All posts from “January 2012”

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January 27, 2012

Derek Webb's Feedback Film: What Just Happened?

'Self-Sabotage,' a short film based on Webb's EP and the Lord's Prayer, is, um, unique

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First things first: Derek Webb is one of my favorite artists, one of the most creative folks I know. I've long been a fan of his music, his honesty, his commitment to justice, and his willingness to challenge the rest of us in sometimes unexpected ways. He and I have had some good conversations over the years, and he always makes me think -- often about things I'd never considered before, or at least in ways I'd never done before.

When Derek released his Feedback album last spring -- an instrumental meditation on the Lord's Prayer -- I really liked it. Still do. It's terrific music, and while I can't cleanly "connect" every note to a corresponding phrase in the prayer, I was fine with that. It's good music to contemplate, as are Christ's words.

Webb wanted the work of art to extend beyond the music, so he first commissioned painter Scott Erickson for a series of paintings as a companion to the project. I've seen the art, and it's very good.

Then Webb wanted to extend the project to the medium of film, and worked with director Scott Brignac to come up with a "cycle of short films" called Self-Sabotage, described as "an exploration of the Lord's Prayer based on and inspired by Derek Webb's Feedback. It follows six characters in a narrative with no words, only the music to parallel the stories. Their lives, like moving icons, open windows into the great mystery of communion through self-dethroning sabotage."

OK, I mostly get that. But frankly, the film itself lost me. I enjoyed the images, and the way they're wedded to the soundtrack. I thought I picked up something about a Father's relentless love for his child, but I might've been wrong about that. I also thought a lot of it was about some nut-job stalking a young woman.

Apparently I'm not alone in my head-scratching. When the film premiered in Houston, Andrew Causey, who moderated a panel discussion afterward, said he had these questions: "Why was that girl dancing in the streets? Who was that guy in the woods? Did one guy just punch himself in the face? Does the girl jump? What does this have to do with the Lord’s Prayer? Did the running guy commit a crime? If so, what was it? Why does the creepy guy keep following the sad girl? Why doesn’t she spray him with mace?"

Causey was apparently more haunted by the film than I was, because he kept thinking about it, determined to find more meaning behind the abstraction. And, Lord bless him, he has come up with some pretty good insights and ideas here. Perhaps if I gave it repeated viewings, I would come up with some of the same observations -- or completely different ones.

I'm no literalist, and I generally don't mind abstractions and ambiguity in art. But Self-Sabotage, though interesting to look at, was just a bit too abstract for me. I just didn't get it.

Check it out below (and/or buy it here). What about you? Do you "get" it?

SELF-SABOTAGE from Scott Brignac on Vimeo.

January 27, 2012

Spielberg Goes to the Mountaintop

Long circulated rumors now almost etched in stone: He'll direct a biopic about Moses.

Rumors have circulated for months that Steven Spielberg might direct a biopic about Moses. Those rumors are a lot closer to the truth now, according to an exclusive report from Deadline.com, which says the famed director is "near commitment" to helm the project for Warner Brothers.

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The film, tentatively slated to begin production in the spring of 2013, is titled Gods and Kings. A source told Deadline.com it will be "like a Braveheart-ish version of the Moses story. Him coming down the river, being adopted, leaving his home, forming an army, and getting the Ten Commandments.” Hmm. Braveheart-ish? That could be a good thing, but the "forming an army" part could be blown way out of proportion. (Thank goodness Peter Jackson isn't doing it!)

Deadline.com also notes that Gods and Men is "the second high-profile film Warner Bros is developing on a seminal Jewish hero. Mel Gibson and Joe Eszterhas are collaborating on their pitch to tell the story of Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee. . . . Gibson has the first option to direct, and he will produce the film through his Icon Productions banner."

January 27, 2012

43,000 Voices for 27 Million Voiceless

Redman's '27 Million' live video, recorded at Passion 2012, benefits anti-trafficking campaign

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The Atlanta Falcons are no longer the only ones shouting “Rise Up!” in the Georgia Dome. Before a crowd of over 43,000 college students at Passion 2012, held Jan. 2-5, Matt Redman recorded the music video to his new single “27 Million.”

