Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film: Using Popular Movies to Cultivate a Sacramental Imagination and Improve Media Literacy in Adolescents

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film: Using Popular Movies to Cultivate a Sacramental Imagination and Improve Media Literacy in Adolescents

Article excerpt

This article describes the development and impact of a co-curricular monthly movie series entitled "Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film" at a medium-sized, comprehensive Catholic university in the Pacific Northwest. Over the course of 3 years, more than 700 students across academic disciplines have participated as viewers in the series. These are 700 students who, due to the size and mission of their institution, would not otherwise have access in their regular courses to exploring systematically the potential of popular films to inform and, indeed, even to form their notions of what it means to be a thoughtful Catholic human being in this media-saturated 21st century.

From the soaring metaphorical poetry of the Hebrew Scriptures to Jesus' use of parables, even up to the exhortations of the Second Vatican Council (1965) to "read the signs of the times," those charged with inculcating and nurturing faith have tapped into sensory images to teach who God is and how people of faith are to relate to God. But it would be all too easy to drown in what Avgerinou (2009) has called the "bain d'images" ("image bath") in which educators and students alike find themselves drenched daily. In the Gospels, Jesus usually takes the time to unpack the stories and images he uses when his audiences absorb them with more enthusiasm than insight (e.g., Matthew 21:31; Mark 10:29). St. Paul pleaded with the early Christians to approach God "in a manner worthy of thinking beings" (Romans 21:1). Thus, the film series presented in this article equips young adult viewers to see themes of grace, redemption, and transcendence in movies as disparate--and as far from explicitly religious--as Kung Fu Panda (Cobb, Stevenson, & Osborne, 2008), The Dark Knight (Nolan, Roven, & Thomas, 2008), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (Wright, Platt, Gitter, & Park, 2010).

An endeavor such as the "Bringing Eyes of Faith to Film" series affords even teachers and catechists who may not have a substantial academic background in film criticism the intellectual means to cultivate an orientation to movies in young people that is both cognitively rigorous and sacramental. Adopting the pedagogical stance of meeting people where they are, this model suggests an unexpected starting place for religious formation: movies students already love and tend to watch with an intriguing amalgam of naivete and cynicism. Even nonfilm scholars can draw upon such accessible texts as Bordwell and Thompson (2004) and Corrigan and White (2008) for ample vocabulary to introduce to students common cinematic devices and filmmakers' artistic choices. Connecting these to elements of Scripture and Church doctrine provides students who enter the series as uncritical consumers a set of tools for future viewing that boosts their sophistication and cultivates a sacramental imagination, two worthy outcomes of any endeavor in a Catholic institution. As one of our students muttered while surreptitiously wiping his eyes on his way out of our screening of Up (Rivera, Lasseter, Stanton, Docter, & Peterson, 2009), "Great; now I will never be able to 'veg out' in front of a screen and just watch a movie again!" Once he had been taught to behold the grace and redemption at the heart of Up, and learned that the colors, music, and animation style were deliberately orchestrated by the filmmakers to evoke particular emotions in the viewer, he realized that most of the movies he had always just received as light entertainment had the potential to move him in unexpected ways. His comment acknowledged that his approach to viewing movies was changed; consciously or otherwise, he will be on the lookout for substantive meanings the next time he places himself in front of a screen.

This article proceeds with a literature review that provides definitions of art, as the term is employed in this piece, and film as art. It then illuminates the need for (the why) and potentially fruitful broad strategies (the how) for increasing students' critical viewing capacities, from educational and pastoral perspectives. …

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