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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:

Quote

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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Thanks Joel - yes I'm nominating those first fourteen films, not nominating the honorable mentions, and if we decide to offer an award for best imaginative thing involving stop motion flying creatures, the Message Bird it is :)

Having seen Roma yesterday, I want to nominate it too.

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I only saw half of this film (the screener I had earlier in the year expired before I had time to return to it) so I can't nominate it, but I think we should make an effort to see and potentially nominate  Robert Greene's latest,  Bisbee'17.

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I second Boy Erased and Bad Times at the El Royale. I imagine many people will not care for the latter, but it's a story of every sin having a consequence and one of the best made movies of the year.

 

Does anyone want to weigh in on the merits or not of nominating The Hate U Give? It's first and foremost a heavy-handed sermon, although a very timely and very well made one. Starr (the protagonist) and her family are very well developed characters-both in terms of writing and acting-and their responses to a tragedy should be of interest to Christians, both in terms of depicting how people respond to traumatic events, and because said events are so prominent in 2018. At the same time, several of the supporting characters are one-dimensional archetypes who exist for Starr to punch down toxic ideologies that many people still harbour. There's nothing wrong with that, and in our current climate, I'd say it's necessary and a moral good. However, since we publish this list to provide a list of alternate titles to the usual message-movies of Christian cinema, I'm hesitant to nominate a film that has similar problems, just because it has better production quality and a message (I'd assume) most of us agree with. Thoughts?

Edited by Evan C

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1 hour ago, Evan C said:

Does anyone want to weigh in on the merits or not of nominating The Hate U Give? It's first and foremost a heavy-handed sermon, although a very timely and very well made one. Starr (the protagonist) and her family are very well developed characters-both in terms of writing and acting-and their responses to a tragedy should be of interest to Christians, both in terms of depicting how people respond to traumatic events, and because said events are so prominent in 2018. At the same time, several of the supporting characters are one-dimensional archetypes who exist for Starr to punch down toxic ideologies that many people still harbour. There's nothing wrong with that, and in our current climate, I'd say it's necessary and a moral good. However, since we publish this list to provide a list of alternate titles to the usual message-movies of Christian cinema, I'm hesitant to nominate a film that has similar problems, just because it has better production quality and a message (I'd assume) most of us agree with. Thoughts?

2

I haven't seen the specific movie, though I am planning to do so. I have a friend who teaches High School, and my understanding is that the book on which it is based is getting some play, so there is cultural significance. 

But really, I just wanted to say that I've normally thought of our list as "expanding" what it means to recommend a film for Christian audience, which is not exactly the same as being an "alternative." (The latter suggests to me that "the usual message-movies of Christian cinema" are not welcome whereas the former says that's not the only kind of movie worth recommending. So if a message-movie was done well, I'd have no problem with that. (Then again, I'm the guy that nominated The Boss Baby last year...)

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15 hours ago, Evan C said:

since we publish this list to provide a list of alternate titles to the usual message-movies of Christian cinema, I'm hesitant to nominate a film that has similar problems, just because it has better production quality and a message (I'd assume) most of us agree with. Thoughts?

I want to affirm what Ken wrote above about the language of "expanding" rather than "alternative," but particularly wanted to address the notion of an alternate list to the usual Christian cinema, as I don't believe that's what this A&F list is necessarily about. I hope it's not a reaction to other "Christian" lists, but rather a creative endeavor (as much as list-making can be considered "creative") of collaboration between the jury and simply pointing out the true, good, and beautiful where we find it in cinema, even if (maybe especially if) a film's message is pertinent to Christian concerns and ethics.

And like I said to Christian earlier in this thread, I also want to reiterate that nominating or seconding a film is an act of trust in the jury's collective judgment. Nominate and second those films which might not even be on your own personal Top 10, but are nonetheless significant and worthy of this jury's consideration. For example, I now want to seek out The Hate U Give, a film (and novel) I was unaware of. If it's great, and resonates with the cultural climate, I may even nominate or second it myself. :) 

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I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone that Monrovia, Indiana has not been seconded yet, and this is a travesty. ;) Anyone else seen it yet?

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Good points, both Ken and Joel, on "expand" versus "alternate." The latter was definitely a sloppy word choice on my part; I did not mean to imply any films are excluded, just wondering aloud on the merits of including message-movies in general for this list.

Anyway, you've both convinced me.

I nominate The Hate U Give.

And while I was less enthusiastic than some people, I think Wildlife merits consideration not only as a coming of age story, but also as a story of how families depend on one another, and how the selfish actions of one family member affect the other members, so I nominate that too.

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Jumping in to add my support for Bad Times at the El Royale and First Man; I know they've been seconded already, but I think they're both good candidates for the list. In the same vein as Bad Times, I'm conflicted about Hotel Artemis, which has a Good Samaritan story at its core, but I'm not sure it amounts to much more than that; anyone else see it and agree or disagree? 

I'd also like to nominate Eighth Grade. Like Lady Bird from last year, it's a kind, compassionate portrait of a teenage girl, trying to understand her place in her own life. The protagonist, Kayla, has an experience of the last week of eighth grade that looks nothing, but feels everything, like my own. Unlike The Hate U Give (which based on the discussion above looks pretty heavy handed; I myself have not seen it yet), Eighth Grade is a light touch, more of a discussion prompt than a sermon, but one that allows the viewer to ask: how are we caring for our children? How are we showing them love, and how are they receiving it?

