Commentary: Faith the size of an indie filmmaker

By Kenny Dickson, Special Contributor…

I recently attended the Dallas International Film Festival. This was my fifth year to attend, and again I was inspired by the filmmakers who submitted films. As with most film festivals, the festival is for lower budget, independent films as opposed to those produced by studios. What I find inspirational is the determined spirit of the directors and producers who give years of their lives to write, fund, shoot, edit and then travel the festival circuit hoping that their film will be picked up by a distribution company or cable channel.

I preached about this last year after attending the 2012 festival, and highlighted one producer, Xan Aranda, who made a film about musician Andrew Bird as he toured for almost one year. All in all, Ms. Aranda dedicated three years of her life to this film, to telling the story of Mr. Bird’s Fever Year. Ms. Aranda is currently going through the process again for her next film, Mormon Movie, which documents her mother’s involvement in films produced by the Mormon church.

Philipp Karner and Scotty Crowe co-star in Diving Normal, a movie that premiered April 9 at the Dallas International Film Festival. PHOTO BY SABRINA LANTOS

This year I was impressed by writer-director Sushrut Jain, who made Beyond All Boundaries, a documentary about cricket, while his home country, India, was hosting and competing in the 2011 World Cup. The film presents, through the story of three individuals, how in a country with tremendous differences in culture, class, religion and regions, cricket is the one thing that brings the country together.

I have also been touched by Walter Strafford, writer-director of Kilimanjaro, a film about what he calls the “quarter-life” crisis that impacts many young adults. It’s a time when many must make the decision about continuing to pursue the dreams of their youth or give up on them and get on with “real life.”

The film that has touched me most thus far is Diving Normal, directed by Krisjtan Thor and written by Ashlin Halfnight, Scotty Crowe and Philipp Karner. Mr. Crowe and Mr. Karner also produced the film and co-star as Gordon and Fulton, who are best friends and neighbors. Both characters have their “issues” as Gordon has a slight intellectual disability and Fulton is an ambitious graphic novelist. Susie Abromeit also stars as a beautiful high school acquaintance of Fulton who is in recovery and healing from the brokenness of her past life. Through the course of the film, the characters discover what love is not, what it is, and that to embrace it one sometimes has to let go of what is conventional or considered by others to be normal.

The thread common to all of the independent filmmakers is their passion to tell the story. Whether the film is a documentary that teaches about persons, places or things, or a narrative film that reflects aspects of life, all of the filmmakers are committed to telling their story. In short they will not be denied. Whether it is rejection after rejection from studios or raising money, running out of money and then raising money again, they are determined to get the film shot and edited, and the story told. All of this without promise or even high probability of getting the film sold and making a profit. In a parallel to Texas folklore, these filmmakers are like oil wildcatters who took great risks and offered their blood, sweat and tears to find new oil fields. As I reflect, this spirit was also shared with the earliest Methodists in England and the United States, where the Methodist Church grew with the nation across the continent.

As disciples today, we also share a commonality with these independent filmmakers. We have a story to tell. We have a story that we should be passionate about sharing. We have a story that we should not let anything keep us from proclaiming to the world. We should not be worried about how we will be received or whether we will be heard. Too often we let the inconveniences of life and schedules, and our fears of being rejected or labeled, thwart us in our calling and commission to tell the story. Instead, we should only be worried about sharing the gospel of Jesus and the love God has for us, the grace God offers us, and the life God wants us to claim.

I have no doubt that God provides us venues for telling the story of Christ, if we have eyes to see. Whether at work, in our schools and churches, or in all the other places life takes us, we are called, baptized, to tell this story and share the gospel. I include church as a place where we tell the story because, while we gather in worship to hear the story being read from Scripture and proclaimed in song and sermon, we also hear the story from one another as we see others attending to worship and sacraments, singing the songs of faith, and praying and exchanging other offerings of care for one another.

In these weeks of the Easter season, as we look forward to the celebration of Pentecost, the challenge all Christians should accept is to match the dedication and determination of independent filmmakers and stop at nothing in telling the story of Christ and God’s love for us. We should look back to our Methodist roots and be wildcatters for Christ, unflinching, undeterred and always proclaiming.

The Rev. Dickson, senior pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Farmers Branch, Texas, has a degree in film history and theory from Southern Methodist University.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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