Using Films for Justice
By Brent Gudgel
March 23, 2009
When people ask what I do for a living, I usually have a hard time responding. I used to say that I’m a film director. Now the answer is a bit more complicated.
Why? Because over 40 percent of Swaziland is infected with HIV/AIDS.
That’s not a typo. Over 40 percent. That’s the highest in the world, yet most Americans don’t even know Swaziland exists. I didn’t. So my friend Jason Djang and I ended up directing a film on the AIDS crisis in Swaziland called Dear Francis. For me, it was a story I felt a need to tell, even though it was a different type of film than I typically made.
As the finished film went out into the public, we started to get emails from random people who had never cared about poverty or AIDS and were now actively trying to show God’s love to those in need around the world. We heard from students who suddenly wanted to be doctors so they could work overseas. Youth groups told us they were raising money for AIDS orphans. And incredibly, we heard of Churches that had too many people wanting to go on their missions trips.
All because they viewed a film?
It was all so far beyond our expectations. The story we ended up capturing on film was something we never could have written or orchestrated. Some of the situations we filmed really should never have happened at all. I know God orchestrated it. And I have a feeling it was because we were talking about justice and showing compassion.
Justice and compassion.
These are two things that are dear to God’s heart. Two things Jesus talked about frequently. In fact, Jesus spoke more about justice and compassion for those in need than he did telling entertaining stories about the guy who got the girl after he saved her from pirates.
Before, I wanted to tell the stories about the guy getting the girl.
Then I saw audiences respond to a simple film done on a low budget, so now I feel compelled to tell stories about the things that God cares about.
Film is one of the best ways to shed light on injustices and get people to respond. Movies like Invisible Children, Fahrenheit 911 and the recent An Inconvenient Truth are proof that films really can be used to influence audiences.
How can we use films to promote justice?
Host a screening
Show a film in your small group to your friends, at your college or church, in a service or special event.
There are three main reasons you should show films that deal with justice issues:
The screenings can actually make a difference. They can literally help save lives.
The “unchurched” are more likely to come to a movie screening about a justice issue than a “church” event. And then they’ll want to talk about it. People think Christians don’t care about justice, but we actually do (or should). Film screenings can help change this negative perception of Christianity. Honestly, who expects a church to show a film about AIDS and then talk about how they can help?
Watching films can broaden a complacent audience’s worldview and perhaps lead them to new ways of being used by God.
But be careful. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I watch a film on a powerful subject and nothing is given to me to do to make a difference. Sometimes these films even win Oscars. It’s like we’re saying, “here’s an issue to feel bad about, but feel better about yourself because you know about it, even though you can’t do anything to help.”
Find responsible ways to get involved
Recently I went to a wonderful event that charged $20 a ticket and was packed. They showed a short film, had a discussion and some music, and all the money raised went to a non-profit in Sudan. Then people gave even more—all because their hearts were touched.
Please, please, please be responsible. I guarantee many will want to help after watching a good film. But make sure you do your research and guide them in the right direction. Make sure those organizations spend their money wisely. Make sure they are actually helping instead of making the problems worse. Just because people have good intentions doesn’t mean they’re doing good work. Do your research.
If the film is good and the cause is just, people will want to respond.
Make a film on justice
For the filmmakers in the audience—make a film on justice, in between your big Hollywood blockbusters. You can do it super low budget. Just try one film.
I used to say I was a film director. Now I want to promote justice. Film is just the means to get there.