Yanomamo Spiritual Stories at Starz Tonight

Provocative – to those who believe that indigenous people in the rainforest live in a sort of paradise where peace and harmony reign.

Unsettling – to Christians who discount the existence of the spiritual world (either willfully or by their practices).

Encouraging – to those who know struggles for inner peace and answers to their questions of ‘who is in control’ in the universe.

This is what we want to be to our audiences at the screenings tonight and tomorrow afternoon at the Starz FilmCenter in Denver. I know some in the audience will be Christians who bring their own points of view to the screening – generally favorable to the message of Bautista’s story we tell in The Enemy God. I know many in the audience will not be Christian, and may even be antagonistic to the claims of Jesus. But our experience is that even those people find something to think more deeply about in our film.

There will be conversations tonight. That’s a good purpose for art.

Holy Spirit, go ahead of us and be present among us.

Patience and God-Connections in the Indie Film Journey

I’m pretty good at working off intrinsic motivation. It certainly helps when there are not a lot of people patting you on the back for an extended period of

Me (r) filming interviews in the Punjab, about nine years ago!
Me (r) filming interviews in the Punjab, about nine years ago!

time! But, it is hard to be patient, even when you have a good sense that you’re on the right track and that God is going to bring it on in his time.

Today we got a nice pat on the back related to our film, The Enemy God. I got a call from a company that just picked up the rights to the film for India, Singapore, Korea, and Malaysia. Additionally, they will distribute it in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland. (Odd combination, I thought.) This is the first news of an official ‘sale’ by our sales agent who has the worldwide rights to the film. Their job is to make these deals for us so the film can get out to places we don’t know how to reach ourselves. We keep busy with our own DVD distribution in our niche markets, but overseas deals are really out of our hands.

The problem for us has been the long wait. Independent film deals usually take a while to develop. There is lots of competition. Our film is not a highly commercial property. But we do know there’s an audience for it, if we can connect with the right distributors who understand and appreciate the film – and who have an audience in mind. This deal came about because the company heard about our film from friends in the UK (don’t know who, exactly) and then the distributor e-mailed me. I passed it on to our sales agent and forgot about it. At least, I didn’t think much would come of it. Now, I get the call and I’m talking with a very encouraging, enthusiastic, visionary man who loves our film, wants to build web sites, do Hindi and other language translations, and all that. [And, he asked about our next projects too – which are kind of sketchy right now…]

I don’t know how big this company’s reach is in India and the other countries or how big the audience will be. I don’t know if we’ll see a dime of revenue from this deal. But we’ll leave all of that in God’s hands too. This is a film that never could have been made – according to some wise people. So we’re content to see God do miracles, see deals like this come up, and we’ll live a while longer off that encouragement from God and a few people.

Does God’s Spirit Really Live In Us?

Read this story and see what it does for your ideas about theological terms like ‘eternal security’ and whether or not the Spirit of God really does dwell in believers. This is an amazing story from our Yanomamö friends in Coshilowäteli, Amazonas, Venezuela. Mike Dawson, who relates the story, is one of the Executive Producers of “The Enemy God” and a native of the jungle himself.

Carlos“I was speaking with Carlos from the village of Seducudawä. He paddled down to bring his wife to the medical dispensary as she had been stung on the foot by a large stingray and was in a lot of pain. Carlos, at one time had been one of our most promising believers in Seducudawä and was a big witness for the Lord there….” Read more here…

Delivering to the tribes

I will argue that ‘evangelical Christian’ is a term that can hardly have meaning any more in America. I think there are many tribes of people who share some common beliefs that make them Christian, but there are many other passions that make them very different when it comes to creative things like music, art, and film.

I’ll use a term that is used regularly among missions folk and one I also hear guys like Seth Godin using – tribes. These are identifiable groups of people with certain affinities. They like the same music, food, hobbies, politics, religion, etc. Something or many things join them together. For the new world of marketing, guys like Godin tell us that we must think in terms of tribes. There is almost no such thing as mainstream anymore; everything is niche. Some niches are larger than others, but there will never again be a cultural effect where the whole country stops to watch an episode of a TV sitcom. A few lowest-common-denominator shows like American Idol can come close, but they don’t compare with I Love Lucy or the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in gathering audience share. A big hit now means something entirely different than it did in the 1960’s.

