2016: Plenty to look forward to

2016 is almost here and I’ve picked out several films that have already got me excited for the New Year.

Thanks to all who have read, shared and interacted with posts from the blog over 2015 I really do appreciate it.

Happy New Year!

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Favourite films of 2015

There will be a post to declare my favourite film of 2015 in the next few days. These however are some of my favourites from what has been a decent cinematic year.

What have you watched and enjoyed this year?

Do you agree/disagree with these picks?

 

The Overnighters and what makes a ‘Christian country’

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so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” – Luke 10:29

For a long time we have been told that we in the UK live in a ‘Christian country’. This message has been particularly hammered home by elements of the media who live in fear of difference and who feast on the fears of others. David Cameron in his Easter message this year declared such and that we as Christians should ‘not be afraid to say so’.

Ok I am a Christian. I’m not afraid to say so. I’m also not afraid to say we as a Christian country are currently getting things wrong!

In the last week I watched the excellent documentary The Overnighters on Netflix. This documentary highlight the plight of many men from across America who head to a small town in North Dakota to work on oil rigs following an explosion of employment in the state.

These men give up everything they have and leave to find something better in pursuit of the American dream, leaving behind their previous lives to support those back home. Many have nowhere to go and the promise of employment is very different to the reality of life in the town when they arrive. With so many effectively homeless men in their town Pastor Jay Reinke opens up the doors of his church to provide shelter.

The films highlights not the pastors good will but also the struggles of this decision. Not all church members want this. Some strongly object and declare the men to be ‘disrespectful’ of their faith. The Pastor’s time with his family is limited at best because of this project. However his strong conviction and belief is sheltering these men overrides these elements.

I couldn’t help but watch this film and be struck by the similarities we currently see with the migrant camps in Calais.

The same Prime Minister who proudly declares us a ‘Christian country’ has used badly chosen words to describe the migrants in Calais ‘swarms‘ was a particularly poor choice.

If we are to be a truly Christian country then surely we have to listen to Jesus when he says in Matthew 25: 35-40:For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

We can’t be a Christian country when it suits our motives and we gain from it. The real-time to show our Christianity is when it comes at a cost.

It will put a strain on resources to allow those in Calais into our country but surely that’s what being a Christian country is all about? Sacrifice, love, grace. Shutting our doors to those in search of a better life appears to me to be the least Christian thing we can do.

Pastor Reinke declares that The Overnighters a one point to be a ‘profound thing’ he goes on to explain ‘we have people literally walking up to our door from all over the world saying can you help me’. This is a very real and uncomfortable scenario for us in the UK right now.

Giles Fraser tweeted recently:

‘”Who is my neighbour?” ask the people of the south of England to Jesus. And they really don’t like his answer.’

Who is my neighbour is an easy question. The Overnighters show the difficulties of the answer.

Review: Amy

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I left Amy feeling broken-hearted all over again.

I left Amy full of regret for allowing myself to forget. My justification on my walk back to my car was that our world moves too quickly these days. That events, like the death of Amy Winehouse, disappear all too quickly into rolling news and social media feeds .

I had forgotten about Amy.

I had forgotten how I felt when the news broke at the time.

I had forgotten what a talent she was.

I had forgotten how recent a tragedy this was and most of all I had forgotten what a talent she was.

Asif Kapadia has made a documentary that will serve as a long-standing reminder so that we never forget again. The story of Amy is not sugar-coated, not glamorised and her awareness of her own flaws are on-screen for all to see and hear but what stands out is the loss.

Those who knew her well mourn through their recollections which tell the story for us. Their guilt infused tales pour from the screen like the tears the audience sheds as they listen.

While Winehouse sings her words appear around her and you see the true talent, the writer whose eloquence was hardly ever discussed. We the audience are left to wonder if we will ever see the like again in this X Factor age.

We watch as she receives the Grammy for best record and we see on her face simultaneously all the joy of the moment and the fear of what the notoriety will bring. Among the swarms of press photographers chasing her through London streets we see fear and bewilderment in her eyes.

Comedians tell jokes about her and we the audience feel pangs of guilt as we realise that we all laughed at one time at these now seemingly distasteful gags. Perhaps we all played our part in her demise?

The film however does not appear interested, at any point, of attributing blame for what happened. Where fault lies in the tragedy that unfolded is left for the audience to debate afterwards.

For Amy fans this documentary serves as a tragic love letter of appreciation to a flawed but talented star.

For those who had forgotten how great she was this was a perfect reminder.

I had forgotten about Amy.

Asif Kapadia helped me remember.

Review: The Look of Silence

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Come see a film about the consequences of the Indonesian massacre is perhaps not the best sell for a Monday evening film club outing but none the less I persevered with my choice and was delighted that a handful of brave souls joined me.

I have to say I;m so pleased that I saw this film. The Look of Silence is quite possibly one of the great documentaries of our time. Haunting, compelling, visually stunning and emotionally draining all in 103 minutes. Joshua Oppenheimer has not just made a documentary but a work of art.

I shouldn’t have been surprised after all his previous documentary the Act of Killing was also wonderful. This companion piece to me though is slightly superior given the content.

