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Thom

Wrestling for Jesus

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It is no secret that documentaries do not usher in a ton of talk around here; something I don't think even Oprah could change. It is also a rare occurrence that we have a filmmaker from within the forums move into the realm of “new film topic” crossover. As Wrestling for Jesus begins to make the screening rounds - documentary form and an A&F filmmaker converge.

A couple of weeks ago I made the trek north up to the Wisconsin Film Festival in Madison to see the premiere. I did not have the opportunity to purchase tickets in advance, so I found myself waiting in the rush ticket line two hours before the screening began. I was first in line and had no idea if I would even get a ticket. As it turns out Wrestling for Jesus was a highly desirable documentary to see at the festival. It was sold out long before we even neared the Wisconsin border. Waiting in line was cold but I had a lot of warm conversation with several of the people waiting with me. I also met Nate, who showed up to admire ;) the long line of people waiting with the hope to get rush tickets for his sold out premier.

About twenty minutes before the show a younger guy walked up to me and said he had an extra ticket and blessed me with it. I made it into the theater, found a great seat, and settled in to watch the show in the center ring.

Shortly into the film it was obvious that this was going to be far from the circus act or side show I was expecting. It quickly established that something more than mask wearing men in tights with names like “Nacho Libre” were going to be parading around spewing Southern Evangelical epithets and altar calls; a sort of Holy Ghost People without the snakes. On the contrary, instead we see a community unified in mission and commitment, accountability and love, encouragement and support, and the desire to be a witness to the gospel message as they have experienced it.

This is a story of the walk of the Christian, moving from conversion to struggle to disbelief and back to leaning on the strength found in the Truth of God being who he says he is. Ultimately the audience is privileged to receive an invitation to take a look inside of one man’s journey as he wrestles with God.

Nate Clark has created a documentary that easily falls into a growing line of evangelical topics by looking closely at those who participate in life with God (Holy Ghost People, Hell House, Jesus Camp, Frisbee, The Outlaw: Larry Norman, Why Should The Devil…, etc.). However, I really believe Wrestling for Jesus is different. It isn’t historical, it isn’t a hypercritical analysis about religious claims and life lived, and it is not an effort to marginalize. It is an honest look into the life of a man doing his best to understand life and what life is when one has committed to serving Yahweh, Jehovah, Yeshua, Jesus.

I was fortunate enough to meet, hang out, and talk with both Nate and T-Money after the screening. This was an added benefit and a complete pleasure to spend time with them.

[Note: I do plan on writing a more complete review once my blog has been revamped]

Edited by Thom

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Not sure if this warrants an "ahem", but anyhoo, links to our first, second and third threads on this film, all of which are in the 'Filmmakers' forum. (The third thread is by far the busiest, and was updated as recently as last week.)

We also have a five-year-old thread on the 'Christian Wrestling Foundation' in the 'Catch-All' forum.

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Nah, I don't think this warrants an "ahem." The other threads you mentioned are all in the filmmakers forum of which I do participate. This is no longer a filmmakers conversation. The film has now premiered and is in circulation so I think it should be allowed to be part the discussion among the larger, non-filmmaker forum participants. I also don't think it should be placed in a "Catch-All" forum. This part of the forum is for discussion about the film, is that incorrect? Anyway, I thought that was what I was trying to do, discuss the finished film.

If this is incorrect in some way, Peter, please PM me so that we don't cloud up any potential conversation with placement issues. Thanks!

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My only fear in this is that I won't be able to see it. Will there be a DVD release, too?

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Never fear, Stef! Also, I do believe that a DVD release is in the plan.

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Should be available on DVD within 6 weeks - I just need to finish production on the extras.

I'll be sure to put any comments about the making of the film the filmmakers forum and leave this thread for critique / discussion of the film itself.

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Anyone in Arkansas? Wrestling for Jesus will be an official selection at the Little Rock Film Festival (a great festival that last year featured Winter's Bone, Big River Man, Louder Than a Bomb, and Restrepo).

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I thought I would post a couple things here.

The first is an interview I did with a program produced by Wisconsin PBS called Director's Cut. There's some interesting banter about the nature of documentary vs reality television along with discussing how to document religious activities.

Also, Wrestling for Jesus plays this week at the Little Rock Film Festival and then at the end of the month at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival.

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An update on the film...

The DVD is now available through Amazon.

We've also got a couple more festivals coming up including a screening at the Virginia Film Festival and another in Wisconsin.

Finally I thought this review of Errol Morris's Tabloid was, well, flattering to Wrestling for Jesus (and I do not know the reviewer personally :) ).

I'm looking forward to getting the film out and seeing what kind of discussion it sparks.

Edited by NClarke

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We've also got a couple more festivals coming up including a screening at the Virginia Film Festival and another in Wisconsin.

Hey, you're breaking news: The Va. Film Festival hasn't announced its lineup and won't until early October, IIRC. Congrats on being accepted to this year's festival.

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Hey, you're breaking news: The Va. Film Festival hasn't announced its lineup and won't until early October, IIRC. Congrats on being accepted to this year's festival.

I've got to give Arts and Faith some exclusive news :)

Edited by NClarke

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My review of the film and interview with Nate is here.

That’s not to imply that Wrestling for Jesus is a particularly editorial film. It’s not. Clarke stated that audiences at various screenings have responded quite differently to the film’s principals, speculating that the reason for this may lie in his attempts to let the participants speak for themselves. There is one moment in the film where you hear Clarke’s voice. When Gary Rucker (who wrestles under the name Matt Cruz) shows his trophies and pulls out one he was awarded from his peers for being “most-Christlike,” Clarke asks him what it means to be Christlike. Rucker’s answer is what is commonly referred to as “documentary gold.”

