Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Moving Images, Violence and Social Responsibility

Aaron Belz, poet, essayist, unapologetic Presbyterian, wry Twit (or is it Tweeter-er?), uncompromising champion of pop culture, and editor of The Curator magazine was kind enough to publish an expanded version of a blog I wrote a few weeks ago. While I don't pretend that the questions I raise can be easily resolved, I do think they're worth an honest conversation. I've posted below an excerpt from the essay which you can find in full here.

And as I head out to Los Angeles tomorrow to speak at an exciting conference, "Preaching in a Visual Age," I can't imagine a more un-boring topic than the way Americans conceive of the responsibility of the artist to society. For a short description of each plenary talk, go here. Happy All Hallows Eve and Happy All Saints Day, for what it's worth.

"The Towering Inferno"
In the sixteenth century, Protestant reformers stripped altars bare and defaced liturgical paintings which they felt had corrupted the true worship of God. The Swiss Reformer Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), in the spirit of Old Testament prophets, termed this activity “war against the idols.” Those who refused to forsake such images were beaten, flayed, hung and burned. Twentieth-century monuments to Vladimir Lenin and Mao Tse-Tung, representing a history of violence, were torn down. Spike Lee’s movie Do The Right Thing (1989) was accused of being both an act of violence and an incitement to violence. This year, Warner Brothers cut all gun references in the trailer to the Dark Knight Rises after the Aurora, Colorado, shootings....

... What kind of questions might we ask ourselves? Perhaps these, for starters:
  • What might result if filmmakers invited their community to participate not just with the final product’s marketability value but also with the whole process in which a film is made, from conception to reception?
  • What benefit might be had if filmmaker listened with and to the regular sorts of people which comprise their lives, trusting that their imaginations would be all the better for it, precisely because the Holy Spirit was enlarging their imaginations because of their communities, not despite them?
  • How might the practices of the Christian church—such as breaking bread together and prayer, acts of service and social reconciliation—inform the aesthetic habits of filmmakers?
In short, what would it look like to conceive of the artist not in opposition to society, not as an outsider at odds with society, but rather in fellowship with those who bear with and for the well-being of the artist, without any softening of the irritating contours of good works of art?

And now, three fun videos:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Beautiful devotional and contemplative art

Have you ever wonder whether all the good Christmas cards have been pilfered by sentimentalist gnomes from outer space? Ever wonder where all the good, local Christian bookstores went? Ever wonder why all the beautiful devotional art was disappearing from the earth?  I have.

Well wonder no more! And while you're at it, would you please help my wife to launch her fledgling business and by proxy help me to finish my doctorate?

There is plenty to choose from in her AMBROSIUM Etsy shop, and I've included a few options below: Thank You cards, Celtic crosses, Prints, Original Pieces, Vintage Reproduction Christmas cards, Custom gifts and Commissions, and more. Inspired by St. Ambrose, the patron saint of wax workers, all of her pieces are made in the tradition of Encaustic Painting. And if you don't find exactly what you're looking for, give her a shout and see if she can make it tailored just for you. And, yes, it's super affordable.

To sweeten the deal, if you buy something between now and November 1, she'll give you free shipping on domestic orders. When you purchase something through her Etsy shop, enter the code: ARTSPASTORBLOG.

And would you do us a huge favor? Would you please pass along the info about her shop and on this blog to your family and friends? Anything will help. Tell your grandma. Tell your pastor or your local bookshop. Tell your artsy friend or graduating student or wedding couple. Tell the POTUS if you would. (I've included other ways you can help her at the end of this blog.)

To contact Phaedra about custom orders: write her at phaedrajean AT GmAil dot CoM. (You know that's not what it's supposed to look like but, well, the evil spambots lurk about). Or convo her through her Etsy shop if you already have an Etsy account.

Here are ten further ways you might help Phaedra:

1. LIKE the Ambrosium on Facebook.
2. Give a print to a friend, tell them where you got it.
3. Share about the shop on FB.
4. Tweet about the shop.
5. Commission an original encaustic piece.
6. Link to the shop on your blog or website.
7. Consider giving prints as gifts to your lay ministry team, prayer team, small group leaders or volunteers (discounts available for large orders).
8. Commission an original work of art for your church sanctuary or educational wing.
9. Google "celtic cross print" and click on the shop (this boosts her spot in the google listings).
10. Look at the shop and tell her what you think should be different or share ideas you have to make it better.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Attention visual artists

(This is a guest blog by Shannon Sigler. Shannon graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2007 with a degree in theology and the visual arts; and from Boston University in 2011 with an MA in Administration. Shannon’s art and research center around a Wesleyan paradigm for the visual arts as well as explorations in feminism, Christian vocation, and family life. Before coming to CIVA, Shannon worked as the Seminarius Arts Director at Asbury Seminary, and most recently as the Program Administrator for the Center for Practical Theology at Boston University.)

