Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Film in the Classroom-The Passion of the Christ and the BBC's The Passion

In my work with inservices for both second level teachers and chaplains in second level schools, one of the main things I work with is how to rethink the way you use film (and indeed any audio-visual resources you employ in the classroom). One of my clearest memories of secondary school religion class was watching seemingly endless Channel 4 documentaries on abortion in Russia. My brother attributes his love of film to watching films in every religion class in his senior cycle, and they weren't all Shawshank Redemption either! This of course led me to rethink things over the years and I'll post more on the technicalities in future weeks. In keeping with the upcoming Holy Week, I'm starting with a film that is fast becoming a staple in Religion class, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ
This film is not suitable for all students and to be honest I've never watched it myself as I'm not good with violence (or blood!). The film has an 18 cert in the UK but the Irish film classification board gave it a 15PG. The violence portrayed is harrowing and disturbing and the use of Aramaic dialogue makes it heavy going. Teachers may like to use selected scenes or chapters to illustrate some biblical passages. Various pieces of feedback over the years that I've received from teachers who use it regularly is that girls tend to like it less than male students (staying true to our stereotypes then) and most students find it very hard work-not in terms of understanding it, but coming to terms with the violence and the actual killing of Jesus. On the whole, it is a film that promotes debate and discussion and this is to be welcomed!

An interesting exercise is to try and “follow” the film using the biblical text to see the liberties the director, Mel Gibson has taken with the text. Students are usually fascinated with Gibson himself, was he really against the Jews? What kind of Roman Catholicism is he representative of? Another interesting slant is to see the prominence of women in the film, particularly Mary and tie it in with how Luke depicts the women in his Gospel as the first to spread the “good news”.

Some websites that may help:

The official site has lots of information about the cast as well as the making of the film and the background to it. You can also purchase a church resource DVD on the site (as yet only available in US format), various film merchandise, as well as free downloadable screensavers and wallpaper.

Mark Goodacre's excellent blog had a post on an interview at he SBL in 2004 with Benedict Fitzgerald, co-screenwriter, and William J. Fulco, S.J., the film's theological consultant, who was responsible for the translations to Aramaic and Latin. David Shepherd from Belfast gets favourable mention as well he should!

For some more resources you might find helpful have a look at some discussion on the anti-Semitism in the film and an interesting article on the general reaction to the film.

For copies of the DVD, I found the cheapest to be on ebay but you can try Amazon or support your local record/DVD shop!

BBC's The Passion

The BBC screened a series entitled The Passion in 2008 and has a fabulous website to provide additional information about the drama. This includes an episode guide, a photo gallery, a timeline of Jesus' last days and an interesting look at what evidence there is for the drama's portrayal of the crucifixion as well as various articles on all aspects of the Passion. The site also has an audio version of the Passion story according to the Gospel of Mark. As yet there is no indication that the BBC are showing the series next week but I wouldn't be surprised if it appears at some stage on BBC4. The DVD is also available on the BBC shop though it is temporarily out of stock. It's cheaper and in stock on Amazon.

Some of the cast of the film:
Joseph Mawle (Jesus), James Nesbitt (Pontius Pilate-see above), Paul Nicholls (Judas), Ben Daniels (Caiaphas), Penelope Wilton (Mary), Denis Lawson (Annas) and David Oyelowo (Joseph of Arimathea)

The Bible Society has a rather expensive resource pack but you'll be able to find some idea for free on the Internet! Have a look at the excellent bog by Matt Page for his comments. Mark Goodacre over on NT Gateway was an historical consultant for the film (oh what a great job!). Both blogs are a good starting point for looking at themes you can use.

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