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Holy Rollers


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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 12 April 2011 - 03:05 AM

Wanna see a documentary about Christians who play blackjack? Check out the trailer here.

The film is currently scheduled to premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival in June.

#2 Overstreet

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Posted 25 April 2011 - 03:05 PM

I have a friend who is on this blackjack team. These are some brave and unusual missionaries. I can't wait for the movie. They've kept such a low profile, it's strange to see them suddenly "going public."

#3 Overstreet

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Posted 17 June 2011 - 08:59 PM

Here's a Seattle radio interview with the filmmaker and one of the card-counters.

Edited by Overstreet, 18 June 2011 - 01:08 PM.


#4 Overstreet

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 01:09 PM

Comment withdrawn, in hope that such qualifications are now unnecessary.

And now, on-topic:

A blackjack players' website posts a rave review.

And now here's an interview with my friend, David Drury, who may be the longest-running member of the team. He's in the band Tennis Pro, and is also an excellent writer (we were in the same writers' group for a while). In fact, one of his short stories was recently read on NPR's Selected Shorts.

Fascinating stuff:

This phrase isn’t used in the film, but if I were to reason why you guys were doing this on a theological level, I would use the phrase “social justice.” To me, the beliefs of this group are tied into the fact that for the most part all this cash is used to keep an industry of addiction afloat, and keep the people involved in it without power even more helpless to its domination. It almost seems like an evangelical form of “liberation theology.” Does that make sense? And if so, is that why you were so committed to it?

The social justice side of things is hard to quantify. The first difficulty in this line of work is simply justifying to yourself how you are serving society by playing a game in a way that is largely frowned upon. We are raised in a society that values easily drawn pictures of “service” that are easy to nail down but often don’t make no sense once you start asking hard questions. If you are a teacher, you bust your ass doing important work for no money. If you are good at dunking a basketball, you get paid millions to provide “entertainment” through the vehicle of a soul-sucking corporate structure. But at least you can draw those lines. For me, I decided I was able to provide for myself and my family, which was of first-level importance. I was in a work structure (players and managers) where I was valued, where my goals were honored and were mine to set (as opposed to goals in a corporate environment), and where I was excited to work towards the success of the whole team. I felt supported like I never had before in a career endeavor. Third, I am a writer and considered this odd engagement as a down payment on a future book of crazy adventure tales. Chalk one up for the crazy adventures; book forthcoming. Fourth, yes, liberation, justice, and a good old fashioned sticking-it-to-the-man. He is big and I often felt infinitesimally small. When you have a big losing night AND get kicked out, what have you achieved? I choose to believe that the road is long, and while I am on it I mostly limp along with dark glasses, banging my cane against the curb.


Edited by Overstreet, 18 June 2011 - 01:28 PM.


#5 Overstreet

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 12:05 PM

My review.

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 June 2011 - 08:58 AM

Dennis Harvey -- who has apparently never heard of "hipster Christianity" -- @ Variety:

Not to be confused with last year's Jesse Eisenberg vehicle, diverting docu "Holy Rollers" chronicles what happens when two normally well-separated worlds collide. Its subjects are a group of young Christians, mostly from the Pacific Northwest, who realized they could make rent and devote more time to the Lord's business by training themselves to count cards at casino blackjack tables. Treated as a sort of jaunty nonfiction caper by helmer Bryan Storkel, pic doesn't probe deep but sustains the entertaining lure of its novel premise. Fest travel could be followed by niche VOD, broadcast and possible theatrical gigs.

Protagonists might easily be taken for 30-ish hipsters, but appearances deceive: They're all pastors, church leaders and/or congregants very much dedicated to their faith. (Pic's major omission is that it doesn't describe the precise tenets or logistics of their spiritual practices, though their sincerity is never in doubt.) Most struggle to support young families and spend time in worship-related activities while working as public schoolteachers, in construction, etc.

Then Seattle-based friends Ben Crawford and Colin Jones hit upon the idea of counting cards. Despite some hand wringing ("I hate casinos ... they just suck goodness out of the world," one participant says), they rationalize that taking funds from exploitative institutions in order to have more free time for family and flock does not constitute a sin. They consider it a calling, not a hustle. . . .

