Film as Image and Discourse: The Level Ground Film Festival

At 19 years old a mentor told me to watch the movie Donnie Darko for a ministry assignment. He didn’t explain why, and watching the film certainly didn’t help me understand his reasoning (at least at the time). That film, however, and subsequent assignments from the same mentor, led me to Fuller Seminary to study theology and art. Which led me to create the Level Ground Film Festival with my good friend Chelsea McInturff.

What is Level Ground?

Using art to create a safe space for dialogue about faith, gender, and sexuality, Level Ground hopes to cultivate a better way of speaking with one another across our differences and disagreements. We work in spaces between artists and communities, curating events that facilitate dialogue. One of these events is the world’s first faith-based LGBT film festival.

Why film?

Film pushes, expands, and challenges our imaginations – how we view ourselves, the world we live in, and the God we follow.

Our desire is for people of different religious beliefs, gender identities, and sexual orientations to sit together in the sacred space of a theater, learning from (and about) one another. Instead of contributing to the polarization of entrenched communities, film can create safe space for dialogue in which we can begin to move towards one another as fellow human beings.

February 2014 will be the second time Chelsea and I will host this film festival. Here’s what we’re learning about film and theology:

Language dictates reality. The words we speak shape the world we live in and the way we live in that world (John 1:1). This means that using words to speak — what we call public discourse — is a deeply theological endeavor.

Image reveals reality. What we see shapes our relationships and informs our assumptions about the world (John 1:14). This means that film — and the ability to see — is also a deeply theological endeavor.

A film festival, therefore, is ripe ground for encountering God. Not because the films are “Biblical” or even necessarily “wholesome”, but because we experience the film with a group of people willing to enter the story on screen (image) and emerge from the narrative to discuss and embed it in our own lives and communities (public discourse).

The Level Ground Film Festival is a place where a man who’s attempted to be straight for the sake of working in his church encounters the story of a man who was outed by his Christian community and wounded so badly that he’s never gone back to church. It’s where a celibate woman encounters a woman whose sister is gay and who hasn’t known how to talk to her. It’s where a transgender man sits between a high school football coach and a woman who has never met a gay person before, let alone a gay person who considers himself or herself a Christian.

inaugural festival

This is the practice of living theologically. It is a practice we attempt to create with the Level Ground Film Festival. It is a fragile, often uncomfortable, yet deeply theological experience.

Finally, on difficulty:

Maybe because film is such a theologically thick experience, oftentimes watching a film can be difficult. This isn’t an anomaly. We should probably experience a similar difficulty as we read scripture, but because we often reduce and extract the text to a set of moral principles for salvation, we miss the complexity, struggle, and confrontation of our own Bibles.

This confrontation is often painful, awkward, and scary. But it also carries the potential for transformation and reconciliation. So while films confront us with worlds and stories not our own, we can choose to experience this as a good — even redemptive — difficulty.

With the above working theology of film, Level Ground ventures into the difficult dialogue of faith, gender, and sexuality. While we don’t have a religious or political agenda, we do have a human agenda. We want to expose the audience to the other’s story. We want to confront the way each of us imagines who and what that other is. We want to dialogue as a means of offering space for sharing and reconciliation. Lastly, we want to find another way in to what has wrongly become a black-and-white, right-or-wrong, religious “issue.”

Please consider this your invitation to join us on Level Ground!

Level Ground’s Indiegogo campaign for the 2014 festival ends today (15 Nov 2013) – click HERE to donate!

Samantha Curley is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and is now the co-founder and executive director at Level Ground. Level Ground hosts the world’s first festival experience exploring the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality. Their second annual film festival will be held in Southern California in Spring 2014. Visit onlevelground.org to learn more.

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Images courtesy of the author.

Author

  • Samantha Curley is a recent graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California and is now the co-founder and executive director at Level Ground. Level Ground hosts the world’s first festival experience exploring the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality. Their second annual film festival will be held in Southern California in Spring 2014. Visit onlevelground.org to learn more.

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