Dove is excited to support the work of the Windrider Forum and Dr. Rob Johnston’s team at Fuller Theological seminary. Please enjoy this excerpt on their annual work at the famed Sundance Film Festival from The Deseret News.
PARK CITY — Pontius Pilate doesn’t normally come up in Sundance Film Festival panels.
But this wasn’t a normal Sundance panel. Instead of a theater, it was in a church, and instead of volunteers in yellow Sundance coats, it was led by a pastor. Murmurs of “Amen!” and “Preach it!” rippled through the audience. The panelists, however, were the directors and producers of the documentary “Whose Streets,” which premiered at Sundance this year, and they were answering questions about the making of the film, just as they did at other screenings and panels during the festival.
“Does anybody ever have any sympathy for Pontius Pilate? Anybody ever (excuse him because of) all he was going through, all the pressure he had, trying to govern all of these people?” said Damon Davis, co-director and producer of “Whose Streets,” a documentary about protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police.
“The moral to the story is if you sit there and you rationalize things and you let them happen for whatever reason, you’re just as guilty,” Davis said.
Davis was addressing evangelical seminary students attending the Sundance Film Festival with the Windrider Forum, a Christian group established by Fuller Theological Seminary faculty and alumni that organizes discussions of emerging cultural issues depicted in film. For 14 years, students and faculty have been coming to Sundance to screen movies, meet with film producers and directors and talk about what it all means in a Christian context. Other seminaries and individual students have joined in recent years, and this year there were 250 participants from around the country.
“The beauty of film is that it allows us to expand our experience”
It’s an unlikely group to be gathering at one of the biggest events of the year for the film industry, which is sometimes viewed by Christians as having a tin ear for issues of faith. Out of 225 films accepted to the festival this year, only two told stories of religious communities and individuals.
But the Windrider students aren’t there to criticize representations of religion or stand up for the faith, said Kutter Callaway, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. Instead, he said, they are there to listen.
Windrider panel discussions tend to focus on documentary films about social issues. Filmmakers interested in social action are eager to talk to students, Callaway said, and they raise questions about what Christians are called to do in the world.
This year, that meant films about race, such as “Whose Streets,” and the Syrian crisis, including “Cries from Syria.”
During the Q&A with the “Whose Streets” crew on Thursday, Lisa Swain, associate professor of cinema and media arts at Biola University, reacted to the filmmakers.
“I thought your analogy about Pilate was so apt,” she said. “I know that I speak on behalf of — ” she paused, her voice cracking with emotion, “on behalf of a lot of white Christians that are sorry we were washing our hands. We don’t want to wash our hands anymore.”
“The beauty of film is that it allows us to expand our experience,” said Rob Johnston, professor of theology and culture at Fuller. “Film is a wonderful way to allow ourselves to go deeper.”