Faith and Film in a Visual Age – a reflection

The Christian church has long used mediums other than the printed word to tell its story. Story-telling has taken many forms, and in certain historical periods there has been significant use of painting and graphic art. In medieval times, forms of theatre were developed with religious plays, mostly arising from the Catholic mass. By the 15th century, mystery plays had emerged. Their description has its origins not in ‘mystery’, but as in the idea that these plays were ‘acts’. The Genesis stories were often told this way, for example.

In the 20th century, film took over as the pre-eminent visual art. Terry Lindvall’s research presented in Sanctuary Cinema (2007) records the significant number of Christian evangelists and teachers who used visual mediums of photography, art, lantern films and then celluloid to present Christian stories from the Bible early in the century.

Many churches and denominations gave up the idea of making films, and some came to categorise film as the ‘devil’s work’. Perhaps ironically, the portrayal of religion in film occurred mostly in Hollywood as media moguls realised there was money to be made in religious pictures. Hollywood produced some great epic religious films, especially in the 1950s and 1960s.

Over the last 50 years Christian film has continued to develop, though a focus has often been on films which were biographical in nature, sometimes of famous Christian missionaries and events. The well-known founder of Times Squares Church, David Wilkerson, was played by Pat Boone in The Cross and the Switchblade, a film seen by many youth groups in the 1970s.

There appears to be little going on in terms of major Christian film production in Australia. There have been significant short film festivals. Events like Ignite (like a Christian Tropfest), which started in 2004, have given people an avenue to produce material: http://www.ignitefilmfest.com/

How and why we use contemporary social media are areas the church needs to consider. In order to simply provide a point of connection with people today, there are three basic forms of media that local churches need to consider. Websites are a major way church-goers find out about a local church when they come into an area. Video sites provide simple and cost effective ways of illustrating the work of a local church and significant ministries. They can take the form of a short (very short) sermon, a comment on a contemporary issue in the community, or a profile of an outreach and community service.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 21, No. 4, Pages 12-15

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