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Idol Chatter

Edgy, independent, artsy. Over the past 25 years, the Sundance Film Festival has become the place to discover new talent and launch original films. From first-time filmmakers searching for their big break to established stars seeking “indie” credibility, thousands of filmgoers descend upon Park City, Utah, for 10 days of cinematic bliss. Sundance, an invigorating blend of art and commerce, has sparked surprising phenomena, from “The Blair Witch Project” to Oscar contender “Little Miss Sunshine.”

One word rarely associated with Sundance is “spiritual.”

Yet, the best independent films offer profound depictions of the human condition. They ask ultimate questions about equality and injustice. Like the biblical prophets, Sundance filmmakers report from the margins, focusing their cameras upon overlooked outsiders. Voices emerge from victims of abuse in China, Uganda, and Iraq. Indie filmmakers often court controversy, wrestling with gay rights and holy wars. While Hollywood films offer reassurance and happy endings, independent films often comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

For the next week, I’ll be leading a coalition of students from Fuller Theological Seminary and Biola University–and blogging here in Idol Chatter about the experience. The WindRider Forum brings together future filmmakers and ministers to join the cultural conversation surrounding Sundance. We’ll have almost 100 correspondents crisscrossing the festival, reviewing movies, highlighting the most moving, relevant, and even spiritual.

We’ll gather each morning at Park City’s Mountain Vineyard Christian Fellowship as a class, to compare notes before fanning out in search of the next Quentin Tarantino or Steven Soderbergh. We’ll also be looking for unexpected, breakout hits like “Whale Rider” and “Napoleon Dynamite.” The more insightful and original films at Sundance are often documentaries like “Super Size Me,” “March of the Penguins,” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” We’ll view films with an eye toward their spiritual themes and theological possibilities.

We’ll also feature plenty of celebrity sightings. Sundance offers unparalleled access to stars and filmmakers. Last time, I bumped into Steve Buscemi (in the photo above, he’s on the left, I’m on the right), exactly the kind of gritty, original and slightly off center celebrity who drives the slate at Sundance. Buscemi stars in two films premiering this weekend that comment upon celebrity culture. In “Delirious,” Buscemi plays a paparazzo, angling for photographs of the famous. In “Interview,” he portrays a serious journalist assigned to cover a soap opera star (played by Sienna Miller, no stranger to the gossip columns).

Between appearances in Hollywood fare like “The Island,” Buscemi is quietly directing his own movies that deal with the darker side of life. He capitalizes upon his celebrity within Hollywood, to make smaller, personal films (that comment upon their own dilemmas) like “Interview.”

If the biblical Proverbs offer a prescription for how to make life work, Buscemi and the Sundance filmmakers offer stories closer to Job or Ecclesiastes. What happens when we don’t get a happy ending? When things don’t work out? These are life’s greatest questions and artists’ enduring source material. Sundance is fueled by both our dreams and disappointments. Our WindRider Forum crew will navigate Sundance in search of an elusive but essential hope.

Check back here regularly to read about the experience.

–Posted by Craig Detweiler

Craig Detweiler is a screenwriter and director of the Reel Spirituality Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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