In late January, I experienced my YL Training Timeline class at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City UT. One day as I waited in line for my 3rd film of the day, the person next to me leaned over and asked, “Are you a filmmaker?” I laughed, “Me? Nope! I’m here with Young Life staff for training!” Another “Only in Young Life” moment.
A group of 15 YL staff joined 250 Students from 22 Organizations, Seminaries, and Universities for a week of looking at the intersection of Faith and Film through conversations with each other Directors, Producers, Screenwriters and Actors. It was amazing and so instrumental in equipping me in my day to day work with kids. Robert Redford is credited with starting the festival in 1985 believing that “society relies on storytellers”. Over the last several decades, the chance to share your story at Sundance has become a filmmaker’s dream. Over the course of the Festival over 40,000 people descend on Park City,UT (pop. 8,378). This year, there was an astonishing 14,259 film submissions, of which only a select 112 feature-length films were chosen! The filmmakers are truly cultural theologians in how they identify longing, brokenness, need, and hope. One short film “Period. End of Sentence” was founded by a high school, listing a bake sale and yogathons as funding in the end credits. It felt like “us,” how we’ll do whatever it takes to fundraise get a kid to camp.
So….how did we end up there? The Windrider Forum gathers a group of believers at the Festival to explore faith in the midst of culture’s primary form of storytelling - film. The group was named after the Hebrew word ‘ruach’, meaning “wind” or “spirit.” The class was engaging, challenging and informative. Truly, the Sundance Film Festival may be one of the last cultural events that allow the YL Staffer to truly be 1 step ahead of the culture. We were challenged to have eyes to see and ears to hear where the Spirit of God was moving as we watched.
“Filmmakers are the poets and sages of our time” was a mantra we kept hearing. Each filmmaker risks to say something, to tell a story, to ask a question about real issues – mental illness, the death penalty, race, immigration, disability. And yet so many directors paint the world as they see it – broken, dark, unjust, without any sign of hope. The average Netflix user watches 71 minutes per day….numbing, consuming, grasping for something, being spoon-fed some version of truth. When I think about my Young Life kids’ learning about life through a screen, it doesn’t seem fair, it’s not the whole story, it’s not often a complete picture.
One film called “Gaza,” showed raw and broken snapshots of daily life in a war-torn streets of the Gaza Strip. I was trying to have eyes to find a glimmer of hope amidst scenes of wreckage, but I struggled. Another YL staffer later said, “You know, they have Young Life in Gaza.” Young Life in Gaza!! I got tears in my eyes, there it is: hope! God’s writing a way bigger story sending light onto the streets of the Gaza strip.
So we wrestled with questions - how can we, as believers, become redemptive storytellers? How do not only be students of students but also be students of the culture? It’s what YL does so well, we go into the world of kids. What if we watched with a different lens – looking for hope? Then we would truly have a message worth seeing and sharing.
Keep an eye out:
Some of our favorite films to look out for include “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” “The Farewell,” “Luce,” and “Moonlight Sinata.” Missed it this year? No fear, you should save the date for the next year it is offered.
Written by: Kaitlyn Ousley (firstname.lastname@example.org)