a younger man, changes his name, and hints at brokenness in his family life. Swartzwelder shot this film at a dark, languid diner near Baltimore. The soundtrack by John Hodges echoes the lonely jazz trumpet of Mark Isham. The film refers to Campolo twice: one character is reading his book Tell Me a Story, and a photo of Campolo is taped to the diner's cash register.