Promised Land: Israel through the Eyes of Surfers
Two months ago, I watched the 2003 documentary Step Into Liquid, and enjoyed watching all of the fantastic places to surf around the world. One of the interviews featured three brothers who went surfing in Northern Ireland. They talked about an experience teaching kids to surf, and how the water seemed to disperse the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism in an otherwise divided land. Fast forward to The Attic Film Festival, where I saw Promised Land. This film won the award for Audience Favorite, and it tells the same kind of story in Israel, a land of equal or greater violence over religious differences. Surfing in Israel has become a common ground that connects the otherwise disconnected lives of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. I like the point both of these films make, and fortunately the point is not belabored in Promised Land. I said in my Attic Film Fest review that I would mention what each film brought to faith based market, and I must say this film brings a level of patience.
Promised Land does not preach or push an agenda on its audience. Christ’s impact is shown organically as non-Christians observe and comment on the Christians they’ve come to know in the surfing world. In fact, Promised Land is exactly what a Christian documentary should aspire to be if the goal is to invite anyone to watch with you. It won’t make non-believers squirm in their seats, and for Christians, it inadvertently models how faith can be shared through friendship and service rather than typically annoying (American) methods of evangelism. The direct message of Christ’s love and sacrifice is discussed only once in the film, and that is even within the context of Jewish culture. This film gets high marks for being just different enough to share Christ’s love without crossing over into aggravating those whose faith is not Christian. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to learn about the history of surfing in Israel, how it started, how it grew, and where it is now.
Beware of Christians
Beware of Christians is the story of four college guys who travel across Europe to re-discover their faith. Having been raised in affluent, Christian, American homes, their faith has been handed to them and presented as “truth” when it didn’t always ring true. In an attempt to break out of the mold, they travel far from home to discover what it means to truly follow Christ.
First of all, the film is funny and it is real. The guys don’t skirt issues like drinking, sex, and money, but deal with them directly. It’s entertaining and very college-y. Is that a word? College is such a unique journey of adventure and questioning. At the same time, it is a concoction of silliness left over from youth mixed with seriousness about the choices and decisions that lie ahead. Beware of Christians captures all of that. I can’t say that in the end it brings up anything new or that we haven’t heard from Christians before about the “issues.” I didn’t have any great epiphanies, but that’s not the purpose of this film since adults are not the target market. The film is basically a springboard for conversation between college students who are just beginning the process of questioning their faith.
Research shows that a huge percentage of kids leave the Christian faith when they leave home. Why is that? Possibly because they have not asked the hard questions that need to be asked. Or possibly, they are not convinced that the principles they’ve been taught actually have any relevance to their lives. People are best convinced either through hard life lessons or through thoughtful consideration of the issues (conversations where they are free to speak plainly rather than spit out Sunday school answers, personal Bible Study, research, etc). I love that these students have used the film medium to bring up hard questions. Rather than leaving their generation to wander and flail about in a sea of questions, they are bringing students together to talk and think. The marketing strategy behind this film is to set up a screening on a college campus, show the film, and afterward give students a chance to talk about the issues in the film. As I understand it, they are having great success.
I’ve always believed that the information generation (or whatever they are being called now) craves authenticity. They don’t put on airs and they don’t appreciate hypocrisy. They just want people to talk straight with them. The outgrowth of that is that now, they want to be straight with others and live honest lives of genuine conviction. This film challenges its viewers to know what they believe, understand why they believe it, and live it out. Otherwise, don’t claim the faith. Be an earnest follower of Christ, not just a casual follower of Christianity.