Sundance Film Festival: Report 1

For ten days each winter filmmakers and film-lovers descend upon Park City, Utah, for a movie-watching frenzy. The Sundance Film Festival has been taking place since 1978 and has evolved into one of the premier independent film festivals in the world. Our man on the scene is David Swanson, associate pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This week he's attending Sundance with students from Fuller Seminary in conjunction with the Windrider Film Forum to explore the intersection of faith and culture.

After settling in with our host family from Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a few of us set out to explore the town. On the bus ride into Park City, we interacted with an actress from England, a film music coordinator from New York, and a bunch of high school students from L.A. Later that evening we watched War/Dance, a tragically beautiful and redemptive documentary about refugee children in Uganda.

After a quick night's sleep, we lined up for a 9:00 AM screening of Save Me, a film about a young man's journey through a Christian "ex-gay" 12-step ministry. This was a hard film to see and one I would only recommend sparingly. I left the theatre completely wrecked - my head spinning.

The film portrays the struggles of gay men convinced their behavior is sinful and the attempts to restore them by a husband and wife who believe faith in Jesus is the only way these men will experience wholeness.

One of the things that struck me about this film was how the filmmakers (some who are themselves gay as we learned during the question and answer time following the screening) portrayed the motives and stories of the conservative Christians who lead the ex-gay ministry with tenderness and grace. Is it possible that many in the gay community are more gracious in their understanding of Evangelical Christians than we are towards them?

Even more striking were the numerous men in the theatre who wept during the most poignant moments of the film, usually when the men in the 12-step program described the pain and brokenness in their pasts. How well, I wondered when leaving the theatre, is the church prepared to really understand this type of brokenness and this amount of pain? And how willing are we to acknowledge our own role in much of that painful memory?

At most of the ministry conferences I've attended I've known what to expect, and I usually feel satisfied by the things I've learned. This week is completely different; I have no idea what to expect. I certainly couldn't predict that this post would center on the topic of the church and the gay community! But I will tell you this, despite the lack of sleep, the jet lag, and the heavy film this morning, I feel encouraged.

January 22, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 22 comments

David Moore

January 31, 2007  12:57am

I was also at Sundance and glad to meet David Swanson. All I can say was that the level of spirituality in Park City was stunning. I wasn't ready for it, but it excites me now to know that God was working towards reconciliation. It excited me to see the spiritual questions these influential filmmakers are asking. And it excited me to feel the Spirit descend upon the room while the credits to Save Me rolled–truly a spirit of peace and love for all of those in the room during the (potentially combative) Q&A session. Let's stay far away from pharisaical.

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January 29, 2007  1:08pm

For those interested, Dick Staub has a post that details some of the more impactful films that had spiritual threads running through them with his post that can be found at...

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January 29, 2007  12:57pm

I was also at Sundance. When I went into the premiere of Save Me I expected to come out beaten up by the whole experience because of my evangelical roots. Instead, I found a grace filled movie about journies towards healing for all involved. Am I at the point where I fully agree with all the conclusions in the movie? No. Does that even matter? I'm not sure it does. I had a chance to speak with Chad as well. My questions were about his involvement with End of the Spear. He said that during that process he did get attacked by those who felt his lifestyle betrayed the memory of Steve Saint. But, he said more than that, he felt the love of those around him who spoke against the hate, saying "That is not us. That is not what Christ is about." He said Save Me could not have been made without End of The Spear, at least not in it's current form. It seems that with this discussion the church most often takes two routes, condemnation or ignoring it. It's time to bring the conversation to the table with love, above all things love. We may not agree, but it is time for the wall between the two sides to come down. I am greatful to Chad Allen and the rest of those involved with Save Me because they are willing to stand on the wall and take bullets from both sides. Is it harder to come out as gay in a Christian community or Christian in a gay community? I'm not sure. Either way, it is not easy and I appreaciate their willingness to offer the gift of Save Me to both sides of the conversation. Dennis, I would say to you that there was a sense of a spiritual revival there, at least for me. Have you seen Hound Dog or Zoo? Don't believe all the hype. By catagorizing those movies into unspiritual you could also say nothing good can be found in Schindler's List because of nudity. We can't learn from Crash because of swearing. I don't put either of these Sundance movies in the same catagories as the Oscar winners, but with Zoo the purpose was to try to look past these men's issues and see them as people. I can learn from this and apply these lessons to my spiritual life because seeing people as people is something I often miss.