The Act of Killing focused on the perpetrators, who bragged unabashed about the carnage they caused and with great pride reenacted their deeds with great aplomb for the cameras. The Look of Silence follows the story of Adi, an optometrist, who lost his brother during the Indonesian massacre when his village was taken over by the military and ‘communists’ were cold heartedly executed in droves. Ari gets the opportunity to meet his brother’s killers and talk openly to them about what happened.

Ari’s focus is not vengeance but conversation. A conversation to enable understanding. A conversation to bring him some peace.

The truly wonderful moments in this documentary are the silent ones. The moments were survivor and perpetrator stop conversation and the camera continues to roll. We see Adi swallow hard, perhaps swallowing some emotion, perhaps worried that his next question may take him too far,

We see those who murdered glance across to check if they are going to encounter anger. A fleeting glance to the floor perhaps to show a flicker of remorse. A look of defiance that rises again to justify their actions.

Adi’s mother with a permanent scowl of anger at the injustice her family suffered. Staying off into the distance reflecting on what might have been if her son had lived.

While the conversations are useful and engaging it is the silence that is the show stealer.

Coming out of the screening I was struck by Adi’s courage, angered by the justification given by killers and heart-broken at a mothers loss.

Mostly though I pondered how each person comes to the conversation in The Look of Silence with a different perspective of something that happened.

When we are wronged, when we are hurt, how so we look at our circumstances?

Do we cling to anger and wish hardship on those who wronged us?

Do we justify away our actions because we are so sure we did or said the right thing?

Or do we attempt to have a conversation. Not for confrontation but to attempt understanding?

The Look of Silence is not an easy watch.

It is however, in my opinion, an essential one.

Belfast Film Festival Review: Records Collecting Dust

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Record Store Day was last Saturday and as part of the celebrations I attended a screening of Records Collecting Dust a documentary written and directed by San Diego based musician and filmmaker Jason Blackmore.

Records Collecting Dust documents the vinyl record collections, origins, and holy grails of alternative music stars such as Jello Biafra, Chuck Dukowski, Keith Morris, John Reis, and other underground music comrades.

The best documentary makers are able to make you care about subjects that the viewer wouldn’t normally engage with or have knowledge of. A great example of this is Senna, I (having no F1 knowledge) was able to engage with a documentary with which I knew little of the sport it revolves around or the characters involved. Sadly Records Collecting Dust fails in this regard.

While the topic of vinyl and the influence that a record may hold over a musician would interest me greatly the films execution of this is poor. The stars interviewed are all from the underground music scene. This is not a scene I am familiar with at all however no back story to these stars is given leaving me as the viewer feeling disconnected from those on screen.

The stories told are fine but they are quick and not given any real-time for depth or development. The music they refer to as influential is not played at any point which leaves viewers, who it cannot be assumed know all the refences, clueless as to what they are talking about. They refer to Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Beatles and assume that all of the audience, young or old, immediately know the music to which they refer. While their knowledge of the genre is admirable without the connection to the audience you are essentially watching a panel of interviews without any real content or depth. This sadly makes the film for largely uninteresting aside from one segement regarding ‘black power’ music as told by Matt Johnson who seems to have great knowledge but sadly does not receive enough time to fully impart this.

Records Collecting Dust is an attempt to get at what would be a really interesting topic if approached in the right way. Sadly this is a failed and flawed attempt and not a documentary I would recommend.

Fight Church: Cage Fighting vs. Selective Quoting

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How can the church engage the man/woman in the street in 2015? A question often posed around tables of friends as  we chat, discuss our faith and raise concerns that the church (by which I mean all denominations /faiths) is out of step with the world in 2015.

In the United States this is being somewhat resolved by several churches having ‘MMA based ministries’. Fight Church is a great documentary (available on Netflix) exploring these ministries and their purpose and moreover the rationale of churches using MMA as outreach.

I’m all for the church being seen as relevant. This blog’s main purpose is to champion the faith bsed elements of what we watch however I was troubled by what I saw at times in this film.

Selective bible quotes have always troubled me. Take a verse out of context and it can be very easily manipulated to suit your circumstances. For example’ where 2 or 3 are gathered’ to warm the souls of the 4 people who faithfully came to a prayer meeting. Forgive me for the flippant example but this is nowhere nearly as sinister as some selective quotes used to justify those who step in the ring and endure brutal beatings.

One particularly troubling sequence shows a pastor bemoaning the fact that men are no longer men. Apparently we have become soft and the Bible calls to live the life of a warrior. He then proceeds to make light of those who ‘love their neighbour’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ seemingly forgetting the true strength it takes to do this.

I’m not against MMA. I’m not against churches using it as a form of outreach. It is a genuine ministry for some, it works for them and many in the documentary attest to how their church has grown as a result.

What I am not for however are churches selecting parts of scripture for use to make people feel weak, cast out and left feeling that God would deem them undesirable because they don’t match up to someone else.

The church needs to be relevant, it needs to be engaging people differently in 2015. What it doesn’t need to do is make them feel worthless if they don’t match up to h random verse taken out of context on a topic.

The damage an MMA fight can do, in most cases, is reparable.

Sadly however the damage caused by selective biblical quoting sadly may not be fixable at all.