LOS ANGELES (ABP) — In a place known for its glitz and greed, the City of the Angels Film Festival is all about inspiration and redemption.
An annual event that brings filmmakers, theologians and film fans together to explore what mainstream movies say about faith and life, City of the Angels recently celebrated its 10th anniversary by screening 13 key films from the last 100 years.
The festival also hosted the American premiere of “Resistance,” a new movie by Todd Komarnicki, producer of the new comedy “Elf.”
With the 10th anniversary event titled “Revelations/Revolutions,” organizers chose films that had a “spiritual dimension” and “changed the way that filmmaking got done,” said Scott Young, festival chair and the director of faculty relations for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in the Southern California region.
The screenings ranged from D.W. Griffith's 1916 “Intolerance” to the hit musical “Moulin Rouge” from 2001, as well as “Resistance,” Komarnicki's 2003 film about a downed American airman and his rescuers in Nazi-occupied Belgium.
The festival followed each movie with a panel discussion or an audience discussion led by a facilitator. The idea was to celebrate film's power to generate understanding by stimulating conversation among viewers.
An example is Spike Lee's 1989 “Do the Right Thing,” the story of one steamy day in a Brooklyn neighborhood that explodes at nightfall into racial tension.
In the movie, conflict between the white Italian-American owners of a local pizzeria and their clientele mounts as the temperature in the city climbs. The conflict in the pizzeria mirrors the rumblings among and between the African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics who live nearby.
After the movie, panelist David Holmes, a humanities professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., called attention to “economic disempowerment” in the onscreen neighborhood, where people talk about their dreams but seem unable to act on them. The film offered “an ongoing critique of the American dream,” Holmes said.
Other festival picks shifted the focus from American urban life to Europe. “The Bicycle Thief,” a 1949 neo-realist classic by director Vittorio de Sica, showed the economic devastation in post-war Italy. The 1929 documentary “The Man With the Movie Camera” portrayed Moscow in a time when many viewed the social experiment of the still-young Soviet Union with optimism.
The hit musical “Moulin Rouge” capped the three-day festival on its closing night. A frenetic pageant of color and sound, the lavish musical tells the story of a young writer named Christian (Ewan McGregor) who falls in love with singer Satine (Nicole Kidman) in the infamous nightclub that gives the movie its name.
Set in decadent turn-of-the-century Paris — where the Bohemian Revolution champions “Freedom! Beauty! Truth! And above all things, love!” — the story follows Satine, who is torn between her idealistic lover and a wealthy duke who promises to bankroll the nightclub if she sleeps with him.
Leading the discussion following the screening, festival director Craig Detweiler found symbolism in “Christian,” the name of the writer in the movie who sings about love by anachronistically borrowing lyrics from 20th century pop songs. A screenwriter, Detweiler is also chair of mass communications at Biola University near Los Angeles.
“Christian is going to sing a silly love song to a cynical person,” said Detweiler, who spun the character's musical declaration of romantic love into a metaphor for the Christian proclamation of redeeming love. “Tell our story, Christian,” Detweiler said.
The City of the Angels Film Festival began partially as a response to the social upheaval in Los Angeles after the Rodney King incident in 1991. The festival's sponsors include evangelical Christian and Roman Catholic organizations. Throughout its 10 years, the festival has offered a faith-informed perspective on film, in contrast to Christians who dismiss Hollywood as an unlikely source of spiritual insight.
Matt Zerrip, a festival volunteer, appreciated the chance City of the Angels provided to talk about film and faith in the entertainment capital of the world. A student at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and currently studying in a special film program in Los Angeles, Zerrip said, “Everything that comes out of Hollywood is not evil and debased.”
– Photos available from Associated Baptist Press