The marketing for the film (including quite an interesting TV ad) suggested that the film would primarily be concerned with the relationship between film-makers and the church over the last 100 years and this was certainly the main thrust of the documentary. After a brief introduction, presenter Robert Beckford took us back to the start of the film industry and charted the relationship between these two bodies across the last century.
One of the biggest strengths of the film was how it skilfully wove together an overview of the history of the main biblical films with the confrontation that accompanied them to give the programme a strong narrative arc which was far more engaging than that of other similar documentaries such as The Bible According to Hollywood which plod far more formulaically from epic to epic, without having much fresh information to impart.
Another of the strengths of the documentary was the impressive range of interviewees. The marketing had focussed on just four of them: Martin Scorsese, Willem Dafoe, Terry Gilliam and Robert Powell. In fact though there were somewhere in the region of 30 interviewees, from 4 main camps, directors, actors, film critics and Christians. Obviously there is a good deal of overlap here, but from memory the list included the following:
George Stevens' Son
Larry Marshall (Simon Zealotes in Jesus Christ Superstar)
Rich Cline (Radio 5)
Kenneth Turan (LA Times)
Peter Malone (author "Movie Christs and Anti-Christs")
W. Barnes Tatum (author "Jesus at the Movies")
...Plus at least a couple of others from US dailies...and me
Ted Baehr (Movie Guide)
Bob Waliszewski (Focus on the Family)
...plus a number of others from newer and more traditional churches
There are quite a few I've not been able to recall, and won't be able to dig out exacat numbers and all names until I get the chance to watch this again. However, the interview snippets certainly added to the structure of the film, and many of the comment were insightful and helped develop the narrative, rather than simply having a handful of celebs repeating the same inane comments in order to make the show more appealing, as is often the case with programmes like this.
Another strength of the documentary was Robert Beckford whose presence alone gives the film theological credibility and cultural relevance at the same time, and is an ideal choice for a film seeking to weld those two aspects together. He also seemed to represent the middle ground between those Christians on the one hand that are now seeking just to do their own thing, and film industry potentially leaving bible films alone for the foreseeable future, and his pleas for Hollywood to keep making them were a particularly effective way to end the film. That said, whilst I share his concern that Hollywood might leave the bible to the Evangelicals to get on with filming, there have been a number of films commissioned since then, and I suspect that The Passion of the Christ will have made Hollywood realise that their is money to be made here again. The real plea needs to be to film-makers who are primarily making films for the sake of art, rather than profit. It was also a shame that Christian film critics seeking to take a more dialogical approach with the cinema (such as the Faith and Film Critics' Circle) didn't really feature in the discussion towards the end of the programme.
There were a few surprises as well. I for one, was amazed to hear about an Indian Jesus film called Dayasagar which was unknown to me previously (picture right). It fulfils a similar role in India to that of the Jesus film, although from the brief few snippets we were shown it was obvious that it is much more relevant to Indian culture than Jesus. If anyone has seen, or knows where I can hold of a copy I'd be very pleased to find out.
Finally, I should comment on my parts. There were two brief shots of me - a sound-bite on Intolerance (1916) and another on The Ten Commandments (1956). I was greatly relieved not to have mumbled, been heretical, ugly, excluded at the last minute, said something foolish or quoted out of context, and fairly pleased at what I said. I was surprised at the bits they used though. I didn't remember saying much about Intolerance and thought that they would have plenty of other material for The Ten Commandments. I also recognised part of the script as being similar to an article I wrote back in 2004. Given that the publication I wrote the article for never used it, it was nice to see the work I put into it bearing fruit.
Overall then it was well worth watching, and I was very happy to have been part of it. If you live in the UK, and missed it, you'll be pleased to know there is a repeat showing at 1:40 am on Saturday Morning (22nd April).