Spirit Of Sundance 2008

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Spirit Of Sundance 2008

I am home on snowbound Orcas Island after an exhausting but productive week at Sundance film festival.

I began my adventure at the wonderfully vibrant Mountain Life Church in Park City, where I spoke at two morning services. In the audience was Richard Souther, four time Grammy nominee whose “Illumination: musical treatments in the spirit of Hildegard von Bingen,” is one of my favorite CD’s.

After lunch with Matson Duncan, arts advocate, and a new friend Dan Johnstone, I headed down to to Salt Lake City for the premiere of Craig Detweiler’s “Purple State of Mind.”

The final Saturday found me at Stein-Eriksen ski resort at a gathering hosted by Gabe Lyons of Relevate. I shared some reflections about my journey of trying to understand faith and culture and communicate each to the other since the 1960’s.

Sundance was a whirlwind of movies, personal reunions and the investment of time at the Windrider Forum, where students from Fuller Seminary, Biola University and Taylor University met for a week of screenings at Sundance. The WindRider Forum is an immersive, experiential class, combined with visits from filmmakers from the Sundance Film Festival, who join us for in-depth conversations following their film premieres.

I’d summarize the three themes that emerged as I watched films and listened to their makers this way: “messed up people, searching for meaning and hope are in need of grace.

Messed up People

Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s Choke starts at a support group for sexual addicts, follows their deviant exploits, but then gets into their back stories which help us understand how they have arrived at their fallen state. Like the books, these bizarre characters become endearing as you watch their uphill battle towards improvement. The key characters move in the right direction, which is about the best Palahniuk hopes for in his novels.

Looking for Meaning and Hope

Among the hi-lights of Windriderwere interviews was one with Geoffrey Haley writer/director of “The Last Word.” Evan (Wes Bentley) makes his living by writing suicide notes. He bonds with the sister (Winona Rider) of one of his clients and with Abel (Ray Romano) and this leads to a reexamination of his whole enterprise. In the process each character looks for a deeper reasons to live. Geoffrey Haley shared very personally about his own life journey and how these themes emerged from it.

Thomas McCarthy’s “The Visitor” is a magnificent study in a widowed man who finds meaning through two immigrants whose lives become intertwined with his. Richard Jenkins (the dad from “Six Feet Under”) is Walter Vale, a widower waiting out the rest of his life in comfortable isolation in Connecticut, sleepwalking his way through the same econ class he’s taught for years and hiding behind the excuse of a book he’s supposedly close to completing. When he’s forced to go to New York to present a paper at a conference, he discovers that a couple has been living in the apartment he still keeps there, a Syrian man named Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and his Senegalese girlfriend, Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira), who’ve been scammed into subletting the place by someone who didn’t actually have a right to do so. McCarthy unfolds this story with such grace and hope–it is a must see.

Needing Grace

Best Drama winner “The Frozen River” was produced by this year’s Spirit of Windrider recipient, Heather Ray. Frozen River won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Dramatic Feature. Submitted by first-time filmmaker Courtney Hunt, Frozen River is a remarkable drama about a desperate trailer mom and a Mohawk girl who team up to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Canadian border into the United States. Set just before Christmas, one grace filled moment occurs Christmas Eve with a “homeless” Pakistani baby, who “dies” but comes back to life miraculously.

My favorite film of the festival was “Young at Heart,” the true story of Senior Citizens in Northampton Massachussetts whose Choral adaptations of contemporary hits (Sonic Youth, Radiohead, James Brown) bring the house down. Movingly, we go behind the scenes to meet these brave singers who face the death of two of their members, struggle with their own health issues and then summons up their strength to go onstage. These folks display a heroic sense of community, incredible personal grit and articulate their personal hopes often rooted in faith in God—the result is a warm love fest tinge with grace.

The final night of Windrider we hosted filmmaker Hilla Medalia, whose“To Die in Jerusalem” puts a human face on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through two mothers, who struggle to cope with an event (the Palestian daughter’s suicide expedition led to her death and the death of the Israeli teen as well) that put them in the center of an intractable geopolitical conflict.

It is impossible to get the sense of Sundance/Windrider, but the next best thing is to listen to the podcasts¢â‚¬¦.they’ll help you get a sense of what goes on at Sundance.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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