Sundance Gives Students New Perspective on Faith in Films

May. 18, 2011 By Harmony Wheeler

Directors, producers and actors gather every year to view and discuss upcoming blockbusters and independent films at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. For Biola University film students, there’s more to the festival than big names and movies — the festival becomes a spiritual experience.

“Experiencing Sundance allows students to take part in a cinematic conversation taking place in our culture and to form a theological response to the hunger, the hurt and the cries for justice, mercy and hope that are embedded in the films they see,” said Peggy Rupple, manager of special projects for Biola’s Cinema & Media Arts department.

Biola sent 20 students to Sundance in January. The students were given class credit for attending film screenings, class sessions and question and answer sessions with the producers, directors and actors of the films appearing at Sundance.

“You wake up and your whole life revolves around film and seminars five or six days,” said film student Adeboye Fajinmi, who has attended several film festivals including Sundance.

Rupple said students are often surprised to find that many of the films have spiritual undertones with characters that long for truth, beauty and redemption.

“There are more films addressing faith than ever,” Rupple said.

After viewing films, students unpack what they saw and explore the deeper meanings of the films. Students also participate in the Windrider Forum, which features a dialogue on faith and film, as well as the best of the Angelus Awards, one of the world’s largest student film festivals.

Christians can find the beauty of Christ in the worst films, Fajinmi said. He said he wants to make touching films, but he doesn’t see himself making Christian films.

“Beautiful films cause people to think, whether or not that’s Christian,” Fajinmi said.  “Life is a journey and I want to create honest reflections of life.”

Fajinmi said that such films leave thousands of people who attend Sundance more open to discussion about faith.

The festival has affected Fajinmi’s own faith, as well.

“Looking at my life and seeing God just draw me here and to know my desires have morphed and changed, it’s affirmation you get, not from yourself, but others,” Fajinmi said. “I know right now I have a passion and desire to do this and be here. And at the end of the day Christ is at the center of what you’re doing. You are called.”

Sundance helped spark that passion. Fajinmi said he leaves the festival refueled, excited about making films and confident that God has called him to the film industry.

A collaborative effort among The Priddy Brothers, Angelus Student Film Festival and Fuller Theological Seminar, the Windrider Film Forums seek to create an immersive educational environment that inspires conversations between film makers and film lovers. Biola students have been attending the forums for seven years.

For more information on Biola's Cinema & Media Arts department, visit http://undergrad.biola.edu/academics/majors/cinema-media-arts/. 

Written by Harmony Wheeler. Jenna Bartlo, Media Relations Coordinator can be reached at (562) 777-4061 or through email at jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu.

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