The song tells the gripping true story of an Eastern European girl, trafficked into the London sex trade. He wrote “27 Million” in an effort to bring global awareness to the issue of human trafficking. The song title reflects the estimated 27 million individuals trapped in modern slavery. Redman will release the mainstream single worldwide on February 27, with the accompanying music video recorded live at Passion. (Here's an amateur video of the performance.)

The powerful lyrics and catchy chorus caught on immediately among the young crowd. “We’ve got to rise up, open our eyes up! / Be her voice, be her freedom, come on stand up!” The crowd not only stood, but jumped up and down as they sang this freedom song.

The song opens with the voice of Christine Cain, founder of the A21 slavery prevention organization: “It astounds me, that not only does human trafficking exist on the earth today, there are actually more slaves than there ever have been in the history of humanity. It’s almost incomprehensible.”

Cain’s quote inspired Redman and wife Beth to write this anthem for abolition. They asked British hip-hop singers Lindz and Lucy West to join them in recording the song. Lindz adds an urban flavor with his rap interludes. “Not someone’s commodity / a precious being like you and me / a daughter a sister, a somebody . . . / No voice, she’s a slave to the night.”

The release of their single coincides with their February “27 Million” tour around the UK to support Cain’s A21 campaign.

2/27 UPDATE: And here's the official video.

January 24, 2012

'I Loved You and I Hated You'

Ana Egge's haunting CD captures the feelings of those who have a mentally ill loved one

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Your picture's fallin' like a figurine
Breaking branches in our family tree . . .
I loved you and I hated you
I prayed for you and stayed away from you

So sings Ana Egge on the title cut of her latest album, Bad Blood. Many of the songs were written about coping with mentally ill family members, and I, for one, can certainly relate to the lyrics above.

Our 20-year-old son has bipolar disorder and Asperger syndrome, and his family members have certainly felt all of those things and more. It really can be a love-hate relationship -- intense love for the person, but intense hatred for the illness and the ugly, often hurtful, ways it manifests itself. Kudos to Egge for capturing many of those feelings.

A press release says that the album "conveys compassion and hope for redemption," and while that's certainly true, Egge also noted in one interview that it also captures her raw emotions. "There is some anger on this record," she confesses. "When you have family members suffering, I'm not angry at them. I have had a lot of anger at the illness, wanting it to stop, go away. A lot of the writing freed up for me when I started writing about the illness itself as a character."

Like many of us who love someone with a mental illness, Egge is trying to find that balance between loving the person but loathing the condition. These lines from "Hole in Your Halo" kind of capture that vibe:

Your flowers are growin' wild in the west
They may be pretty but they're poisonous
Behind the bars you're falling apart
It's not the first time you went too far

There's a hole in your halo
Where the darkness don't shine
In the darkness I know
It's a thin line

Egge's country-fied folk tunes, produced by Steve Earle, sound more upbeat than the subject matter they're addressing, but the lyrics are spot on. Watch the music video for "Hole in Your Halo" here:

January 23, 2012

'Between Notes' Strikes the Right Chords

Indie film sort of a cross between 'Once' and '500 Days of Summer,' with lots of great music

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A filmmaker named Christopher Grissom contacted me recently, saying he wanted us to check out his new movie. He said he was a Christian, and . . . Well, let's just say that we get a LOT of e-mails that start out like that, and the films themselves are often quite forgettable. But I asked him to send it along anyway.

I'm glad I did.

Between Notes, now available at Amazon.com, was a delightful surprise. Grissom accurately describes it as a "modern-day musical about two musicians who develop a relationship and have to decide whether they are falling in love with a person or an idea."

It's done reasonably well for an obviously very low-budget film. The lead actors, David Ramirez and Brandi Price, won't win any Oscars, but they bring enough life to their characters to make them interesting. But the biggest draw is the music itself. Ramirez is a professional musician whom Paste magazine calls "the best damn songwriter you don't know yet," and that's just the beginning. The terrific indie score is supplemented by great songs from Summer Ames and Becky Middleton.