There are more and more films being created by Christ-followers that are not what anyone would call ‘mainstream.’ That is, they don’t fit into the mold of family-friendly, didactic, films that get a lot of attention among evangelicals in America right now. The call has been, “Let’s stick it to Hollywood” by creating G-rated, wholesome entertainment that can mobilize audiences who want to “…stick it to Hollywood.” And there has been some success with movies like Facing the Giants and Fireproof as the models. However, I wonder what influence these films have had outside of the core audience of a certain kind of evangelical Christian. I will argue that ‘evangelical Christian’ is a term that can hardly have meaning any more in America. I think there are many tribes of people who share some common beliefs that make them Christian, but there are many other passions that make them very different when it comes to creative things like music, art, and film.

For instance, I have Christian friends who genuinely like the films I mentioned. But I have many Christian friends who are softer in their support. They tend to support them because they don’t want to say anything bad about the message or the good people who produce the films. Then, I also have Christian friends who are not shy to say, “I think those films just suck – from an aesthetic point-of-view.” They would never go to see them. They eagerly await quality films from whatever source, non-Christian or Christian. And their standards don’t make exceptions for the good intentions of the filmmakers.

I, too, want to be careful not to be in a negative mode. I want to be about casting vision, not casting stones. I hope to be following obediently what I am called to do, just like every other filmmaker who is looking for direction from God. Films that speak more directly to Christians, to teach and encourage them, have their place and I am involved in making them. I also know that there are some people who are not following Christ who are touched deeply by those films. I applaud what the folks at Sherwood are doing to encourage marriages, present good morals, etc.

But what if that’s not the audience that I feel called to have a conversation with? The main rub of all this is that the Christian film industry, just like music and books, is a business like any other. Success is measured by things like sales. Broad, easy-to-reach audiences are favored. I’m OK with that and understand that, coming from many years in marketing communications work.

Here’s the point (finally!)

In the broader world, there are systems, companies, and channels that exist for the smaller ‘tribes.’ Think PBS, Landmark Theaters, the many indie film distribution companies, cable channels, etc. These understand niche audiences for documentaries, public service programming, classical music, jazz, dance, and culture. They have found a way to nurture creative human expression and yet make the system work. Some are non-profit by design; some are for-profit but lean and mean to survive. But they do survive and they do speak to definable, targetable audiences. This is what I am looking for within the world of Christ-followers.

Where are the indie, underground, alternative, film labels for films that fall into the cracks, but do have an audience that can be reached? Where is the equivalent of PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts? When the mainstream Christian record labels ignored the harder-edged grunge, speed-metal, hardcore, techno-industrial bands that were populated by Christians, the bands and fans created their own labels, concert tours, and fan networks.  They survived and got the music out. Or think of artists like Sufjan Stevens, David Wilcox, Anathallo, and others who write out of their faith. Most will never be the cash-cow that the Steven Curtis Chapmans, Mercy Mes, or Third Days are for the big record companies, but they inspire tribes of music lovers who are deeply Christian but deeply not into what they hear on the Christian radio stations. More importantly, they speak much more broadly to alternative music lovers who don’t yet follow Christ – there’s a tribe that can be identified.

Music seems an easier nut to crack for indie distribution. It’s usually cheaper to produce. Cheaper to distribute. Comes in small packages that can be easily passed around (even with torrent sites, it’s an effort to share feature-length movies). People will have thousands of songs on their iPods, from hundreds of different artists. But it seems less likely that they’d have thousands of movies or even short clips on those players. Bands also make their money by touring rather than by CD sales. You don’t often hear about indie filmmakers touring with their film in an old van. Could happen, but it’s not the norm.

What if there was a Miramax, Zietgeist, or similar ‘label’ for indie films with a Christian worldview? It could run a web site where people could come to chat about film, ideas, art, music, and learn about new stuff. It probably would not aim for taking films to wide theatrical release. It would focus on segments of audiences like bands do with their music. Not everyone likes reggae, techno, punk, or country; and not everyone is drawn to thrillers, romantic comedies, or foreign-films. But, if you could identify the tribe and let them know that you had something they might like, you could gather them. If it is low mass, tribe-driven, and innovative I just think it could survive.

If this exists, I would love to know. My sense is that that films that can deeply touch people who are currently not being touched need a champion, a home, to be nurtured, and to be delivered. We need to be with those tribes and I think our stories need to find a place among them.