CIVA Announces the Publication of 2013-14 Sourcebook: Be in the Book!

What is CIVA?
Three decades ago, most Christians in the visual arts faced an impossible situation: the art world did not respect their faith and the Church did not value their vocation. It was difficult to be a serious Christian and a serious artist.
In 1977 Eugene Johnson had a vision. Gene, a ceramicist, professor, and preacher, served on the faculty of Bethel College. Buoyed by the enthusiastic support of his art faculty colleagues, he hosted a conference for Christian artists that drew some 170 participants from across North America to St. Paul, Minnesota. Two years later a similar conference was held at Calvin College and Christians in the Visual Arts became an official organization.
Today the mission of CIVA is much the same as the vision held by its founder over 30 years ago. CIVA and its members are: Called to Creative Work, Devoted to the Church, and Present in culture.  To read more about the vision and values of CIVA, you can go here.

CIVA is a membership organization that seeks to bridge the gap between faith and art, while providing a forum for community and professional networking for artists (and art-lovers!) of faith.

What is the Sourcebook?
In January 2013 CIVA will publish the new 2013–14 CIVA Sourcebook showcasing a broad network of Christians in the visual arts: artists, churches, collectors, educators, curators, galleries, museums, organizations, publishers, scholars, students, patrons, and universities. In years past, this book has been the “go-to” publication for galleries, schools, and ministries seeking Christian artists and art programming contacts and information worldwide.
The Sourcebook is more than a directory. Printed in full-color and with a circulation of 2,500, this publication is also a promotional platform for organizations and institutions. For the working artist, it is a unique opportunity “to see” and “to be seen.”  
If you are interested in being listed in the Sourcebook, the only simple step is to join or renew with the CIVA community by October 31st, 2012.  You may also want to check out opportunities for publishing your art images in the Sourcebook, or placing an ad for your organization. If you have questions about CIVA, or the Sourcebook, feel free to email Shannon at ssigler@civa.org.

(David: and here is my favorite recent postcard and a nightmare of a video by Brad Pitt.)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Life and Times of an Indie Filmmaker

Who is the most famous movie person you’ve been able to meet? 
I’ve worked with and directed Martin Sheen. I’ve had dinner with Kevin Spacey. I got to meet Harvey Weinstein at a friend’s art show. But for every “famous” movie person I’ve met, I’ve met ten others who are just as talented but for various reasons have not had their “big break” that makes them widely known. 

This is how my friend Jeffrey Travis, born in Mexico City, raised in Argentina, a father of four, husband of a good wife, and a descendant of the famous William B. Travis, the Texas commander at the Battle of the Alamo, answered one of the twenty-five questions I sent him recently.

Jeffrey is a biomedical engineer by training, having completing a thesis at UT Austin on the application of wavelet transforms to otoacoustic signals, and the author of LabView for Everyone. He's written for 20th Century FOX. He's directed three "CSI"-style websidodes to promote John Deere's oils, lubricants and coolants. He's shown work at both the Festival de Cannes and the Toronto International Film Festival (in addition to 40 other festivals, including the LA Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, the AFI Film Festival, et al). And he is currently in post-production for his debut feature film, Dragon Day, a timely political thriller about a family surviving a devastating cyber-attack by China on the United States when the country defaults on its debt.

And, well, he was once the keynote speaker at the 2011 12,000-strong National Council of Teachers of Mathematics annual convention!

Below you'll find answers to a few other questions I asked, and I offer it here not only for your general edification, I offer it also as a way to inspire you to support his latest moviemaking effort: DRAGON DAY. He's $31,807 away from raising what he needs to finish post-production and there are four days left on his IndieGoGo campaign (Oct. 12 is the deadline). Go HERE to support a good filmmaker and a better man.

Attendees at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics watching Jeff's film FLATLAND

What things inspire you for movie ideas?
Often, the ideas come as part of my process: letting my brain “relax” and tapping into fleeting images, daydreams, things I fear, things I love, things that make me uncomfortable, things that scare me, things that inspire and move me. Other times, ideas come from literature or books I read. Two scripts I wrote, and one movie, are based on existing novels: Flatland and The Beautiful Letdown.

