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Looking for God at the Sundance Film Festival is an intriguing enterprise. The Festival is certainly short on Focus on the Family style films. That doesn’t mean, however, that God can’t be found lurking in shadows, alleyways and in other unsuspected places.

A lot of what Sundance is about is standing in line. Particularly, if a desired movie has generated some buzz and is showing in one of the smaller venues. This afternoon, several of the Windrider forum folks stood in line for a couple hours on the waitlist to get into see ‘The Ten’, a satiric look at the Ten Commandments that we felt would be a great platform for conversation and dialogue between our selves and others at the Festival. We never got close to getting in. Another thing Sundance is about is improvising. One wait list doesn’t pan out, jump over to the next line and hope for the best. In this case, that was the line for ‘Acidente’, a Brazilian documentary about 20 small rural Brazilian communities. This time we got in.

‘Acidente’ had no overt plot and little dialogue. It’s makers merely picked the names of 20 Brazilian towns, arranged them in a free form poem and then set out to film something of the life of that town. They showed up in each town before dawn, with no plan and let the town ‘tell them’ what to film. The result was 20 odd, spare and yet achingly beautiful segments. Whether focusing upon the play of the light and shadow cast by a lightning storm on the buildings of one town or the children of another preparing for a religious parade or several minutes of people ascending and descending a road each scene was remarkably ‘mindful.’ If the Gospels are right and God truly counts the hairs on our head or notices every sparrow that falls in the field, then a movie like this is a hint of the world through God’s eyes. Dignity and beauty lie in people, places and things that most of us fly by without thought. In a world where our business and self-absorbtion dehumanize the ‘other’ or numb us to their even existence, Acidente joyfully opens a world richly embued with beauty.

The late night movie at the Eccles, Sundance’s largest and premiere venue, posited the possibility that God can be found with the most dispised and reviled. ‘Longford,’ a British movie made in conjunction with HBO tells the complex story of one man’s, Lord Harry Longford, decades long attempt to bring compassion, forgiveness and what he believed to be justice to one of England’s most imfamous criminals, Myra Hindley, who along with her lover had murdered several children in the 1960’s. Driven by his Catholic faith to the conviction that ALL people, even those whose crimes are the most abhorent are worthy of care and mercy. In this agonizingly complex story Longford both ministers to and is manipulated by the wounded and brutal Hindley. His persistent visitations to her in prison and advocacy for her to be accorded the same possibilities of parole afforded to all criminals in England made him the object of nearly universal revilement or derision to his death in 2002. The film’s makers do not shy away from the reality of evil in Hindley’s acts or the flaws inLongford’s own character. Still, the film ultimately raises the ‘difficult and unpopular idea’ to quote the screen writer from the Q & A that followed that ALL people are capable of repentence and that ALL people deserve dignity and humanity.

At Sundance, God may not show up dressed in Sunday Best or with Sunday School familiarity, but if one is willing to keep one’s eyes open, God pops up in surprising places.

— Steve Sherwood, Windrider participant

For further information and continued conversation, go to the Windforum Film Forum.

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