Kudos to Joel, who tweeted about the movie this afternoon and who reminded me just how great it is!

I have not seen Monrovia, Indiana, but would very much like to. My day job sidelined me from quite a few October/November releases and I don't have access to screeners - does anyone have access to Monrovia that they would be able to share? (I'll catch it on streaming if it's released before Christmas.)

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FWIW, I listened to the audiobook of The Hate U Give in preparation for the film.  After listening, I didn't bother with the movie.  The book had a touchy feely "family moment" every 20 minutes or so, akin to watching Family Matters without an Urkel character.  Its heavyhandedness makes after school specials seem subtle.  I understand the desire to respond artistically to the crisis of police violence towards unarmed black men, women, and children; I'm waiting for Blindspotting to drop for home viewing, to see if it's any better.

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2 hours ago, dodgyboffin said:

!

I have not seen Monrovia, Indiana, but would very much like to. My day job sidelined me from quite a few October/November releases and I don't have access to screeners - does anyone have access to Monrovia that they would be able to share? (I'll catch it on streaming if it's released before Christmas.)

 

Sarah,I have a digital screening link that's not shareable (I haven't watched it yet), but if you want to send me your e-mail I'll hook you up with the publicist who I am confident would send you the same. 

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4 hours ago, Andrew said:

FWIW, I listened to the audiobook of The Hate U Give in preparation for the film.  After listening, I didn't bother with the movie.  The book had a touchy feely "family moment" every 20 minutes or so, akin to watching Family Matters without an Urkel character.  Its heavyhandedness makes after school specials seem subtle.  I understand the desire to respond artistically to the crisis of police violence towards unarmed black men, women, and children; I'm waiting for Blindspotting to drop for home viewing, to see if it's any better.

Well, the movie was better than that. I thought the dynamics between Starr and her family were very touchingly portrayed with some really good performances from Amandla Stenberg and Russell Hornsby. It was Starr's interactions with most of the white cast (especially Starr's white best friend who's actually *gasp* racist and spouts "all lives matter" bs) when the preaching really started, but as I said, I feel some of that may be necessary in our current climate.

Edited by Evan C

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A strong second for Eighth Grade, which is a masterpiece, IMO, and I agree with everything Sarah highlighted.

8 hours ago, dodgyboffin said:

I'd also like to nominate Eighth Grade. Like Lady Bird from last year, it's a kind, compassionate portrait of a teenage girl, trying to understand her place in her own life. The protagonist, Kayla, has an experience of the last week of eighth grade that looks nothing, but feels everything, like my own. Unlike The Hate U Give (which based on the discussion above looks pretty heavy handed; I myself have not seen it yet), Eighth Grade is a light touch, more of a discussion prompt than a sermon, but one that allows the viewer to ask: how are we caring for our children? How are we showing them love, and how are they receiving it?

There are two overt references to God in Eighth Grade which are about as honest/raw as spirituality gets. Middle schoolers have some of the best insights, questions, and theories about theology and spirituality, if only we were willing to listen to them with sincerity and respect. I think Eighth Grade does just that--it honors middle schoolers, neither lampooning them nor sentimentalizing them. It just presents them as they are, in all their beautiful awkward selves.

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I will nominated The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a film which looks Death square in the face and gives it a wink. Each one of the stories in the anthology directly addresses human striving, depravity, and mortality like a darkly comic Ecclesiastes. Some work better than others. But those final two tales, "The Gal Who Got Rattled" and "The Mortal Remains," won me over, and which tip the film from semi-frivolous to deadly serious. We have a thread started here; I'm curious as to y'all's opinion.

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I'll go ahead and second Gareth's nomination of Blindspotting, which I had indicated earlier I was on the fence about nominating myself. I'm still wrestling with its application for the A&F list, but I'll be honest: It's one of my favorite movies of the year, and I'd love for more people to see it. So, on that selfish score, I'm seconding it. I hope others embrace it - as part of this list, or for any other reason. It's so alive as you watch it. Just great.

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I think these are all seconds accept Beale St & Free Solo (I could be wrong):

Black Panther- Amongst its many themes, knowing who you are and where you come from is a thread throughout the film that spoke volumes.

Leave No Trace- I loved the father/daughter dynamics in this film. Coming of age and learning when to forge your own path while still loving a parent through their flaws is something many people deal with.

If Beale Street Could Talk- This film captures the injustice many people of color face and faced during its setting, while giving us a snapshot of small, universal, beautiful moments of freedom in life that can be taken away in the blink of an eye.

Free Solo- The beauty of the mountain landscape and having a passion vs the danger of throwing ourselves into something to the point of risking death and relationships. This is an interesting documentary analyzing Alex's ambition and commitment to pushing himself further at all costs, including the ultimate. It was a thrilling watch for me, but it also made me think about what fires are burning around me that I don't recognize when I throw myself into my passions with disregard to loved ones needs.

Hereditary- Toni Collette embodies the anguish of loss in this film. If you believe in angels, this a psycholically scary reminder that there’s another side too.

Roma- Great film about the family you’re born into and the family you choose. Cuaron brilliantly frames Cleo separately from the family at the start of the film while slowly placing her closer to them (in the frame) as the film goes on, until she’s centered in the beach scene’s iconic shot, cinematically showing the family’s need for her and her need for them. Definitely not one for the casual moviegoer but that’s why it should be added.

Edited by Kevin Sampson

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