Friday, January 30, 2009

Approaching Film With Understanding

The 4th Annual King's Meadow Film and Worldview Conference is February 20-21, 2009 in Franklin, TN. For more info, click here.

The medium of film is a complex, multi-layered, many dimensional art form that encompasses numerous levels of communication. Too often Christian film reviews focus solely on the plot, trying to show how the storyline agrees or disagrees with Scripture. To be sure, the worldview of the narrative matters, but how that worldview is expressed specifically through the medium of film also matters—and it matters greatly. A good filmmaker can tell the audience more through non-verbal expression than the actual dialogue can. For instance, to understand what the director is saying through his craft, we need to understand some basic elements of his tools—lighting, framing, camera angles, color, sound, symbolism, etc. Hence, the story is but one layer of the total expression. How a filmmaker tells his story embodies just as many worldview assumptions and applications as the words and ideas in the script.

For example, a gifted filmmaker can take a script that is antagonistic to Biblical morals but present it in a beautiful and winsome way that convinces the audience of the merit of the film despite the fact that it is in direct contradiction to what they say they believe.

Likewise, a director can make technical choices (such as quick edits and shaky cameras in certain circumstances) that use the medium of film in such a way that affects the audience’s ability to process visual versus written information.

Or, consider that a movie with a life-affirming message rooted in Biblical values might actually contradict its intended message through sloppy or artless production values or through techniques rooted in non-biblical worldviews. Such a lack of artistry can (will?) actually fight against the objective of the film in the first place.

When evaluating, thinking, and discussing film, we can begin with the narrative, but we also must consider how and in what manner the film presents that story. A skilled director leads the audience—often subconsciously—towards a certain reaction to a character. As the characters are thus presented, the story itself gains levels of meaning and symbolism well beyond the actual words spoken or the literal actions. In this way, the emotions a film generates will often color an objective evaluation of its content.

Film is a wonderful art and a specific art that tells a story in a unique way. The true test of film artistry lies in the craft of the filmmaker to transform a narrative into something different than what a play or book portrays. In other words, the beauty of a good film is a film that understands how to be a film in the way it tells its story.

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