Today’s featured film critic is Jacob Sahms from ChristianCinema.com. With 133 films to choose from, he selected his top three. We’re extremely honored to have Providence included in his favorites.
After watching 133 films in 2016, I’ve found myself digging through the list to see which films were the ‘best.’ In my opinion, all films should entertain, exhibiting solid storytelling, acting, production, and vision – and even films I don’t care for are able to do most if not all of these. Having considered all of the films from the Christian market that I saw last year, the three that stood out to me were films that didn’t require checking my notes: these three films caught my attention as I watched and wouldn’t leave my mind for days, even weeks, after I saw them.
The Insanity of God
While I am not much of a documentary fan, the story of missionary Nik Ripken’s experience in Kentucky, Africa, and several communist countries captivated me. The Insanity of God recounts how the Ripkens were called out of their rural home in Kentucky to follow God’s will, how they lost their son tragically, and how their faith was restored through their continued service as missionaries around the world.
While many documentaries stick to pushing still images onto the screen with various first-person interviews interspersed, resembling more study lecture than motion picture, The Insanity of God allows the audience to catch glimpses of the Ripkens’ life in the past, hear from them in the present, and experience what their interactions were like thanks to dramatized scenes from their lives. This is entertaining, but there’s a palpable tension that the film conveys to the true-life Ripkens as well.
While the story is historical (because it happened), I found it inspirational as a Christian and pastor as well, having faced moments where I wondered what call God was putting on my life. Ripken says, “Now, I’m in deeper danger, because the Bible is coming alive. Satan had tricked me into believing that the Bible was an old book, with things that God used to do. And here I was experiencing the Bible in the present tense, with the things God did coming alive.” The compelling story, and its complex integration of interviews, narration, and dramatization puts this one in my notable list for 2016.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film like Providence. The artful way that the film is dialogue-free and driven by its acting and soundtrack instead, showed me something that I haven’t seen in a film, of any kind, ever. Imagine the latest film you’ve seen without any words. Who conveyed the meaning and purpose with a look or a movement? Who was strong enough in their acting skills, or whose scene was set to the degree that you would have understood the depth of meaning otherwise? In the star-crossed love of Rachel and Mitchell, no words need to be spoken.
While I’m aware that the Wilharms have done this before, it is the kind of film that does things so differently, that it merits critical attention even if the story wouldn’t sell itself (and it does). In a world where cinematography and production are enough to win Oscars for Best Picture (Gravity, Birdman, etc.) Providence is just the kind of ‘different’ that everyone should see and consider.
Beyond the production/style of Providence, the story of unrequited love and ultimate restoration stands as an alternative to the way that romantic films often push erotic love to the detriment of filial or platonic loves. Yes, we understand that there is attraction between our two stars, but their experience of God and community make this a pure, sweet story with Scriptural undertones. It’s a prime example of a film that cares about story and style, refusing to ignore one for the other.
The Young Messiah
As a pastor, I am always looking for new ways, or angles, to tell the stories that we share from the Bible. The stories are true to our church experience, but to fully reap the lessons and inspiration they share, we must examine and re-examine them. Some of this speaks to our desire to know more and more from God; some of this comes from our 21st century attention span: we tend to get bored!
With The Young Messiah, the audience sees a story of what Jesus’ adolescence might have been like in the passage from Egypt back to Jerusalem. This is an ‘extrabiblical’ story; that is to say, this story could have happened but we don’t have any historical/scriptural truth that it occurred like this. Here, a beautifully acted translation of what might have been allows us to consider what impact the early life of Jesus would have had on his adult ministry.
Too often in extrabiblical films (or stories or sermons!) the spirit of the people included is changed to meet some agenda within the storyteller’s vision for the project. In The Young Messiah, there’s little for the most literal critic to nitpick, and the story seems organic to what we experience of the Jesus in Scripture. In the end, the audience is left with a beautiful story arc that brings additional weight to the scriptural Jesus we already know. Set in a time past, it allows us to recognize the timeless truths, challenge what we may have considered (or not) before, and inspire us to truly believe.