Sundance Dispatch #1: Into the Noise, Out of The Troubles

Josh Larsen

I've been at the Sundance Film Festival for about 24 hours, and can already confirm what I've long known: God moves through movies, and through the people who love them.

These are the sort of folks I'm surrounded by, not only at the festival in general but also within the learning group of which I'm a part. Into the Noise has been traveling to Sundance, South By Southwest and ArtPrize for several years now, offering a small group of Christians the opportunity to thoughtfully consider the creative arts while in community. On our first evening together, director Eric Kuiper encouraged us to "meet the filmmaker" where he or she is at, rather than bring our own cultural, religious or personal baggage to the film. He also spoke about the three stories that come together when we watch a film: the film's story, our story and the collective (cultural) story in which we find ourselves. The films that hit you in the gut, Kuiper said, are the ones in which those three stories overlap and start "humming the same tune."

I'd add one more element to that picture: God's story. This isn't to say every film must be held up against the litmus test of Scripture or only considered worthwhile depending on how directly it addresses issues of faith. It is, rather, to recognize that God's story encompasses all there is - including the stories of filmmakers who put no stock in Him - and so it's worth searching for echoes of the Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration in everything we see.

God moves through movies, and through the people who love them.

Much of the Fall could be felt in '71, which a group of us took in last night after our initial Into the Noise gathering. A jittery thriller set amidst The Troubles, '71 features rising star Jack O'Connell (Unbroken, Starred Up) as a British soldier who gets left behind in a Catholic stronghold of Belfast after a riot. Caught in between undercover British agents and IRA agitators - and the conflicting loyalties within even those two groups - he becomes a pawn in an increasingly senseless cycle of violence. As director Yann Demange said in the post-screening Q&A, the picture captures an "unfortunate tendency in human behavior."

Some of us might call that original sin. And we might see - in the eventual, peaceful political resolution of the conflict - a hint of restoration. Lest I overplay that card though, I should note something else Kuiper brought up on our first night. He encouraged us to strike a balance in our viewing as Christians, to neither "over-spiritualize" or "under-spirtualize" the films we see. That's good advice, if sometimes hard to follow. In my movie pieces here at TC I'm always trying to find that elusive middle ground, hoping to tease out the theological resonance of a film without hijacking it for my own purposes. I've got three films to watch yet today. To see how I do, follow along.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure