For feature film directors, the parables are also too short. Whilst occasionally you get someone like Richard Thorpe who makes a film like The Prodigal, few writers find much merit in padding out Jesus's ultra-short stories into a 90 minute movie. The Prodigal manifestly failed to inspire other filmmakers to do likewise, and with good reason. If modern-day filmmakers have even attempted to re-tell these stories they've kept it short, and usually animated. In other words most filmmakers either think better of it and do something else, or they press on and make a turkey. Or a cartoon.
So, as you can probably tell, my initial hopes for Modern Parables, a series of short, live-action, films based on six of Jesus's stories, were not particularly high. Thankfully, this series has bucked this disappointing trend. It's obvious from the packaging that the producers of this series have a great love for what they're doing and a determination to deliver the best product that they can. It's, no doubt, why the film is shot is lush high definition, why the cinematography is so involving, and why it manages to imbue many of the films with such emotion, and a sense of significance that befits the material.
Next up is Samaritan. Perhaps the most atmospheric of the lot, in parts it's almost entirely silent but is complemented by a moving strings sound track. Whilst it would have been near impossible to completely hide the twist, it's bold enough to put an evangelical Christian doctor in the role of the bad guy and a Arabic newspaper reading taxi-driver in the role of hero.
Similarly bold is its attempt to make sense of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager. It's one of those stories that has left many a theologian scratching his head over the years, trying their best to wade through a mire of unsatisfactory explanations. This version's strength is that it avoids over-interpreting the story. It's such a difficult parable to unravel 2000 years after it was originally uttered that the film simply opts to limit its interpretation to translating the story into a modern context. It also refuses to make its leading anti-hero more wholesome. The lack of a sympathetic character means that it's a less likeable film as a whole, but it's an honest presentation of what we find in the text. The result is that, for me at least, the parable really came alive for the first time. It's so good to see a Christian film that respects its audience's intelligence enough to leave them to figure it out for themselves rather than trying to force on them any one particular understanding.
With The Sower the producers tried something a little more daring, no doubt because the Parable of the Sower is not really a parable at all but an extended metaphor. Instead of dramatising the story, it's a documentary based on an interview with a modern day grain farmer. Unfortunately this adventurous move doesn't really come off. Whilst it's one of the best-looking films in the series, the interviewee doesn't really hold the audience's attention. The concept behind this particular short means it is utterly reliant on a charismatic and engaging lead, and when he doesn't quite deliver, the film withers for lack of deep enough soil.
Each film is accompanied by a talk of around the same length and, like the shorts themselves, each takes its own approach. They'll work well for groups that enjoy an expert-listener model of learning whilst those who prefer straight out discussion make want to head straight for the material provided with the set.
But it's the individual films that are, rightly, this series' biggest attraction. The website for Modern Parables states that they want "to re-create the emotional immediacy that Jesus’ 1st-century audience felt when hearing the parables". And more often than not, they succeed.