Mocu-documentaries

Bill Maher has jumped on the Michael Moore bandwagon by using the “documentary” film format to preach his own message. For Maher, he’s got an axe to grind with organized religion and so he’s made a film called Religulous intending to show how religion is bad for the world. My reaction to this announcement was a short yawn followed by clicking on the next item in my RSS feed.

My hope was that the rest of the religious community would do the same. These kinds of films succeed largely not because¬† they’re necessarily any good but because a large group of people make a big stink about boycotting them. It is free publicity and the movie studios are glad to have it.

Well, it looks like my hopes came true! Apparently no one really cares too much about the movie. There have been a few reviews and the ones I’ve read have all said the same thing: Maher comes acorss as snooty and aloof like he’s so much better than religious people he says are so bad. Even if you’re not religious, that should be a turn off and a pretty big sign that this is NOT a documentary.

So what is a film maker to do when the people you are trying to skewer don’t care and don’t call for boycotts? Well, apparently, you do what any good marketing firm would do and call for the boycott yourself! Viral marketing, it’s called these days. And Christianity Today calls them on it. Great quote from the article “Real religious leaders, however, say they have more important worries than Maher’s film.” Now I can safely go back to my “yawn” status on this one.

However,¬† there is some more to be said not about the film (who cares) but about film in general. First, I got an email this weekend from Brian Godawa encouraging people to go see An American Carol. In it, a Michael Moore type character who hates America gets visited, A Christmas Carol style, by the spirit of John F. Kennedy, George Patton and George Washington who show him what is good in America. It is decidedly pro-American in a time when our country is taking some hard knocks. I haven’t seen it yet but would like to. Nice to see the “documentary” film makers getting skewered themselves.

The other thing this brings to mind is some of what Andy Crouch is talking about in his book Making Culture, which I’m nearly finished reading. At one point he makes mention of something called an othercott. The idea is that on the opening weekend of a movie like Religulous or The Da Vinci Code, instead of boycotting, picketing or staying away from the movies all together, go see something good. Spend your money, but spend it on the kind of movie you think Hollywood should be making. Sounds good till Andy does the math and shows that the impact is would only be less than one percent of the opening weekend tickets and just over half a percent if you compare it to all the movies opening on that given weekend. Not as big an impact as was hoped for. It isn’t nothing but it probably isn’t enough to move the studio either.

What Crouch calls for is not protesting or critiquing but creating. The world is going to continue to make films like Religulous but what if Christians create skillful, well crafted films that contribute some positive aspects to the standards by which the public judge films to be good or bad, worth seeing or avoiding? The problem is that those kinds of changes are slow but they are possible. The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings have all done some of that by making it possible to to create successful films that speak well of religion. The boarders have expanded some, they haven’t yet contracted to reduce the number of films that ridicule religion yet, but perhaps as Christians once again engage Hollywood instead of shunning it, we might seem the definition of desirable films shift. They don’t all have to have the gospel preached in them to be good, Christian films either. When I left the theater after seeing Signs, I thought I’d just seen a beautiful demonstration of the Reformed doctrine of sovereignty played out in a well told story. No one is going to be saved by seeing a movie, but they might be moved to think about God in a way they perhaps hadn’t before.

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