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Joel Mayward

2018 Arts & Faith Ecumenical Jury: Nominations and Discussion

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I will nominate Jinn, a film that I offered to write about from SXSW without getting much interest from Christian platforms. At my SXSW write up, I wrote:

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Nijla Mumin is the writer and director of Jinn, a film about a teenager named Summer who has Islam thrust upon her by a suddenly devout mother who wants her daughter to stop dancing, start wearing a headscarf, and follow in her footsteps. Getting Christians to watch movies about Muslims is a hard sell. I’m not sure why. Summer’s conflict with her mom should resonate deeply with a generation of Christian parents and teens who daily have to figure out whether religious faith can be instilled or must always, only be found on one’s own.

The EJ has traditionally had a somewhat vague criteria (see Joel's quote of me in the opening) that suggests both that there is something more distinctively "Christian" about the list but also a deliberate attempt to expand cultural ideas of what it means to recommend films to Christians. There are Christians, perhaps not many but who knows, who may be able to wrestle with issues of fundamentalism, peer pressure, etc. with a little more distance provided by the film's plot not pushing buttons of a direct critique of *their* religion. But the central conflicts in the film--whether religion can be imposed on another person, how it can divide a family, how a personal faith differs from a social faith, are very much relevant to the Christian community. 

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7 hours ago, Joel Mayward said:

I haven't seen any of the films in question, so I can't really make an informed comment. I'm wondering why you would be hesitant about nominating films which qualify for our list. Like my two semi-questionable nominations above, I wanted to put the films out there to the jury members and trust our collective wisdom/judgment. Are you wondering if these three films shouldn't even be potential nominees? I guess (having not seen the films) I can't discern what is causing the hesitancy. Do the films have objectionable or offensive content? Are they mediocre or poorly-made? Are they boring? Do they never address any spiritual/religious/existential/ethical concerns? Would I be worse off as a person for having watched them?

I'd also point you to our jury aims: "We particularly seek to enlarge or expand the perception of what is meant by either labelling a film a 'Christian' film or suggesting that it should be of interest to Christian audiences. The jury seeks to recognize quality films (regardless of genre) that have challenged, moved, enlightened, or entertained us and to draw the attention of Christian audiences to films it thinks have the potential to do the same for them." So, if any of those three films have challenged/moved/enlightened/entertained you, and you'd want to draw a Christian audience's attention to them, I think that's a valid reason for nominating them.

If nothing else, reading about each film on IMDB, I'm intrigued and want to seek them out for myself!

Thanks, Joel. I kept meaning to come here yesterday and edit my post, removing the counterproductive "let's discuss this before I nominate" stuff. I've done the EJ for a few years and know how the nominations work. I was just trying to rush a "seconding" post before heading out the door, and was contemplating making a few nominations myself. I was trying to express some uncertainty about doing the latter, given my own interpretation from years past of which films best qualify for this list. (I seem to be less expansive than others in determining which films best fit the EJ.) Anyway, a poor choice on my part.

Having thought about those potential nominations for a day, I don't think I'll officially nominate any of 'em. I may yet submit some nominations, but I haven't given a lot of thought as to which films I'd nominate (that haven't already been nominated by others), or the dreaded rationale for doing so. 

Edited by Christian

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Second BlacKkKlansman.

 

Edited by Anders
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16 hours ago, Christian said:

Having thought about those potential nominations for a day, I don't think I'll officially nominate any of 'em. I may yet submit some nominations, but I haven't given a lot of thought as to which films I'd nominate (that haven't already been nominated by others), or the dreaded rationale for doing so. 

Sounds good Christian, and thanks for sharing your thought process here--I hope my earlier questions were helpful and in a spirit of dialogue, and I do hope you'll submit some nominees!

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OK, looking over my running list of the year's best films, I nominate these documentaries for the EJ:

Hale County This Morning, This Evening: I suppose it's hard to find - I saw it at AFI DOCS - but IMDB confirms that the film had a release date of September 14, 2018. From my AFI DOCS capsule reviews: 

A largely non-narrative look at an African American community in Alabama, Hale County: This Morning, This Evening follows the lives of Daniel, a college basketball player at Selma University, and Quincy, whose wife is about to deliver twins. But Hale County is also a tapestry, including scenes of a worship service, echoes of Scripture (Daniel paraphrases Matthew 6:34), and people sporting “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace” t-shirts alongside heartbreaking scenes of mortality. Days after seeing it, Hale County continues to rise in my estimation. If not my favorite documentary of the festival, it may be the best.