The end result is something like a cross between Once (mainly for the music) and 500 Days of Summer (for the quirky romance). Grissom told me he wants to make films that are "not overtly Christian, but that point the direction to Christ." Mission accomplished.

Here's the trailer:

January 19, 2012

Tea Party Jesus: 'Blessed Are the Mean'

Scathing video depicts 'Sermon on the Mall' as if Christ were speaking for Tea Party

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So, there's a new animated video online, picturing Jesus giving a speech to thousands in Washington, D.C., as if he had based his teachings on the sayings of the Tea Party.

In what the creators are calling the "Sermon on the Mall," Jesus begins his famous talk by saying, "Blessed are the mean in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven." Behind him, cheering him on, are his "disciples," including Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Santorum, Bachmann, Limbaugh, and Beck.

Jesus goes on: "Blessed are the pure in ideology, for they can demonize any who disagree." And the zingers continue:

"Blessed are you when you revile and persecute and utter all kinds of evil falsely. Rejoice and be glad. Great is your reward, for in the same way the prophets Beck and Limbaugh have persecuted others before you."

"For any who believe our governments should help the poor show contempt for their Maker and whoever ignores the needy honors God."

"You have heard it said [Matthew 5:33], “Don’t swear falsely,” but I say to you, if uttering falsehoods furthers our cause, it is righteous."

And these are just the tip of the not-so-niceberg. Learn more at TeaPartyJesus.org, and check out the entire "Sermon on the Mall" (just less than seven minutes) here:

January 12, 2012

Was Elvis the Founder of Christian Rock?

That's one of many questions explored in an upcoming film on 'the story of Christian rock.'

If the list of interviewees for Bleed Into One, an upcoming documentary on the history of Christian rock, is an indication of filmmaker Tim Hudson's ability to piece together a good film, then he's off to a great start.

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Bleed Into One: The Story of Christian Rock, Told by Those Who Survived
, currently in the editing phase and aiming for a late 2012 release, includes interviews with CCM legends like Randy Stonehill, Steve Taylor, Phil Keaggy, John Schlitt, Glenn Kaiser, Charlie Peacock, and many more, including much more contemporary stars like Jeremy Camp, MercyMe's Bart Millard, Relient K's Matt Thiessen, and Skillet's John Cooper. Plus requisite interviews with experts like former GMA president John Styll, Raised by Wolves author John J. Thompson, HM magazine editor Doug Van Pelt, and P.O.D. manager Tim Cook.

It all adds up to what Hudson says (on a blog post) is an exploration of Christian rock's "secret history, one that people think they know but really have no idea, and it's all here, waiting to be put together, watched, and discussed. Hopefully your interested in piqued . . ."

Mine certainly is. But the film may never get finished -- or see the light of day -- if Hudson is unable to fund his closing costs, $30,000 for licenses to play all those great songs, and another $30,000 for post-production costs. That's why Hudson has launched a Kickstarter campaign, but he needs to raise that $60,000 by Feb. 4 -- just three weeks from now. (Heck, I even went to Kickstarter and made a small contribution.) Kickstarter has helped countless projects get off the ground, including the previously dead-in-the-water Blue Like Jazz film, which raised almost thrice its $125,000 goal and will now release to theaters in April.

As for the above title of this blog post, that comes from a video teaser that includes a clip from one of the interviewees -- Mike Roe of the 77s and the Lost Dogs, who says, "I don't like the term 'Christian rock,' but if it did begin somewhere, maybe it began with Elvis Presley." It'll be interesting to hear Roe elaborate on that in the final film.

A documentary on the history of Christian rock is long overdue. Here's hoping Hudson can complete the task and pull it off. That's a movie I'd like to see.

Here's the official website, and the Facebook site. Below, find the teaser, and below that, a longer trailer for the film:

Bleed Into One - Teaser from Eyecue Media on Vimeo.

January 11, 2012

Overcoming the Porn Problem

New documentary wisely shines a light on personal stories, rather than just the 'experts'

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When filmmaker Sean Finnegan first considered doing a documentary on the problem of pornography, he knew he didn’t want to merely cite facts and figures interwoven with sound bites from experts. He thought the best way to tell this story was to, well, tell a story – and in the case of Out of the Darkness, now available on DVD, he found a powerful one in former porn actress Shelley Lubben, who now runs a ministry helping others to escape the sex industry and find hope and healing in Christ.

