Ghosts of Sundance? Present!

It's always nice to see a writer on some other site cut loose and give the "GetReligion" treatment to media coverage. Anthony Sacramone has a piece up at First Things that does just that. He looks at mainstream media coverage of the religious angles at the Sundance Film Festival. He begins by highlighting The Los Angeles Times piece "Sundance Film Festival: Movies look at faith in all its forms":

Five films are singled out -- out of 120 entries, or a little under five percent. This, apparently, constitutes a significant number in what is ostensibly a very religious country. But this is Hollywood (actually, Utah, but you get the picture.)

As you read on, you quickly realize that these "submissions focused on faith" reflecting how "filmmakers [are] considering issues larger than themselves," as Peter Cooper, the festival's director, put it are about psychos, hypocrites, quasi-fascists, and empty, lonely believers looking for something more out of life.

Now, I have not seen any of these films. Very few people have. They've yet to be put into general release. But what I found interesting was that the Times writer didn't stop to google a little film history as a basis of comparison for this new generation of films that "use faith -- and specifically Christianity--as either a narrative fulcrum or key expositional backdrop." From Going My Way and Song of Bernadette and A Man for All Seasons to The Mission and Shadowlands and The Passion of the Christ to five films for which Christianity is, apparently, a fool's paradise only.

One exception to this may be Vera Farmiga's Higher Ground, in which the central character, a Pentecostal Christian, "is a seeker. She's got to find herself," as Farmiga, the film's director, describes her. While the director sounds like she attempted to provide some nuance, and is not particularly hostile to faith, I couldn't help asking, Is this is as good as it gets? A case study in which everyone's lost and no one is found, to twist the lyrics of "Amazing Grace"?

OK, I can't excerpt the whole thing so you'll have to go over to First Things to read more. But Sacramone notes the review of one of the films in which The Hollywood Reporter says that one character "is so plainly unhinged and his view so extreme within Christianity that the debate is meaningless."

Another film by Kevin Smith, Red State, is a "religious thriller and a horror film" based on, of course, the Westboro crowd. Apparently a hate-filled preacher lures gay men into his compound in order to kill them. Sacramone writes "So, no, A Man Called Peter this is not."

The angle the media took in covering this film could not be more devoid of religious understanding and Sacramone has a few questions.

Back to the Times' piece, Sacramone wonders why there was no reaction from filmgoers themselves:

Were any of the audience members who saw these films Christians, by chance? Did they perceive the films as mere hatchet jobs, the product of some anti-fundamentalists with an ax to grind? Were any of the Christians depicted in any way as three-dimensional -- flawed but perhaps strengthened and ennobled by their faith? Did anyone come away seeing something positive in Christianity, something they might like to explore? Or did all these entries do nothing but confirm an already anti-religion, anti-Christian bias?

In which case, would that be all that surprising? Even to the Los Angeles Times?

In other words, does the story have more than one side? Any diversity of viewpoint?

Just asking.

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