For the Birds: This one released June 18; I don't think it ever played in the D.C. market. I'm nominating it because of its look at marriage:

For the Birds' obsessed protagonist has no scientific background, but she’s surrounded by turkeys, ducks and chickens—and a husband who seems to rate lower than the birds. “To me they’re family,” says the bird obsessive. “You gotta have something you believe in. Something that makes you get up in the morning.” What starts as a look at a quirky, possibly mentally ill animal lover becomes a story about a strained marriage and, ultimately, the strength of bonds that carry over to later decades. I left For the Birds unconvinced by its conclusion but fascinated by how one couple’s strife competed with their need for companionship. 

 

Edited by Christian

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Hi folks - good to be back with you all, and I'm enjoying reading your nominees and this discussion. My nominees, in order, thus far:
 
1: Blindspotting (Goes way beyond just naming the problem of racism, and the legacy of white dominance, but allows for the possibility there might be some way out)
 
2: Lizzie (One of the most serious and plausible treatments of the reasons leading to, actual fact of, and aftermath beyond murder I've ever seen)
 
3: The Happy Prince (A performance for the ages, a striking portrayal of artist and target, and a true honoring of the impact of homophobia)
 
4: Leave No Trace (Goes way beyond just naming the problem of community breakdown, empathy deficits, and the legacy of the myth of redemptive violence being politicized, but allows for the possibility that there might be some way out)
 
5: Annihilation (As if The Tree of Life were directed by the writer of Apocalypse Now)
 
6: Won't You Be My Neighbor? (Don't mind if I do.)
 
7: The Wife (Bergman, Roth, Close)
 
8: A Star is Born (I think it really is almost as good as many say it is; only real flaw is that it doesn't handle the passage of time well - it felt to me like the events in the movie took place over the course of about four months)
 
9: Bad Times at the El Royale (Almost no one will agree with me, I imagine, but this is the most important US American film of the year - the last scene in particular embodying the end of an era of separation and the beginning of an era of connection.)
 
10: Isle of Dogs (Anderson is so good at what he does that it can seem easy; but I think the compassion in his films is difficult to make credible on screen, and he does it every time.) 
 
11: Blaze (Another really good film about art and suffering.)
 
12: The Gospel of Eureka (Often hilarious, often moving, always original, a perfect little story about very big things.)
 
13: First Man (So much better than its audience implies - a very rare successful attempt at making the cosmic microcosmic.)
 
14: Come Sunday (Another rare thing - a feature about religion whose portrayal of religion actually feels like the religion I've experienced.)
 
 
HONORABLE MENTIONS
Paddington 2
 
The Old Man and the Gun
 
Keep the Change
 
The Boy Downstairs
 
Sorry to Bother You
 
Puzzle
 
NOT AN ENTIRE FILM, BUT (ALMOST) WORTH THE ADMISSION PRICE
The Message Bird in Early Man
 
WHAT I'M NOT NOMINATING, AND WHY
BlackKklansman - because it lets white people off the hook by portraying racism as something that's only really "done" by "extremists", and because in using footage of the Charlottesville violence it implies that nothing has changed since the events in the film. Neither of those things is true. Having said that, I deeply appreciated seeing Harry Belafonte; it felt like a privilege to witness.
 
BEST EXPERIENCE IN A THEATER (PART ONE)
Ryan's Daughter at the Aero, Santa Monica, January - that film is a masterpiece, and if you've only ever seen it on TV, I urge you to remedy that soon.
 
BEST EXPERIENCE IN A THEATER (PART TWO)
The Piano at the Queen's Film Theatre, Belfast, June - real richness to be had in revisiting that film 25 years after my only previous viewing. We're both different now :)

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I second Come Sunday and First Man. I'm *very* tempted to second A Star Is Born, but it's hard for me to justify as to why it should on this particular list.

I've counted all of Gareth's nominations as "first nomination" for a first mention of a film (e.g. The Happy Prince), "second" if it'd been nominated before (e.g. Leave No Trace), and haven't included the Honorable Mentions in the nominees (unless Gareth wishes to formally nominate them). Beyond all that business, Gareth, these are a unique and lovely batch of films from 2018, and a good reminder for me to re-watch The Piano. And I'd agree with you about the message bird in Early Man; it was about the only scene in that film which got me truly laughing.

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