“Stories matter,” says Finnegan. “Most of the work done on pornography revolves around the issues of free speech and legislation, or the science behind addiction. But films are not essays or treatises. Films, like novels and poems and plays, are here to tell stories. And that is enough. If that is done well, we will, as Conrad said, gain a glimpse into the truth for which we forgot to ask.

“What stories can do for us is put faces on their topics. No matter how intense the debate around pornography becomes, the debate is really about human beings.”

Finnegan aims his camera at four such humans, including two who have come out of the darkness themselves, Lubben (don't worry; this website is safe) and recovered sex addict Mark Houck. Finnegan also interviews family therapist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons and sexual revolution historian Dr. Judith Reisman, who are much more than mere “talking heads” here; Fitzgibbons and Reisman also tell stories, including one Reisman shares about a daughter who was raped. While Lubben and Houck focus more on their personal testimonies, the other two describe the culture and societal breakdown that got America into this mess – and yes, it’s presented as chiefly an American problem. After all, almost 90 percent of all porn sites originate in the U.S.

Reisman gives some fascinating background about how Dr. Albert Kinsey’s post-WWII sex research – including the infamous “Kinsey Reports” – sparked America’s sexual revolution. She disputes Kinsey’s “science” as fraudulent, but says academia, the media, and the general population accepted it as true, including the notion that we’re all just basically sexual animals, so why not just go for it? Fitzgibbons adds that many of us have embraced what he calls a “sexual utilitarian philosophy,” resulting in a breakdown of the family, a collapse of morality, and on a personal level, profound loneliness, sadness, and narcissism. It’s all a recipe for the porn industry to flourish.

But most compelling are the stories from Lubben and Houck. The latter tells how he grew up a “normal” guy, but how, shortly after his father died when he was just 11, he became a loner. He discovered his first Playboy as a pre-teen and got hooked on the magazines, and later on Internet porn, to the point where he was spending up to four hours a day on his habit. Houck struggled with his addiction for 16 years before finally realizing how destructive it was and making the decision to break free. He did so mainly by recommitting to his Christian faith, and while that story isn’t told in great detail here, Houck makes it clear that his disciplined pursuit of righteousness that made the difference – more than his decision to simply avoid the temptation. It was the pursuit of the good more than the mere fleeing of the bad that helped him win the battle.

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Lubben’s (pictured at left) devastating-but-ultimately-redeeming story is told in much greater detail. Neglected by her parents as a child and sexually molested by a teen neighbor when she was just 9, Lubben desperately sought love in all the wrong places. When her father kicked her out of the house at age 18, a pimp offered her solace and quick $35 – if she’d turn a trick. She ended up as a full-time prostitute and stripper, later transitioning to porn films. All along, she says, she was driven by her anger at her parents, her loathing of herself, and her desire to prove her value – worth she found from the johns who hired her and, later, the film directors who praised her. She ended up getting herpes and attempting suicide. When she finally met a man who fell in love with her, and not merely her body and what she could do with it, she was confused. But eventually the love was requited, she left the porn industry, they were married, and started attending church. As she grew in faith – and, like Houck, in her pursuit of righteousness – the old demons began to fall away, literally and figuratively. (Lubben believes that Satan has a field day with people in the porn industry, which she calls “a cult.”)

The film’s most moving comments come, not surprisingly, from Lubben, but this one was perhaps the most powerful: “When people view porn, they are really watching mentally ill and physically diseased people having sex.” Puts quite a perspective on it.

Since Lubben has left the porn industry, she has founded the Pink Cross Foundation, a ministry to reach out to porn stars and sex workers. She has helped more than 50 people leave those fields and find hope and healing.

There’s a lot of hope and healing in this documentary too. While made from a Christian perspective, it’s not preachy. It’s matter-of-fact and story-driven, striking just the right tone. Highly recommended; buy it here. Here’s the trailer:

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