More than a year ago a call went out to US filmmakers who may not have thought about religious cooperation before to produce short films on the same issues facing those working for Christian unity. It was billed as "the first ever Oikumene Film Festival to promote exploration of visual media as a form of ecumenical expression."
Eight films were chosen for screening at this week's (19-23 July 2007) National Council of Churches (NCCUSA) USA's Faith and Order Commission conference, "On Being Christian Together."
At Friday night's screening, Dr R. M. Keelan Downton, post-doctoral fellow at NCCUSA's Faith and Order Commission, acknowledged this was an experiment to see what theologian-artists or artist-theologians might be able to do in the video medium.
The film festival was Downton's idea. His experience as a media intern at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Tipp City, Ohio, suggested there might be some contributors out there looking for a place to share their work.
Several of the nearly 300 ecumenists at the conference attended the screenings. Admittedly, most of those in the lecture hall/screening room were from among the 100 college students, seminarians and doctoral candidates attending the conference.
The younger crowd was delighted with a four-minute production, "One Body, Many Parts," by Alice Rose. She introduced her film as being a "community effort" of an upstate New York congregation (Christ United Methodist Church, Troy, NY) using the Apostle Paul's description of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
Employing many readers of different ages and genders the script is Scripture only. It is familiar to Christians--the ear cannot be an eye, the foot cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," etc. As the Bible is heard the audience is seeing images of human puppets costumed as ears, eyes, nose, mouth or hands. The feet were two sneakers, one blue and the other red, that fit completely over an adult body with only the head protruding.
The choreography - dancing hands and moving feet - the editing, and Paul's familiar words, all brought applause as the credits rolled by revealing the filmmaker's description of "a community effort" to be something of an understatement.
Another entry, "Nicea," was produced and directed Nick Lacy and David Sanchez. Lacy said the two young men from California have now started a video ministry to tell stories in this powerful medium. They attempted to visually capture the divisions surrounding the Council of Nicea and the impact of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.
An intersting contribution came from Arion M. Lillard, a seminary student at Christian Theological Seminary in Indiana. Titled, "Contemplation of Death," it was a one woman performance dealing with a life issue that came up in Lillard's seminary training.
The name of the film festival, "Oikumene," was selected because of its historic connection to the ecumenical movement. It is a Greek word meaning, "the whole inhabited earth" that was used to describe ancient Christian councils and gave rise in the late sixteenth century to the English word "ecumenical" to refer to the worldwide Christian Church.
This connection is appropriate since the conference itself is a historic occasion commemorating the birth of the modern US Faith and Order movement at Oberlin in 1957.
More information on NCC's Faith and Order work and on the Oberlin conference may be found online at http://www.ncccusa.org/about/unityhome.html.
The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America's Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and traditional peace churches. Those member denominations represent 45 million Christians in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.