'Perhaps Just Out of Our Minds'
In the independent film The Sensation of Sight, Oscar nominee David Strathairn plays an introspective English teacher who feels himself complicit in a tragedy, and then begins selling encyclopedias door-to-door to the locals. But his anxieties begin to consume him as various characters and dreamlike situations increase around him, ultimately pushing him toward an unexpected awakening.
It's sort of a strange synopsis for a "Christian" movie—which it isn't. The filmmakers behind Sight—which hit the international festival circuit before a limited U.S. theatrical release earlier this summer—are Christians, but they didn't want to make a distinctively Christian movie.
But they didn't want to make an entirely secular one either, opting to include themes of faith and redemption in the story in more subtle, intelligent ways, instead of being preachy and/or didactic.
Executive producer Buzz McLaughlin and director Aaron Wiederspahn formed Either/Or Films—named for a book by Soren Kierkegaard—a few years ago "for the purpose of developing and creating films of beauty and artistic excellence that provoke the public to engage with the providential mystery of grace," as their mission statement says.
Frederica Mathewes-Green of CT Movies caught up with McLaughlin at a conference in New Hampshire recently, and their conversation about finding a niche in the film business was fascinating—especially as the two filmmakers ran into outright hostility from industry insiders who even suspected that they might be men of faith.
The Sensation of Sight is the first movie from Either/Or Films. How did you come to form the company?
Buzz McLaughlin: I met Aaron some years back in Orlando, when he produced a play of mine; his theater, Trilemma, had been founded by a group of Christians. We immediately hit it off and began sharing our concerns over what was happening in our culture, and in the film industry specifically. Hollywood was supplying the marketplace with movies that consistently attempted to reflect the chaos of the world—sometimes quite effectively—but rarely tried to make sense of the chaos. On the other hand, films that did attempt to reveal God's hand behind it all were often didactic or overtly proselytizing, preaching a "message" rather than telling a story artistically. With few exceptions, we saw films falling into one camp or the other, with only rare examples that presented reality truthfully and intelligently, asked important questions, and pointed in a positive direction.
Could you name a few of those "rare examples"?
McLaughlin: We'd rather hold up a filmmaker's body of work than focus on individual films, but here are some examples: Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, Robert Bresson's Au hazard Balthazar, Andrei Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, and Krzysztof Zanussi's The Year of the Quiet Sun. Of course there have been admirable earlier American filmmakers, like Frank Capra. I must admit we're not sure where to place Mel Gibson.
Other than ourselves, however, we don't know of any contemporary American filmmakers with films in distribution, who are upfront about their faith and attempting to make intelligent films outside the commercial marketplace that are not evangelical or didactic in intent. If they're out there, we'd love to know them.
Before The Sensation of Sight premiered in 2006 at the San Sebastian International Film Festival, you hired a well-reputed firm, Premier Public Relations of London. But before the festival you received a surprising phone call from the PR person, didn't you?