Viewers don’t have to be particularly astute to ponder how his response reflects on Rucker, but it wasn’t until I had finished watching the film that I really thought about what it said about those who gave the award to him. Rucker’s persona in the wrestling league is one of hero–the film explains that professional wrestling is scripted around obvious heroes and villains–and it is hard to look back on the scene in retrospect and not come away with a notion that, paradoxically, it is the performers themselves who have the hardest time discerning between what is authentic and what is make believe.

Edited by kenmorefield

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Kudos to Nathan for a thought-provoking documentary that surprised me at every turn. A remarkably compassionate and observant piece of work. As with any film on the subject of violent sports, I was uncomfortable and at times exasperated by activities that so many people seem to accept without flinching or questioning. But that was the subject, and Nathan's purpose is clearly to provoke us to observe and think about these things, not to indulge or to judge.

Looking for a comparison as I think about writing a review, I'm not going to Jesus Camp. I'm going to Steve James's films.

If Nathan makes another movie, well, I can't wait to see it.

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Just got the news that the Wrestling for Jesus was awarded "Best Documentary" at the Virginia Film Festival. First round's on me...

(the thread about VFF)

Edited by NClarke

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Just got the news that the Wrestling for Jesus was awarded "Best Documentary" at the Virginia Film Festival. First round's on me...

(the thread about VFF)

Fantastic! Well deserved.

Edited by Christian

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Nate, I was glad to hear about winning Best Documentary at the VFF. Congrats!!

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I just posted a new Wrestling for Jesus trailer which includes some nice pull quotes from two A&F regulars - Jeffrey Overstreet and Ken Morefield.

Great trailer, Nathan.

By the way, FWIW, the Christianity Today quote is a good one from David Neff, not me. Good words from Morefield too.

Here's what I wrote at Image:

Wrestling for Jesus: Getting to know men who stage wrestling matches in Jesus’ name, Nathan Clarke has made the most thoughtful documentary about evangelical Christianity in America I’ve ever seen. He’s respectful, even-handed, and fearless in provoking questions. It’ll spark discussions about masculinity, marriage, family, and the definition of “calling.” Moreover, he shows us how dramatic conversions and theatrical Christianity can often distort the Gospel or leave it behind entirely.
Edited by Overstreet

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Thanks Nathan.

Just curious, is there some reason why you used the venue (AmericanJesus.net, Christianity Today, Paste) for most of the pull quotes but my name (as opposed to 1More Film Blog) for that pull quote? I'm not upset or anything, just wondering how such decisions are made and/or if it is a function of the word "Blog" being in the title.

Ken

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In the case of AmericanJesus it was written as "American Jesus", not really as Zach Hunt.

With CT, I thought CT was more recognizable as opposed to David Neff.

With JO and you I wanted to have some individual reviewers. For aesthetic reasons, I didn't have a second line and if I did I would have put the location of the review.

Finally with your blog specifically, 1More Film Blog makes sense if you know Ken Morefield is behind it and it's appropriately tongue in cheek. For a quick hit, that might be lost on people.

That said, it sounds like I put more thought into it than I actually did.

nate

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With JO and you I wanted to have some individual reviewers. For aesthetic reasons, I didn't have a second line and if I did I would have put the location of the review.

Nate,

Watched the trailer again. Still didn't see the quotation you keep mentioning. I'm not complaining. Just wondering if I'm going crazy.

Kind of funny, actually. Reminds me of when Kathleen Norris said, in front of a group of people, "Jeffrey Overstreet... wait, don't you write about movies? I quoted you in my new book." And as I sat there gobsmacked, turning red, wondering what I had ever done to earn such an honor from one of my favorite writers, and as other people in the room turned around to look at me with sudden interest, Norris flipped through several pages, stopped, examined a page closely, and then said, "Oh, wait... no. It was thinking of somebody else. Never mind."

Edited by Overstreet

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With JO and you I wanted to have some individual reviewers. For aesthetic reasons, I didn't have a second line and if I did I would have put the location of the review.

Nate,

Watched the trailer again. Still didn't see the quotation you keep mentioning. I'm not complaining. Just wondering if I'm going crazy.

Kind of funny, actually. Reminds me of when Kathleen Norris said, in front of a group of people, "Jeffrey Overstreet... wait, don't you write about movies? I quoted you in my new book." And as I sat there gobsmacked, turning red, wondering what I had ever done to earn such an honor from one of my favorite writers, and as other people in the room turned around to look at me with sudden interest, Norris flipped through several pages, stopped, examined a page closely, and then said, "Oh, wait... no. It was thinking of somebody else. Never mind."

GREAT story, Jeffrey. Made my day.

Maybe you'll be quoted in her next book? :)

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It's always good to have something to aim for. :)

A good ego-skewering a day is good for the soul.

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Jeez, no it's me that's going crazy. I had someone else edit this and we talked about pulling a quote. He pulled one of the quotes from a reviewer, I think I meant one of the spoken quotes. This is what you get when you try to get something done before a flight leaves and before the film plays at a couple of festivals. Fortunately the trailer still works...

The video file I am looking at that has the JO quote says, "The most thoughtful documentary about Evangelical Christianity I've ever seen." It's such a strong quote, I may just try to figure out a way to get it in there.

Silly, Silly Nate.

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