By Dick Staub
Religion News Service
At the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, I saw 26 films in six days. If this festival is about storytelling, this year's big story is about our universal spiritual quest. Here are a few snapshots.
"Higher Ground" tells the true story of Carolyn Briggs, who became disillusioned with and left the Jesus movement, only to find that she missed the comforts of real community and certain belief. Director Vera Farmiga told us that Briggs didn't leave religion, but rather an "impoverished expression of the Christian religion."
"Septien" is the quirky story of eccentric, troubled but loveable brothers. An evil incident in the distant past is the cause of their madness, and a Christian prophet arrives to rid them of their demons. Screenwriter Michael Tully confessed he is not religious, but thought it would be refreshing to infuse the Christian story with, well, sincerity.
In "Abraxas," Japanese director Naoki Kato tells the story of Jonan, a teenaged punk rocker-turned-Buddhist monk. When his passion to create music returns, he has trouble reconciling it with his religion. Kato confessed that he, too, has no religion, but added, "Humans can't live without both music and spirituality."
In "The Redemption of General Butt Naked," documentarians Eric Strauss and Daniele Anastasio tell the true story of Joshua Milton Blahyi, who claims to have murdered over 20,000 during Liberia's civil war in the 1990's. After a conversion experience and a new career as an evangelist, Blahyi seeks the forgiveness of families affected by his violent past. The filmmakers follow the evangelist over five years, drawing the audience into the complexity of the man and the messiness of his redemption.
In "Position Among the Stars," filmmaker Leonard Retel Helmrich traces the lives of one Indonesian family in the slums of Jakarta. Grandmother Rumidjah is the Christian matriarch who lives in a small village and struggles with her sons Bakti and Dwi, who have both converted to Islam. Her self-centered granddaughter, Tari, is still Christian but is more influenced by Western pop culture. Grandma has invested heavily in Tari's education, but when she travels to Tari's high school graduation, the visit reveals major conflicts between traditional values and the modern world.
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From The Urantia Book:
48:7.23 "The high mission of any art is, by its illusions, to foreshadow a higher universe reality, to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity. "