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January 12, 2010

Go Ye into All The World With a Projector . . .

The recent Urbana student missions conference emphasized evangelistic films

The JESUS film has been going around the world for three decades, successfully bringing millions to Christ through thousands of screenings globally. So while the notion of "film as evangelism" is nothing new, it's taking on a new look -- and a new urgency -- among young Christians who are interested in international missions.

At the recently concluded Urbana 09 student missions conference, more than 1,000 students attended sessions devoted solely to the concept of evangelistic films, according to a recent story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The story noted that "younger filmmakers are turning away from using their craft as an element of the conversion process itself. Instead, they are taking the skills they've learned in film schools and using both documentary and fictional narrative techniques to change the direction in which their movies find an audience.

"Rather than making a movie that shows the story of Jesus to a Third World nonbeliever . . . today's Christian filmmaker might target an American audience and dramatize the dangers for those leading the underground church in China, or examining the role of the prosperity Gospel in Ghana."


As the director of the Urbana Film Festival and Forum I feel like I need to make a slight correction. The films we showed were not "evangelistic films" as the title hints at and the subtitle states outright. Rather we focused on films that:
1. Told the missions story and thus were intended to be used in awareness, mobilization and even promotion (often times the promoting of a vision, agenda or issue as opposed to a particular agency).
2. Told the world's story (or more appropriately, snapshots of stories around the world.)
Why the distinction? When bringing up "evangelistic films" there tends to be a utilitarian mindset about both the process and the product - we make films so that people can come to Christ. I think there is a more nuanced posture towards film found in the filmmakers we highlighted in the Urbana Film Festival. There is value in the process of filmmaking itself. What these filmmakers are doing is living and working at the intersection of two affections - a love for God's world and a love for visual communication. They are discovering ways to communicate these passions to their communities.