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“A Conversation” Appearing at a Theatre Near You

by Dan Rupple

Imagine my surprise when, after offering my three grandchildren the option of watching Star Wars during a cousin sleepover at our house, they passed on “The Force” and suggested instead, “Let’s have a conversation!” When I asked, “What’s a conversation?” our 6-year-old replied, “It’s when a lot of people get together and talk and talk and talk and talk about a lot of random things.”

Over the past decade, we’ve all witnessed the explosion of interactive communication triggered by the pervasive onslaught of digital media. And seemingly overnight, the most overheard word in the English language—especially among media professionals—became conversation.

Conferences that used to feature a lecture, talk, or teaching are now forums or symposiums inviting us to “join a larger conversation” taking place—one that allows our #hashtag voices to shape the narrative.

But is this phenomenon, in fact, new?

In Acts 17, we see that when the Apostle Paul entered into Athens, he immediately sought out the center of the cultural conversation. Where was it taking place? He found his answer in the Athenian “Starbucks” of yesteryear . . . the marketplace. And who was leading that conversation? The non-theistic philosophers who were shaping and guiding the public discourse toward the ideological “soup of the day.”

In today’s post-modern world, who is leading the Athenian center of conversations and where do we find them? In Plato’s time he observed it was “the storytellers that rule society.” Today, a fair cinematic spin would be that “the moviemakers rule society.” How often is the movie you saw at the local theater on Saturday night the topic of conversation in the office coffee room on Monday?

The stories shown on our screens inspire us, thrill us, scare us, amuse us, spark our imaginations, and fuel our conversations. We connect with movies and share them to connect with others. Different films spark unique kinds of dialogue. And independent films (like those shown at the Sundance Film Festival) provoke quite a different conversation than the films you might see at your local cineplex. Many independent films are putting a spotlight on a sober, more complex side of humanity. Frequently challenging, enlightening, illuminating, and occasionally breaking our hearts over injustice . . . all fodder for deeper, more introspective discussion.

But that isn’t to say that big-budget Hollywood fare—in all of its exciting, lighthearted escapism—doesn’t generate meaningful conversation long after the credits roll. Star Wars, for example, is chock-full of after-viewing allegorical topics, such as good vs. evil, the loss of a father, and a power outside of ourselves.

Movies, and the conversations they ignite, matter! The stories we watch can often provide divine on-ramps to a dialogue about the truth and grace of the gospel—relatable, understandable truths so crucial to our culture. Just as Paul entered the marketplace to tell the Athenians about the “unknown God,” we need to see the world as groping for a truth to live by, yet unknown to them, until someone is bold enough to enter into a cordial discourse about a God who knows and loves them.

This is the heart of the mission of Mastermedia: to intentionally and prayerfully build relationships, one conversation at a time, with the influential media makers, filmmakers, and artists of our day. And to appropriately infuse these discussions with the  life-changing truth about the greatest story ever told—the love of Jesus!

Afflicting the Comfortable . . . at Windrider

“We’re called as Christians to give ourselves away, and that’s what we’ve got to work out.” These profound words from veteran movie producer Ralph Winter challenged students and filmmakers participating in a Windrider Forum discussion at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The panel was exploring the idea of “afflicting the comfortable” through thoughtfully crafted documentary films that may stimulate social action.

Winter, a Hollywood producer whose credits include blockbuster movies like X-Men and Star Trek, was asking, “How do we break out of [our natural tendency to want comfort] and discipline ourselves?” His insightful answer . . . “We’re called as Christians to give ourselves away.”

Craig Detweiler, professor of communications and director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University, expressed his perspective this way: “Hollywood films comfort the afflicted—always happy, always a clean resolution, for the most part.

“Independent films afflict the comfortable. You come out feeling worse than when you entered. We don’t usually go to films for that. We don’t want to pay money to feel worse. But these are filmmakers with a prophetic gift who say, ‘This is what’s wrong with the world.’”

Detweiler says he comes to Sundance to cultivate empathy. “I come back here because I need to have my heart broken annually so I can go back to my comfort and work and minister out of that.

“That’s what the Windrider* experience is.”

*Mastermedia International is a sponsor of the Windrider Forum.

Reality Check . . . Confusing Real Life with Fiction

In our media-driven culture, the lines between reality and fiction are blurring. According to speaker and writer, Phil Cooke, “. . . it’s growing more and more difficult to distinguish real life from our favorite characters in books, movies, and television programs.

“There’s growing evidence that younger viewers in particular have difficulty understanding the difference.”

One study showed that 40% of the students participating believed popular movie versions of historical events were more accurate than factual historical essays on the same subject (Andrew Butler).

And social media only intensifies the impact of the confusion. Phil shares,A recent survey discovered 32% of Millennials believe more people were killed under the Bush administration than under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.”

So what about gaming? Phil cites Nottingham Trent University researchers who discovered that “gamers can become so immersed in fantasy that they become unable to distinguish that from the real world.”

Even C. S. Lewis recognized the importance of real life experience and the risks inherent with overindulging in fantasy. In the context of marriage, he says,

“Our experience is colored through and through by books and plays and the cinema, and it takes patience and skill to disentangle the things we have really learned from life for ourselves.” —Mere Christianity

Maybe it’s time for a reality check.

How many of our own personal values have been media’s 24/7 cultural conversations? Are we making decisions and choices based on truth or fiction . . . reality or the “reel” world?

Weigh in at feedback@mastermediaintl.org