Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
When it comes to faith-based films, people either support them at any cost or avoid them like the plague. Most people can agree that filmmakers set out with good intentions when creating a spiritual/faith-based film; sadly, however, lately, the results have been pretty detrimental to the cinema world. Now, I’m not going to point any fingers, but Kirk Cameron might have something to do with it.
There aren’t too many filmmakers out there willing to take risks with the material. Often they play it too safe, or argue that faith-based movies should be supported by Christians no matter how bad it is. Well, we’re here to say that good messages don’t make up for bad acting and writing. If one cringes while watching it, is it worth it? Probably not.
With this week’s release of CAPTIVE (our review here), a note-worthy faith-based film starring David Oyelowo and Kate Mara, we are looking at four faith-based films that appropriately handle its material.
Yes, this classic baseball fantasy from 1989, starring Kevin Costner at the peak of his career, is arguably one of the best Christian parables in cinema. The voice that says “if you build it, it will come” parallels The Spirit, and its story of chasing dreams and reconciliation has become a common theme in American Christianity.
On top of its great acting and script work, FIELD OF DREAMS approach this material in a very subtle way. It’s not over-the-head or overwhelming. It progresses naturally and can be enjoyed by audiences from every background.
– Preston Barta
Church, especially in the Southern part of the country, is a staple in the upbringing of many children. It’s a place where they are taught to feel safe and really learn some positive life lessons. However, the documentary titled JESUS CAMP looks at the other side of that coin, with a scathing look at a charismatic summer camp called “Kids On Fire School of Ministry,” led by the enigmatic Becky Fisher, who subscribes to the idea that all schools should have Christianity taught within the system.
JESUS CAMP doesn’t have a prepackaged point of view of the institution which was closed after controversies arose, but directors tell the story through three children Rachel, Levi and Victoria as they navigate their own faith because according to Fisher they won’t be able to choose once they reach adult-hood. This is not an anti-Christian film directors Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady are definitely provoking with interesting results.
– Cole Clay
Where to start with Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER, which is a supposed commentary on L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of Scientology. Frankly, I’d say watch this film two, maybe three times before you even try to analyze this film. My advice would be open up your eyeballs CLOCKWORK ORANGE style and put this 2.5 hour epic on repeat.
Anderson is curious about what makes a group of people follow one leader: is it mental illness, being lost with nowhere to go, or something more sinister? All those are hinted upon and personified by Joaquin Phoenix who plays the deranged WW2 vet Freddie Quell, who by happenstance meets the leader of “The Cause,” Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on a freight liner. Dodd then exploits Quell’s mental state by using him as a subject for his experiments that are supposed to test his faith in The Cause.
THE MASTER has ushered in think-pieces by the thousands with no clear answers, but isn’t that what faith is supposed to be, the journey into the unknown?
– Cole Clay
At some point in our lives, we’ve all come to a conclusion on certain responses to some of life’s big questions. Questions like “Who are we?”, “Why are we here?”, “Why do bad things happen, or even good things for that matter?” With these answers, a choice has been made of faith, whether God or science. In actuality, no matter the faith we have there are instances where we as humans have a crisis of faith. In Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE, there is a poetic examination of this faith. In the beginning of the film, Mrs. O’Brien discusses grace versus nature, as the former can be inviting and full of love, while the latter can be cold and calculating. It also sets the stage for the dichotomy Jack experiences in his youth, as grace represents his mother (who he pictures at one point as a floating angel) and nature represents Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt, as a strict and domineering father who loves in his own, confusing way).
While it’s centered on the O’Brien family, they merely represent a family unit serving as the canvas as the story paints a picture of faith, spirituality, and science. Voice-over dialogue is used to relate the audience to the internal conflict that Jack (Sean Penn) is facing during his middle-aged years. The story also floats through his memories, as well as a mirrored crisis of faith that Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) experiences after one of her sons dies in the war. One of the film’s more breathtaking sequences has her asking God what she did to deserve this, juxtaposed with imagery of creation and evolution. Regardless of where our faith lies, we all wonder when death is revealed to us. THE TREE OF LIFE shows that questions are natural when we gain knowledge as we get older and as we come into our faith. It’s one of my all-time favorite films.
– Jared McMillan