Buechner (2005)

[These comments were originally published in an installment of Film Forum column at Christianity Today in January 2005.]

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Buechner … is simply a conversation with the subject. If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.

On the first day of the war in Iraq, Rob and Molly Collins sat down with one of their heroes — the writer and ordained Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner. The cameras rolled, and the result is a thought-provoking conversation with the writer of Godric, Son of Laughter, An Alphabet of Grace, and many other novels and classics of Christian thought.

In this context of tension, profound questions, and longing for peace, the Collinses share their questions and Buechner, clearly familiar with the themes, muses spontaneously and offers anecdotes from his experiences. He suggests that God is speaking to us through everyday occurrences and subtle details, just waiting for us to notice him and learn to listen. The film does not make any pretense to be about the writer’s life or to explore his literature. It feels almost like a home movie about two readers’ privileged hours with the man who has profoundly enriched their lives.

Here, Buechner’s answers only scratch the surface of issues he has explored in-depth in his books, and we could certainly ask for a film that offers more background on his history, his many and varied publications, his influences, and other writers, artists, and Christian leaders he has inspired. Further, Buechner’s casual blending of Buddhist sensibilities with Christian philosophy may seem unsettling to some (although it will be inspiring to others).

But Buechner can serve as an provocative conversation piece for Christians at home, at church, or with neighbors. It can also give curious moviegoers their first taste of his personality and views, which might lead them to some of the most rewarding reading of their lives. Watching the Collins’ work, it’s easy to see that they would find nothing more rewarding than to know that their work coaxed viewers to try out Buechner’s writing for the first time.

For more information on the Buechner DVD, visit the official site.

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