Film Meets Faith in CFA

FEB 19TH 2007

Jesus movies”, “crucifix symbols”, “Christ figures” and “Jesus figures” were just some of the terms that 116 participants became very familiar with during the three-day spiritual journey that they took with Fr Peter Malone, MSC, at the recent “Film and Faith” seminar. Organized by the Communication Foundation for Asia with funding support from Signis, the seminar served as an eye-opener for participating nuns, priests, teachers, media practitioners, NGO communicators and film reviewers who gathered at the newly renovated CFA Auditorium on January 15-17. Two participants traveled from Brunei just to attend the seminar; others came from various provinces outside Manila, from as far away as Zamboanga and Misamis Oriental.

Fr. Peter Malone, an Australian Missionary of the Sacred Heart (MSC) and internationally known media educator, film critic and author, was the main resource person at the three-day event. This was the first time he had conducted this seminar in Asia. He also conducted a similar course at the University of Dayton in Ohio some time ago.

During the seminar, Fr Malone traced the development of Christian spirituality and imagery exhibited in various Jesus films, starting with the early theatrical depictions of Jesus in such silent movies as Cecil B. de Mille’s “King of Kings” in 1927 up to the recent portrayal of the intensely suffering Jesus in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”. It was quite a revelation for participants when Fr Malone pointed out that after the 1927 “King of Kings”, there was an absence of the face of Jesus in the movies for almost 35 years. It was the 1961 version of “King of Kings”, starring Jeffrey Hunter, which again gave Jesus a face on celluloid. In the interim period, films such as “The Robe” or “Ben Hur” did not show the face of Jesus – just his feet, or hands or a distant back view.

One interesting workshop exercise was the analysis and discussion of different film depictions of the scene where the adulterous woman is about to be stoned. Another workshop discussion was on the symbols and significance of the more recent movie “The Phone Booth”, which participants were also asked to rate. The diversity of participants’ backgrounds and sensibilities made the discussions fresh and stimulating.

Participants’ evaluation of the entire seminar was unanimously enthusiastic. “This workshop gave me a broader perspective on how to watch, analyze and criticize movies – it gave me a better understanding of who Jesus was and is through film — it was faith-enriching!” said one participant. Another admitted: “It made me reflect on my personal faith in Jesus.” Fr Malone revealed that he, too, had gained valuable insights from the workshop discussions and plenary sharing.

At the closing program, CFA President Fr. Filoteo Pelingon, MSC, assured the participants that this is just the first of many national and Asian seminars that CFA will be offering in the next few years. CFA Executive Director Teresita Hermano also revealed that plans are underway for a follow-up seminar, as well as for a film festival, featuring outstanding films on spiritual themes. She thanked Fr Malone and Signis for making this seminar possible.