Building a Celluloid Bridge
Image: Noom Peerapong / Unsplash

What happens when an evangelical church and a documentary film festival decide to be friends?

That was the question I brought with me to Columbia, Missouri last March when I attended the True/False Film Festival, the premier documentary and nonfiction film festival in the country. I knew from a 2013 New York Times article that one of the major partners in the festival was The Crossing, a large church in the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination. But I also know documentary film—how it often specializes in highlighting and exploring causes and ideas you’d be hard-pressed to find represented in your typical church library or on any list of “Christian” movies. Documentaries often challenge conservative politics and organized religion, and the sorts that make the rounds at festivals (and the audiences that turn up for them) don’t tend to be predisposed favorably toward evangelicals.

The Crossing, however, sponsors the True Life Fund, a monetary award given to one True/False film every year. This year’s pick was Sonita, a film about a teenaged Afghani rapper who tries to bring awareness to the issue of child marriage in her country. The history of other recipients on the festival’s website reveals an incredible diversity of causes and recipients.

One day in the middle of the very busy festival, True/False co-director David Wilson and The Crossing founding pastor Dave Cover took an hour to chat with me about their friendship and the partnership between True/False and The Crossing. Wilson is, by his own description, a “secular atheist” and a political liberal; Cover is an evangelical pastor and a pro-life conservative.

The two men clearly have had many discussions about their beliefs—where they differ, yes, but also where they converge. Together, we sat on a pair of benches in the University of Missouri quad and talked about conviction and pluralism, art’s power to build bridges, and how a church can actually make a difference in its community.

(The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

CT's The Local Church: Could you start by talking about how your partnership came about?

Dave Cover: I think the narrative starts with me. I came to the film festival in 2007 and saw In the Shadow of the Moon. I experienced the environment, and the film, and the idea of being able to speak to the director afterwards. I hadn't been to film festivals. The idea of a film festival in Columbia, I thought, was great.

At The Crossing, we really wanted to find a way for us to be a part of the community and partner with the arts. I thought it would be a slam dunk. [We contacted True/False about] sponsoring, being an advertiser, or something. [Our contact] said, "Well, I'll have to ask them and find out what they say."

I was taken aback. "What do you mean ask them? They don't want our money?" There was something about it that intrigued me. Somebody had a vision for what they do—and I might not fit it. I respected the idea of having a vision, not just wanting to do something for money. That impressed me. I became even more bought in at that point.

Then we met David [Wilson] and had lunch with him. We hit it off. I'm sure he had stereotypes of me. I definitely had stereotypes of him. He broke a lot of them in that lunch, in the sense that what he said was really true. He wasn't afraid to talk about things that he didn't believe. He wasn't afraid to talk with somebody who may have been in a different camp culturally.

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Building a Celluloid Bridge