What’s your process like? Do you write in the mornings? Evenings? At home? At a coffeeshop?
I find there are seasons I write best in the early morning, and other seasons I write best late at night. If it’s in the morning, at a coffeeshop. If it’s at night, at home. The key for me is to block out at least 3 hours to write. Sometimes it’s no more than a page, other times it will be a 12-page marathon. It’s been said before, but it’s about writing every day, in and out. Inspiration may come or not, as she pleases. That doesn’t matter. Doing the work matters.

Who are your favorite filmmakers?
In no particular order: Paul Thomas Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, Orson Welles, Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Sidney Lumet, Christopher Nolan, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritú, David Fincher.

Which filmmakers would you say you are most like?
I find myself admiring all the previous filmmakers, but the ones who have made me envious are: Hitchcock, Nolan, PT Anderson.

What would be your dream movie to direct with, say, a $200,000,000 budget?
Two dream movies: An adaptation of Fahrenheit 451. Or, my own script concept, an epic Biblical narrative, starting with Creation and ending with Revelation. Told as one story from the perspective of two friends who grow up to be arch-enemies: a high-ranking angel and Satan’s right-hand demon, both charged with the affairs of men.

What’s been the best part of your journey as a filmmaker?
The moments when the lights go down and I get to experience the communal aspect of sharing a movie with an audience for the first time.

What’s the hardest part?
Waiting. It takes years to make a single feature film (generally speaking).

What’s been the worst part?
Sacrificing so much to make art. Making a living at this, especially as father of four kids and being the sole breadwinner, and living in L.A, means I work extremely hard, including gigs to pay bills while making a film. All-nighters are all too common. All of which means I don’t spend the kind of time I want to with my family.

What role does your Christian faith play in your screenwriting, directing, producing, etc?
Practically speaking, my Christian faith affects how I am called to treat people; which, trust me, can be hard to do at times when Hollywood is filled with backstabbing, duplicitous, manipulative human beings, and sometimes you have no choice but to work alongside them. Those are the moments when Christ compels me to do what I would have a hard time doing on my own: show genuine love and respect.

If you could give a word of advice to a young, aspiring filmmaker, what would you say to them?
Do not wait for permission--do it now. Whatever your biggest dream is, go for it tenaciously and steadily, no matter how much you are laughed at. Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Grow thick skin and get used to criticism. Be very clear about what you want to do. Listen to the wisdom of those who have been before you, keep an open and learning heart. Above all, make honest, personal art.

If you could choose one movie director to be mentored by, who would that be?
Sidney Lumet. While there are films and directors I might admire the same or more, I would have wanted to see myself like him, equally masterful of technical knowledge and skill for getting first-rate performances from actors. And just creating a huge body of work.

What is one simple thing that Christians could do to support emerging filmmakers?
At the risk of sounding crass: give financial support. Practically, this means buying tickets and going to the opening weekend of a film you know was made by a Christian. The box-office weekend can make or break not only a film, but a career. And at the other side of the process: independent films are now being funded through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which allows anyone to contribute to the production of the film. Making films is not cheap—and generally impossible to do without a sizeable chunk of money (unlike say, writing a novel). Thus, the stakes become so high, the hurdles so daunting, that it can make all the difference in the world for a group of Christians or a church to come in and support a movie financially.

Which books, fiction or non-fiction, have influenced you the most as an artist? Too many to list here, but here are some of my favorites:

Non-fiction:  Story by Robert McKee, Poetics by Aristotle, The War of Art (Steven Pressfield), Save the Cat (Blake Snyder), Notes on Directing (Frank Hauser and Russell Reich), What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Haruki Murakami).

Fiction: Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), The Lord of The Rings (JRR Tolkien), C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength), Marshall Hollenzer is Driving (Owen Egerton).

Is the life of a filmmaker as glamorous as the magazines make it out to be? 
He made no comment here, though I suspect the answer is a resounding yes.

What are three ways that people could pray for you right now? 

1. Endurance and provision. I’m working hard to finish post-production on my first feature film to direct, DRAGON DAY. After two and a half years, film is nearly complete, which is very exciting, but like a marathon, those last miles can be very challenging.

2. Knowing how to serve and love my family

3. Knowing how to serve and show God’s love to those in Hollywood that I am in contact with: filmmakers, actors, crew, etc.