But despite rigorous training and recurrent self-testing, their luck turns and they pile up some scary losses after a half-year winning streak. Some team members, with life savings or mortgages at stake, get cold feet. As the range of players and participants expands beyond a close circle of church friends, trust ebbs, and suspicions arise that someone might be stealing from the collective kitty. An agnostic newbie is fingered, though sole evidence of his guilt is one fervent believer's claim that "the Holy Spirit told me." (Said newcomer is duly dropped.)

Though it often seems money inevitably corrupts, the principal subjects here (most identified only by first name) are convincingly idealistic, taking this bizarre, even unseemly route not to get rich quick, but simply to better support their loved ones and ministries. Still, we find out far less about the faith that plays such a big part in their lives than we do about the gambling team's process and the defensive tactics of highly unamused casino personnel. . . .

The "hipster" reference is kind of amusing. My sister went to Regent College with David Drury and used to play in a band with him back in the '90s, and she used to tell me, in a very amused sort of way, about a "marijuana church" he attended (in Seattle, I think), where people supposedly smoked pot after the services. There may or may not have been an element of euphemism or exaggeration there, but anyhoo.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 21 June 2011 - 09:00 AM.


#7 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 11 March 2012 - 03:15 AM

A Card-Counting Mix of Bibles, Blackjack and Cash
Colin Jones has toiled in the cacophonous, windowless, artificially lighted corridors of casinos across the country in an effort to beat the house with math. He has worked to master the art of card counting, long scorned by casino operators, in which players try to gain an advantage over a blackjack dealer by keeping track of all the cards seen, and then adjusting their bets.
Now he is selling his tactics to others. On March 24, 10 people from across the country will arrive in Las Vegas and pay $1,500 each for Jones to teach them how to count cards.
What those students may not realize is that their teacher belongs to an unlikely subset of blackjack players. Jones is a Christian card counter. . . .
New York Times, March 9

Go Ye Therefore Into Casinos
Bryan Storkel’s documentary Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card-Counting Christians captures a basic feature of evangelicalism: in many ways, evangelical Christians are indistinguishable from their neighbors. . . .
Holy Rollers charts the journey of young evangelical pastors and lay leaders who launched a card-counting business, dubbed the Church Team, and cleaned up to the tune of $3.2 million over 5 years. I talked to Storkel about his film and the questions it raises about evangelical belief and behavior. . . .
REELigion, March 10

#8 opus

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Posted 20 March 2012 - 09:58 AM

You can hear a track from the soundtrack, which was composed by Frank Lenz (who some of you might recognize from his work with Starflyer 59, Richard Swift, and Pedro The Lion, to name a few) here.

#9 Tyler

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Posted 03 April 2012 - 11:29 AM

Holy Rollers was mentioned on The Colbert Report last night.

#10 Tyler

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Posted 12 June 2012 - 10:56 AM

Featured on This American Life.

#11 Crow

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Posted 26 June 2012 - 11:00 PM

This is now on Netflix Instant. Interesting doc. I was struck by how the way the gambling business was run reminded me of the operation of "dot com" businesses that I have read articles about and seen documentaries on.

One thing, I would like to have seen the film explore more of the continuing religious practice of these Christians, and how their churches were affected by the gambling revenue coming in.

Edited by Crow, 26 June 2012 - 11:04 PM.


#12 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 July 2013 - 12:02 AM

Finally got around to watching this on Netflix a few nights ago.

Maybe it's because I've been the treasurer at my own church for the past few years, but for whatever reason, the biggest question I had after watching the film was how the people involved paid their taxes. I mean, if these people all looked at what they were doing as a "job" with "bosses" and whatnot, and if they were clearly drawing some sort of income from this line of work (an income that seems to go straight to them personally; as Crow notes, there is little indication anywhere in the film as to how the gambling revenue may have affected the actual churches these people represent), then surely they must have had to pay income tax, right? And maybe the "bosses" were obliged to cover employment insurance payments or some such thing, too?

Or do hipster churches think the government is just as corrupt as casinos, and refusing to pay tax etc. is another way of "sticking it to the man"?