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January 29, 2007  1:29am

I was also at Sundance and had the opportunity to see "Save Me" and to speak to Chad Allen afterwards. I felt the depiction of Christians was not at all fair. Just bc a Christian works in an ex gay ministry does not mean they are doing it for psychological reasons. (In the pic, the wife mourns the loss of her gay son who killed himself. It's implied she blames herself and so this is why she works so hard at converting gays, not bc she might feel led by God or have seen the pain first hand.) Christians don't say "Praise The Lord" at every pause in the conversation and some Christians even believe what they do for biblical reasons and can actually articulate them!! Chad Allen said they made the film to "bridge the divide and start a dialoque" so he wanted to portray evangelical Christians fairly. I asked him if he had any input from evangelical Christians in the script development stage(what most filmmakers do when writing about a group of people they aren't a member of) He said "I'm a christian" and I said "well okay with those you want to 'bridge the divide' with?" and he replied "no." For my tastes, that was obvious. And for the record, as a filmmaker myself, I'd never write and portray a homosexual story without some real life input...

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January 27, 2007  5:21am

After being prayed for and healed from drugs and accepting Jesus Christ in my heart some 34 years ago ( by a male who later was found to have slept with another male in the church we all attended ), I was put into a God given tailspin and somewhat comatized for many years. God always was and is faithful in His ability to make all things work to the good to them partaking of His Love, by His Faith, by His purpose. I have found by His revealing, that many have come to perssue the christian dream ( myself included at one time ) rather than the living person God because it doesn't require counting everything as dung for the knowledge of Christ. Marriage, abilities, gender, race, work, vacation, and children are all vechicles for promoting the Kingdom of God which is the expression of salvation. They are a means to an end not the end. The couple that took me in some 28 years ago when I thought that I was on the verge of suicide had a qoute in a picture frame hanging in their living room that stated. "I's not what you think of me that counts - It's what I think of you that counts" perhaps that can be described as the new creature's motto as they experience the life of God in them, as them.

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January 27, 2007  12:11am

Jesus was quite pointed at times (divisive too).True - but he also had a purity of heart and motive that I doubt any of us can replicate, which makes our own attempts at such weak, poor, and at times sinful parodies of his.

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January 26, 2007  3:00pm

Jesus was quite pointed at times (divisive too). Hyperbole was employed by Him frequently to make a point. Please understand that my remarks were generated to increase dialogue, not stop it. Dialogue requires a counterpoint, does it not? And I wasn't seeing my antiquated view being represented. For sure, these thoughts aren't directed toward condemnation of homosexuals–who need Jesus just like all of us (especially a sinner such as I). I have held the hand of a dying AIDS patient and prayed for him. Our church has baptized several repentant lesbians. Just this week I spoke with a man struggling with homosexual sin–and I'll hug him without hesitation when I see him. Maybe that will provoke some discussion. Just pray for me–after all I am a work in progress!

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Jason Miller

January 26, 2007  6:44am

Dennis, The very sarcasm with which you wrote your post is the very barrier to understanding being talked about on this blog by many. Do they speak of understanding by intimate visual knowledge of the sexual acts you mentioned in various movies? Of course not. It seems to me that sometimes we Christians grind the axe we want to grind, preach from the soapbox we store in the back of our own vehicle, instead of actually engaging in the conversation at hand. Like it or not, Dennis, Jesus called us to the men and women portrayed in the films you mentioned just as he called others to you, others to me. Others found us, what are we doing to find them? And not in a "We've got to save them" calling, but in a mutuality as the created, as a building up and an inbreaking of the kingdom. Belittling and oversimplifying. These are two traits you seem to be very good at. Thing is, I don't remember ever seeing Jesus do either one.

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Paul Goddard

January 25, 2007  2:51pm

All this would be accademic to me, except that once upon a time I found out a college roommate had been living a secret gay lifestyle all through our Christian college years. He later died of AIDS. The evangelical Christian community is capable of great love and compassion. However, it (we) will never come to the place of denying that homosexual behavior is a sin, any sooner than accepting fornication or adultery as legitimate. Of course there are Christians who are gay. There are Christians who are adulterers as well. Jesus loved all sinners and said go and sin no more. I have often thought that Randy's death was a tragedy for those who knew him, but his choice to enter into and justify homosexual behavior was a far greater tragedy. This is the tragedy the "husband and wife who believe faith in Jesus is the only way these men will experience wholeness" and others like them are seeking to heal.

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January 25, 2007  1:45pm

Sounds like a virtual revival broke out at Sundance! I was wondering if the reporter had an opportunity to see faith intersecting with film in "Hounddog" where a twelve year old is raped? The young girl is portrayed as an Elvis fan and we all know his gospel roots, so I'm sure if we look deep enough, there is something redemptive in this. Maybe a spiritual conversation about "Zoo" which premiered at Sundance would be a good spiritual intersection point. A movie about men and animals having sex could speak to our stewardship of being in harmony with God's creation. After all, many men of this sexual preference have painful issues from their past and have not been understood by old school evangelicals. If they believe in Christ, we should accept them as brothers–when it comes to sexual orientation, it's just the way God wired us up–it's not a choice. To quote David the reporter, "It's no stretch to say that the Kingdom of God is alive and well at the Sundance Film Festival! Perhaps it's a question of having eyes to see…" Sorry, I just don't see it.

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