Happy New Year, Reel Spirituality readers. We hope your holiday season was a joyful one. As 2016 begins, we want to give you a preview of what you’ll be seeing on our site in the next twelve months.
If you’ve been a reading out website for a number of years now, you’re aware that we feature five key kinds of content – articles, reviews, a podcast, film study guides, and material on television shows. As always, we’re constantly looking for ways to use this website to better serve Fuller students, filmmakers, the wider theology and art community, and you, our readers, better. This year, we’ll be changing what we feature in a few key areas and continuing production unabated in the others.
We use our Articles section to encourage the continues development of the academic discipline of theology and film. We commission articles from writers we admire in hopes of encouraging their scholarship and expanding out readers’ understanding of the broad spectrum of thought on theology and film. In past years, we’ve been pleased to feature Bob Davidson, Craig Detweiler, Tommy Givens, Gareth Higgins, J.R. Daniel Kirk, Eric Kuiper, Josh Larsen, Peter Malone, Kevin Marks, Ed McNulty, Mark Moring, Jeffrey Overstreet, Sister Rose Pacatte, Avril Speaks, Barry Taylor, and Alissa Wilkinson to name a few (alphabetically by last name). In the past we’ve commission series from a few of these writers, picked up single articles here and there as we’ve seen them write things we particularly like, and, especially in the early years, we’ve been grateful for the work they’ve shared with us. There is a wealth of scholarship in our archives.
First, this year we have decided to commission two writers—Avril Speaks and Sister Nancy Usselmann—to each write a monthly series focused on a particular topic. Avril Speaks, an accomplished filmmaker and teacher, is writing a series on what filmmakers who are Christians should consider as they decide which stories to tell in their films. Sr. Nancy, the new Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, will be doing a twelve-part series on becoming cultural mystics.
Chapters in these series will post monthly, and you’ll be able to read the entirety of the series on our website throughout 2016. At then end of the year, we’ll take these series off our website, and after some revision, we’ll publish them in the first of what we hope will be a series of short books exploring the world of theology and film. We are thrilled that these two brilliant women from two different perspectives have agreed to help us launch this series.
Second, in hopes of exposing our readers to new writers, of encouraging further scholarship in the discipline of theology and art, and of highlighting a variety of theological and cultural approaches to cinema, we’ve put out a call for submissions for a series of twelve articles all addressing the same question. We will select twelve proposals and feature them monthly. More information about that call can be found here. Currently, we have accepted one proposal. The call will remain open until we accept twelve.
The observant reader will note that those articles only fill up three weeks of the month. For the other week, either we’ll feature something else our team is working on, we’ll feature an article submitted to us by one of our many friends, or one of us co-directors will write an editorial on a current issue in the world of cinema. This is that article for January. In February, we’ll feature the 2015 Reel Spirituality Top 10 Films of 2015. Calvary and Boyhood topped the list without difficulty last year. Will any film run away with it this year? We’ll see.
Our Reviews section is where we interact explicitly with current films. Last year, we published 132 reviews by 11 different critics. Publication of reviews will continue as it has in recent years. We have as good a staff of Practicing Critics as ever, so be on the lookout for their reviews every Wednesday. These reviews will be augmented by opening day reviews from me, plus festival coverage from Sundance, the Dallas International Film Festival, South By Southwest, the Denver International Film Festival, and perhaps one or two more festivals. (The Fiske Fulldome Film Festival was a highlight for me last year.)
Also, every year yields a new slate of Sundance reviews from students in our class with the Windrider Forum. If you haven’t before, pop over to our Sundance section for four years-worth of theological interactions with independent films from Fuller students, and be on the lookout for new reviews immediately after the festival this year.
The RS Podcast
The Reel Spirituality Podcast is produced in partnership with the filmmakers who are students at Fuller and who have recently graduated. The RS Podcast provides a structured space for them to research and discuss aspects of cinema not naturally facilitated by their theological studies. I produce the podcast, but they determine the topics we discuss. For you, our listeners, the podcast is a window into the faith and film community at Fuller Seminary.
This coming winter, spring, and summer, we’ll be featuring discussions surrounding the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, “exit interviews” with the students who are graduating this spring, a host of series on a variety of topics, as well as occasional forays into our thoughts on the movies in cinemas “now.” Thank you for listening, and we hope the next one hundred and fourteen episodes of the RS Podcast are as fun as the first one hundred and fourteen.
Periodically, we produce Study Guides for you to use in your youth or small group. Each series focuses on a different studio, genre, series, or season. We hope you find them helpful.
One of the most exciting things we have in development is a sequel to Drs. Johnston and Barsotti’s revered book Finding God in the Movies. A group of us are working on a follow-up volume covering some of the most theologically significant films of the past thirty-five years. As before, the book will be full of reflections, discussion and clip questions, and bonus material to help you plan your next small group movie night. In addition, we’re writing a handful of bonus chapters specifically for the Reel Spirituality website. Think of them as deleted scenes from the larger book. The book will be released in 2017. Be on the lookout for those bonus chapters later this year.
All that we call television—broadcast, streaming, YouTube, and the like—is an increasingly important part of our cinema-watching lives. There is more cinema produced for these mediums and more ways to watch it every year. We’re trying to keep up as best we can by covering what we can when we can. Our Television section is an ongoing experiment to figure out we can cover theology and television well.
Last year, Dr. Kutter Callaway began teaching a new class at Fuller Seminary – Theology and Television. Dr. Callaway and Dean Batali have a corresponding book due out later this year. We’re developing a series of resources to both augment that class and book and serve as open resources for you as you think theologically about the television you are watching. This series of resources is being developed by Avril Speaks, Matthew Pittman, Richard Goodwin, and myself. We’re excited to share this work with you soon.
So, that’s everything we have in the works for 2016. We hope you enjoy it and are informed by it. Mostly, we hope the way you watch and talk about movies and television shows helps you know God and love your neighbor better.