The Words of the Mickler Family

Lights, Camera Ö Faith!

Mike Mickler
October 2004

Filmmaking and use of film as a medium of instruction are at early stages of development within the Unification tradition. The movementís one effort to produce a full-length feature film, Oh Inchon! (1982), depicting Gen. McArthurís invasion of Korea, was panned by critics and ridiculed as a Hollywood film disaster. During the 1970s, the movement took out ads offering $100,000 for the best film script on the life of Jesus. Whether any were submitted or whether the prize was awarded, no film resulted, and over the past two decades there have been no full-length feature film efforts of this type.

Nevertheless, there have been accomplishments. Lee Shapiro (UTS 78) produced a highly-regarded documentary, Nicaragua Was Our Home, on the plight of the Mesquite Indians under the Sandanista regime before he was ambushed and killed by a Soviet gunship during filming of a documentary on Afgan resistance fighters.

UTS graduates include independent filmmakers such as Andrew Davies (UTS 91) and Hyo-Jin Moon (UTS 03) who is producing commercially- successful music videos in the Korean market. A number of the movementís second generation also have highly refined computer-graphics skills. In addition to this, there is sophisticated recording and video capability at Manhattan Center Studios and Atlantic Video as well as a controlling interest in Goodlife TV Network. Goodlife, formerly Nostalgia TV, does not produce films but distributes them.

It is conceivable that the movement could expand its media enterprises to include commercial filmmaking. However, for the past decade, Unificationism has produced little beyond church-financed promotional films. These include various lecture series on the Unification Principle, monthly video magazines, coverage of ministerial outreach and initiatives, overviews of the movement, and commemorative videos on the life and ministry of Father and Mother Moon.

Something of an alternative to standard Hollywood fare may be provided through the Goodlife TV network, but itís not enough. Hollywood and leading filmmaking studios continue to spread their influence and values globally. Given this situation, the movement needs to adjust accordingly. It needs to find ways to utilize the unending stream of feature films as a medium of instruction. It needs to develop a film ministry.

There is some evidence that this is occurring. At the grassroots level, members are experimenting with feature films as a component of Sunday school and religious education curricula. Clopha Desotel (UTS 85) and Jeff Kingsley (UTS 90) have created video lessons and located helpful print and electronic resources which theyíve shared online. The Second Generation Department produced a teaching edition of the movementís core teaching, Principles of Heart (2002), which includes "topical movies" to stimulate reflection and discussion. Chungpyeong Lake Heaven and Earth Training Center, the movementís leading pilgrimage and workshop site, has now incorporated feature films illustrating religious themes and the spirit world as a regular feature of its forty-day workshops. Unification Thoughtís "Theory of Education" notes the important role that film can play in the "education of heart" and its "Theory of Art" lists criteria by which works of art, including film, can be evaluated. Nevertheless, as with filmmaking, the movementís use of film as a medium of instruction is still at an early stage of development.

All this is by way of introduction to a new course, "Film and Ministry," offered at UTS last Spring. Years ago, as a graduate teaching assistant, I offered a course on film to college freshmen and for the past several years Iíve incorporated feature films into my Church History II course. In fact, I discovered that many of my former students retained a much clearer recollection of the films than of the courseís lecture content. I also noticed the extent to which seminarians patronized the Red Hook Lyceum 6, local area video stores, and the UTS video collection, all of which reinforced my conviction that there was sufficient interest to offer the course.

For the ten week term, sixteen guinea pig seminarians and I immersed ourselves in celluloid. We viewed 23 movies in all, ranging from Bruce Almighty to Godís Army (a depiction of two years on Mormon mission), to A Walk To Remember (strong on sexual abstinence before marriage), to The Passion of the Christ to What Dreams May Come (a Chungpyeong favorite), and Left Behind I. For the last seven weeks of the course, our pattern was to view two mainstream Hollywood movies outside of class each week and a companion "Christian" feature film, always much shorter, on the same general topic in class.

I attempted to select films that related to the Seminary curriculumís concentrations in educational ministry, marriage and family ministry, church growth and development, and ministries of peace and justice though the latter ministry was neglected (Iíll make up for it next time). We supplemented these topics with sessions on Jesus in film, spirit world (angels, demons, and the afterlife), last things (apocalyptic films are hot), and a concluding session on Unification films. We couldnít obtain Oh Inchon! but viewed a 1978 Lee Shapiro short, Free Within These Bounds which dramatized a deprogramming.

A key course objective was to apply film to ministry. Therefore, prior to embarking on our film odyssey, we reviewed the "Hollywood vs. America" debate sparked by Michael Medved in a book by that title more than a decade ago. We also examined a typology of "theological approaches to film criticism" -- avoidance, caution, dialogue, appropriation, and divine encounter (Robert Johnston, Reel Spirituality, 43-58). Finally, we considered the thesis, derived from anthropologist Joseph Campbell, that underlying filmís many stories is a single underlying story which is "about redemption, the process of paradigm-change or conversion in an individual" (see Brian Godawa, Hollywood Worldviews, 43-54).

The final course assignment was for students to select five additional films of their choice (bringing the total number of films viewed in the course to 28) and apply them to a specific ministry. The scope of ministries covered in the studentís final projects was astounding. Studentís found that feature films could support educational ministries to women, youth, Muslims, couples preparing for marriage, AIDs victims, educators, evangelists, pre- school children, dancers, and to ministries in support of Korean-Japanese reconciliation.

One of the courseís strengths derived from the medium, itself, specifically the capacity of film to engage the whole personóhead, heart and even visceral body parts. As a consequence, class discussion was dynamic. The relatively equal number of Japanese, Korean, Africans and Americans made for a rich mix of perspectives and responses. I also found film to be an excellent tool for scripture study. For me, a course highlight was discussion of two Jesus films, The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Passion of the Christ (2004). These films provided not only fresh, if contrasting perspectives on the gospels but also forced us to consider the role of imagination and dramatic license in biblical interpretation. I was inspired to the extent of obtaining approval for a new course offering on "Jesus in Film."

The courseís chief limitation was the instructor. As an academic, I tended to tilt discussion toward theology and worldview rather than ministry. I am addressing this at the UTS Extension Center in Manhattan where Christians from other denominations are bringing experience from their congregations to bear on the course. I also will convene a session at the National Educatorís Conference, held at Barrytown, to bring together those throughout the country who are applying this medium to education and ministry. I look forward to addressing issues raised by film and ministry and welcome any input at mm@uts.edu mm@uts.edu.

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