Arts and Culture

Art, Story and Film

During the last few years my understanding of the mystery of Divine Revelation has changed dramatically. For years I thought of Divine Revelation as God sending down sentences to us that offered solutions to all of life’s problems. I now think that Divine Revelation is much more wonderful than that.

Divine Revelation is God inviting us to share God’s life of unfathomable love and this invitation is mediated to us through history, experience, nature, other persons and in an ultimate way in and through God’s Word, Jesus Christ. I think art can mediate Divine Revelation. Great art invites us into mystery: the mystery of self, neighbors and of God. This view of Divine Revelation and of art is one reason why I believe in the importance of film festivals. They can be mediators of God’s Revelation.

Any great works of art – paintings, sculptures, poems, novels, plays, musical compositions – can open us to a deeper dimension of ourselves and at least indirectly, to a deeper appreciation of God’s presence.

In my own life I have found stories especially powerful. I think there is a desire in each of us to be heroes or heroines. We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We want our stories to fit into a bigger story that gives special meaning, significance and value to our story. For example, I think that being a Christian and a priest gives enormous meaning to my story.

In general, great films tell great stories. The famous Hollywood director Otto Preminger, who directed the murder mystery “Laura,” claimed that the process of making a movie should start with a good story. For Preminger the story was the crucial element in the creation of a film.

One of the really outstanding American film critics, Roger Ebert, wrote the preface to the book “God in the Movies” (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2000, pp. 196) written by Andrew M. Greeley and Albert Bergesen. In the preface Ebert wrote the following:

“Maybe we are embarrassed to discuss religion and the movies at the same time. Perhaps when we have spiritual experiences we translate them into mundane terms as quickly as we can. I know that I have been shaken to the depth of my experience by a few movies (‘Do the Right Thing,’ ‘Cries and Whispers,’ and ‘Ikiru,’ for example), and I also know that broadly popular films like ‘Ghost,’ ‘Field of Dreams,’ and ‘The Sixth Sense’ got people worked up. The studios can never understand it when a film like ‘The Sixth Sense,’ which is mostly downbeat, contemplative and deliberately confusing, attracts enormous audiences and repeat business. It is because it gives people something to talk about and think about, and they appreciate it. One of the values of this book is that it considers the ways in which those films may have touched many of the members of their audiences – whether they were prepared to admit it or not.” (p. ix)

Ebert’s remarks are on my mind because in two weeks we start the 52nd Friday Film Festival at the Immaculate Conception Center in Douglaston (See the schedule on Page 25). The first festival was back in 1968 and about 700 people showed up for the first film. The last three or four years less than 100 have been attending each week. However, those who attend seem to love films and be interested in viewing and discussing the films that I choose. I am trying to strike a balance and to pick films that members of the audience have not seen or would enjoy seeing again. This fall I think there is a nice balance.

I think probably no one who comes regularly has seen “Little Boy,” but it is interesting. People have suggested that I should show at least one film that would interest children so we are showing Kenneth Branaugh’s “Cinderella,” which Bishop Robert Barron believes is deeply Christian. Rather than being animated, the film has live actors. I think Elia Kazan’s “Pinky” is an excellent film about racial prejudice.

Thus far, 285 films have been shown in the festivals thus far and yet there still seem to be a exceptionally large number of interesting films that we have not yet shown.

Father Robert Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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