“Film Forum” is Coming to Looking Closer!

As I sat watching the Oscars and writing the last installment of Film Forum for Christianity Today, I was inspired by all of the thank-you speeches made by the winners.

So I’ve started this week’s edition with thanks to a few people who have supported me in this work over six years. And I want to repeat those thanks here.

This column began even before the Christianity Today Movies website existed—it was created by Steve Lansingh and Ted Olsen in November 1999, even before the famous Rotten Tomatoes site started excerpting different critics’ reviews. I would like to thank them for their vision and courage in establishing Film Forum. And I am grateful that they invited me to carry it forward. It has been a privilege.

Thanks to Mark Moring for being so supportive and working so hard at Christianity Today Movies. I greatly admire his courage, conviction, and enthusiasm, and I’m thankful for his thoughtful editing week after week.

And thanks to the critics from so many publications and websites, who are doing such inspiring work. You’ve changed my understanding of what a “Christian movie review” can be, and given me hope that we can carry Christian engagement with film to a deeper, more rewarding levels.

Finally, thanks to the readers who have corresponded with me over the years. You’ve challenged me, corrected me, given me new ideas, and introduced me to great films I might otherwise have missed.

And of course, in the spirit of Jennifer Hudson, I’d like to thank God.

Where is Film Forum going? And why?

When Film Forum began, it was the only weekly film coverage at ChristianityToday.com. It provided a new perspective on the diversity of Christian opinions about film, entertainment, and popular culture. Since then, so many Christian perspectives have become available that it’s become difficult to keep up with them all. ChristianityTodayMovies.com has rounded up a whole team of active film critics, and they are providing plenty of coverage to keep readers informed. It’s time to focus our energies on those articles.

Nevertheless, since the “round table” format of Film Forum provides an interesting way to compare and contrast differing Christian perspectives on film, I intend to continue providing it (in a slightly altered format) at my website, LookingCloser.org. And I will continue to write film reviews for CT Movies.

I have a passion for this column, and here’s the reason why: As I was growing up, I came to believe that a “Christian movie review” consisted of these things:

  • a brief summary;
  • an explanation of the film’s MPAA rating;
  • an exhaustive, detailed list of all of the things in this film that might offend people; and
  • a judgment of the film based on those troubling elements.

Things have definitely changed. These days, many Christian film critics are more ambitious in their engagement with art. They aren’t preoccupied with what might be offensive (although they do provide helpful cautions). They focus instead on finding and celebrating truth, beauty, and excellence—all of which glorify God—and noting shoddy craftsmanship, mediocrity, and weakness, which cripple creative work.

They are recognizing that there is meaning in all kinds of stories and images, because whether it’s a feel-good story or a hellish nightmare, imagery and storytelling can reveal the truth about choices, consequences, human nature, and the sacred. They’re discovering that films by all kinds of artists—even those who deny the source of their talent—can reveal beauty, truth, and glimmers of the Gospel.

And they’re showing me the difference between celebrating evil and merely portraying it. How will we make meaningful art if we cannot illustrate the darkness in the world? How will we “catch the conscience” of our culture if our representations of reality do not convincingly and compellingly represent the truth of our messed-up world?

I love listening in on these debates and discussions. It is humbling and challenging to observe such diversity and passion in Christian engagement with art. Often, these reviews dig deeper than any mainstream movie coverage.

Before we get to this week’s reviews, I want to leave you with a quote from Frederick Buechner’s Whistling in the Dark, that should remind us to pay close attention to the films of people from all perspectives, from all corners of the world:

“If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”

That explains why I value the wide variety of insightful interpretations I’ve encountered in Film Forum. That’s what inspired me to eventually share my experiences in a book, Through a Screen Darkly. And that is why the Forum will continue elsewhere. Stay tuned. We’re just getting started.

(To read this week’s Film Forum, click here.)

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Adam

    Thanks for the Buechner quote (I love him). That is so beautiful and true.

  • Greg & Jenn Wright

    Wow. That’s big news indeed, and kind of a bummer.

    Only “kind of,” because it will continue, and you can continue to shape it.

    Our only suggestion would be: broaden the scope to include news about what one or two of the more conservative, less art-focused, voices are saying. In the marketplace of ideas, people are fully capable of comparison shopping and deciding what’s right for their needs. And by including links to those sites, you may be drawing in new readers who could learn a thing or two.

    It also might neuter some pointless yet harsh criticism of what Film Forum and CT Movies came to represent for many (though not, obviously, for us).

  • Joel Buursma

    And that is why the Forum will continue elsewhere.
    Oh, man — now I can start breathing again. It took me a little while to get to this part in my reading.

    To add to Ron’s idea, you could have a section after each movie where readers contributed review quotes they found interesting. That would be so Web 2.0, man. Hopefully it wouldn’t cannibalize Arts & Faith too much by branching into movie discussion, although I admit there is that risk since you can’t control how readers will use this feature.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Wow.

    So you’re still gonna do it, even though you won’t get paid? And (echoing Ron) with all the work on your table already?

    Wow.

    Well, just make sure there’s an RSS feed for it!

  • Ron Reed

    I’m glad Film Forum will continue. It’s a great service, the best place to pick up on films that have some element that’s particularly interesting to Christians.

    I like Christian’s idea about tossing in quotes from other film writers as well, though maybe limit that to films (or elements of films) that have a specific spiritual or Christian interest. Not that those are the only films, or elements of films, that matter: obviously not. But we don’t need a general survey about what general critics are saying about general films: there are lots of sources already for that. Stay focused – especially since you’ve also got books to write!

    I’m sorry that Film Forum is leaving CT Moves: it has always seemed to me that it broadened the focus of CTM, keeping an eye on all kinds of films that there simply aren’t enough resources to review in full. But good that it will still exist!

    This just occurred to me. I hate the idea of you bogging down in this when you’ve got other writing (and who know, maybe even some non-writing, non-movie things!) to do. Do you enlist the aid of some other film writers, who can email you the bits and pieces they turn up in their reading? Though I suspect you’ve got the whole procedure down to a science. Just a thought.

    Gratitude for all you’ve done. Film Forum has been a central element in the emergence of online film writing by Christians. Congrats!

    Ron
    http://www.soulfoodmovies.blogspot.com

  • Christian

    Thanks for doing a great job with the column, Jeffrey. It’s been a privilege to have my reviews appear there, alongside such eloquent summaries from you, and other viewpoints on the same film from those who share my underlying view of life and culture.

    I didn’t realize the column was “yours” to take with you. Just as you assumed it from Steve L., I would have guessed that you might step down and leave it a successor. But it sounds like you want to take the concept and develop it. To that end, here’s what I’d be interested in seeing in a future “Film Forum”:

    1. More excerpts from secular film critics. That might defeat the purpose of the forum, but I find myself itching to know what mainstream reviewers are thinking about a film after I’ve read so much feedback from Christians about those same films. CT’s “Film Forum” often ends with “other critics are saying…” and a link, presumably to Rotten Tomatoes are Metacritic (I don’t know that I’ve ever followed those links, to be honest).

    I’d like to see excerpts from some of the more thoughtful mainstream reviews. Just as we can glean God’s power and meaning in films that aren’t overtly Christian, perhaps we can gain deeper insight into mainstream films from those who don’t share our faith perspective. In fact, I’m sure we’ve all had that experience, learning about a film’s meaning from pieces of mainstream reviews, even if we might disagree with the overall assessment of those reviews.

    I’m just thinking out loud here.


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