Monday, November 18, 2019

ending a 15th year as a theological film reviewer

On Friday I hit send on a film review of Jojo Rabbit. It marked the end of my 15th consecutive year of film reviewing.

In August of 2005, I was teaching Gospel and Film at Laidlaw College. The phone rang and Paul Titus, the then editor of Touchstone, the denominational magazine for the Methodists of Aotearoa New Zealand introduced himself. He explained that he had two (free) tickets to Sedition, a documentary about conscientious objectors to war in Aotearoa New Zealand. It was a New Zealand film festival release. Since the film included a number of Methodists, the film would be of interest to readers of Touchstone. Would I be willing to attend (for free) and write a review?  They would pay per word, for a 500 word film review.

I agreed, attended and scratched out my first every film review.  I was a paid writer!

The editor was delighted. As the month ended, he rang again. Would I be willing to become a permanent monthly film reviewer? he asked. Two free tickets and 500 words on the theology of film. Why not, I said. I enjoy going to movies. I teach in Gospel and film. Why not put words where my mouth is?

Every month since, I have turned out 500 words. In the 15 years, that is over 155 film reviews – 77,500 words – and counting. Once Touchstone is out in print, I am allowed to place them online and many are here. Despite shifting countries twice and once changing editors.

“You’re longest running job” commented one of my daughters earlier this year.

Some months it is fun. The film is one I want to watch and the words flow. Many months it is hard. The available films hold little appeal. Those that do are showing at awkward times. Or I’m travelling overseas and the selection is limited.

Over the years – through the fun and the hard – I’ve come to see it as a spiritual discipline. The monthly pattern forces me to pay attention. It might not suit – my interests, my travel schedule, my plans – but that’s the point. In the imposed, I am being disciplined, forced to think theologically. As I do, I am enriched spiritually. I watch things I would not normally watch. I find unexpected insights, gain new perspectives, see (an)other differently.

In 2019 I have reviewed

  • Cold War
  • Storm Boy
  • Celia
  • Daffodils
  • Merata
  • Tolkien
  • Summer in the forest
  • Andrei Rublev
  • For Sama
  • Joker
  • Jojo Rabbit

Some were gruelling – like For Sama and Joker. Some were once in a lifetime – like Andrei Rublev re-mastered on the big screen at the Regent Theatre. Others were delightful – like Storm Boy and Daffodils. In each was the discipline. Paying attention, seeking to approach film as film, and in that discipline become aware that God has yet more light and truth to break forth (to rift off an insight from John Robinson, from his farewell speech of 1620, as the pilgrims were about to set sail on the Mayflower).

Over the years, colleagues have suggested I take film reviewing more seriously. They note I am a missiologist, with an interest in popular culture. Write a book, they say.

I’ve always resisted. It’s just fun. A bit of play. I’m paid to play – paid to watch movies. Isn’t that enough! Besides, each film stands alone. How to turn 500 words into a cohesive narrative? That’s a tall order.

This year, upside down on the other side of the world, I woke with a title and a theological frame. It integrates a Theological Reflection class I teach, on God in the world. The class is 3 hours in length and would certainly provide a chapter or two of theoretical framing. Around the frame, the films could cluster. Importantly for me, the title and frame has liturgical dimensions. It would allow me to turn reviews into prayer, theology into spiritual practice.

It needs some work but it was a landmark moment. Almost like that first phone call in 2005. I sensed an energy. Who knows. Maybe 2020 will not only be my 16th year of film reviewing, but also the year of the book.

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM | Comments (0)

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