Monday, May 17, 2010

Bible and Film-Films that Retell Biblical Stories

I've been meaning to post a bit more on the wide subject of Bible and Film for a while now-it's such a large, and in my mind, underdeveloped side of teaching the Bible that it really needs some serious consideration. One thing that I’ve learned from giving second level in-services and teaching in a teacher training college for primary school teachers is that teachers are much more able to use multimedia in the classroom (times have moved on from no one being able to work the video machine in my day) but they’re not being given enough resources to use them.
In part of my workshop with the School Chaplains’ Association of Ireland in November 2009, I talked about the three ways you can use films in discussing biblical themes in the classroom. Have a look them in the selection of the PowerPoint slides I used during the workshop.

I’ll start with the easiest which is Films that Retell Biblical Stories:

Some of most ♥ loved ♥ and some you might not have thought of using-for example only one of the participants in the workshop had used Life of Brian (and he got a gold star for being brave!

Exodus (2007, 15 Cert)

Exodus transposes the events of the biblical tale to Margate of a dystopian future in which a Pharaoh dictatorial leader has declared war upon society's 'undesirables'. Drug abusers, refugees, criminals and the homeless are all considered equally worthless and entered into a restricted ghetto where they cannot leave. When Moses learns he was adopted by Pharaoh and is actually the son of an asylum seeker, he shuns his life of privilege to lead the ghetto's inhabitants in a revolt against his father.

An excellent film that was first shown on Channel 4. It shows how the biblical text is not only relevant today but in the future (the treatment of the Israelites in Egypt, compared to the treatment of asylum seekers today and in the future). The “parting of waters” scene is useful to start debate-where is God featured (if at all) in the scene? Does the water actually have redemptive, cleansing qualities rather than just being used for harm?

Buy the DVD

The Prince of Egypt (1999, U Cert)
The film was nominated for 2 Oscars in 1999 and won the Oscar for Best Music, Original Song. The lyrics for the song ("When You Believe" sung by the formidable duo of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey (which is sung at the end of the film in full) contains a section sung by a child in Hebrew-these are verses 1, 11 and 13 from Chapter 15 of the Book of Exodus.

And if you think the song sounds familiar, it was sung by the winner of the “X Factor” on ITV1, Leon Jackson. And no, the Hebrew wasn’t included on that release!

The film is a good overview of the Exodus event in general but also can be used as an exercise on comparing the biblical text and the film’s interpretation of it. Chapter 25 of the DVD on the parting of the Red Sea is especially useful. Firstly to get a sense of the magnitude of the event but also to see how it compares to Exodus 15 (The Song at the Sea). The Director’s commentary on the scene is useful here.

Joseph, King of Dreams (2000, G Cert)

Yes, Ben Affleck is the voice of Joseph (don’t let that put you off!). This “sequel” to The Prince of Egypt tells the story of the Joseph from the book of Exodus. There’s not a lot to debate here but for weaker groups who have difficulty in grasping the context of the biblical stories it is an excellent tool. Also helpful if you want to avoid anything about Technicolor dreamcoats. (if you cannot resist the sing-along!)

The Nativity Story
 (2007, PG Cert)

This in an excellently produced and directed film released in 2006 that retells the Nativity to the point of the flight to Egypt. In general it is a good all round film which helps students understand that the stable wasn’t Ye Olden Times Holiday Inn and a more realistic portrait of the characters. I’ve successfully used it to debate the Catholic view of Mary (The actress playing her, Keisha Castle-Hughes, is never seen without full make-up and a serene smile) and I use it with the class discussion included in my presentation on Advent. One word of warning-make sure you use this DVD in a room you can darken easily-most key scenes take place in darkness and it’s sometimes hard to make sure everyone can see what’s going on!
There are very good high-res stills from the movie for download

The Life of Brian (1979, 15 Cert)

A motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world. And severely annoy the other third.

But it’s funny. And that has to be a good thing! The excellent depiction of the Sermon on the Mount (DVD Chapter 3) is a good starting point for the great discussion of “Is everything in the Bible true then?” Maybe Jesus really did say “blessed are the cheesemakers”! It is an excellent example of how oral traditions have passed on the “words” of Jesus and how the biblical text may have a shifted idea of what Jesus said. Check out the clip below but be warned about rather un-biblical language.

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