When religious communities denounce sex and violence in the
movies, we usually hear about it in the press - the Baptist boycott
of Disney has been well publicized, for example. But praise for
good films from the religious community isn't heard as often.
Yet, the fact is, many people of faith love the art form, go
to the movies often, and think about what they've seen. Since
movies reflect the society from which they come, the issues they
raise are often issues ordinary people grapple with at the level of
Indeed, many churches organize discussion groups for
interested members, and many church-affiliated publications
regularly include film reviews or features on film.
Some seminaries even offer courses in film appreciation for
budding clergy since these men and women may examine films with
their congregations later on.
In Europe particularly, religious communities take film
seriously, and a number of European film festivals offer an
ecumenical prize along with a jury prize for films in competition.
(Ecumenism involves efforts to further cooperation among Christian
In North America, the only film festival offering such an
ecumenical prize is Montreal's World Film Festival (Festival des
Films du Monde). The festival has awarded an ecumenical prize since
1979 to films that have a spiritual dimension as well as humanistic
and artistic qualities.
These prizes are not meant to be awarded to doctrinaire
films. At this year's festival, held from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, the
top prize went to an Iranian film, "The Children of Heaven," by
Muslim filmmaker Majid Majidi.
The Rev. James Wall, editor of The Christian Century, an
ecumenical weekly magazine, is also the president of North American
Interfilm, the organization that supplies American Protestant
judges to ecumenical juries in Montreal and Europe.
Dr. Wall says that the value of ecumenical prizes for film is
twofold: "It notifies the film community that people of religious
faith are very interested in film as an art form as well as a
commercial product. It says that we want to identify and honor
films - not that are about religion, but that resonate with the
same sensibility that we find in our religious faith."
Second, the ecumenical prize speaks to people in the
religious communities. "Pay attention to these particular films,"
says Wall, "because they have values and they resonate with
concerns that are ours in religious faith. They are beautifully
presented in an artistic fashion and widely available to the
Ecumenical juries are made up of Protestant and Roman
Catholic members - usually half and half. North American Interfilm
is a branch of European Interfilm. The Catholic Organization for
Cinema (OCIC) supplies the Catholic jurors in Europe (including the
Berlin, Leipzig, Manheim-Heidelberg, Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Moscow,
St. Petersburg, and Locarno festivals) and Montreal, and the two
organizations have worked together since 1974 to reward fine films
for their humanitarian values and artistic excellence.
Wall points out that both European Interfilm and OCIC are
well funded, and many churches have full-time staff working on
education about and evaluation of secular movies - making
information about contemporary film available to their
congregations and other interested parties. …