Zach Steensma—Staff Writer
Earlier this month, Dordt College welcomed film critic Josh Larsen to campus as part of the Andreas Center’s First Monday Speaker Series.
Larsen is the author of the book Movies Are Prayers: How Films Voice Our Deepest Longings. During the talk, Larsen argued that movies, like other mediums of art, can challenge audiences by presenting truth—and questions—about the human condition.
“Movies are our way of telling God what we think about this world and our place in it,” says Larsen in his book. “I’d like to suggest that they can also be prayers.”
Different types of prayers like confession, lament, praise and joy serve different functions. This is similar to the world of film. Different genres of movies express the innermost desires of the human heart.
Dordt College has an interesting history with the cinematic arts. Throughout the early-to mid-20th Century, the Reformed church struggled to reconcile established theology and traditions with this particular sphere of culture amidst the rise of visual entertainment and other amusements.
Eventually, film culture reached Northwest Iowa, much to the dismay of some residents—namely, former Dordt College president Reverend B. J. Haan. He once described movies as a “hindrance to the Kingdom of God and enemy of Christ” in a 1948 LIFE Magazine article.
The article described the City Council’s decision to reject a movement that would shut down the local theatre.
Since then, Dordt College has established its own Digital Media department and film studies courses, one of only a handful of Christian Colleges to do so. Earlier this year, Dordt hosted the annual Prairie Grass Film Challenge for the 13th consecutive year.
Ironically enough, the awards ceremony is held in the BJ Haan auditorium.
“Some movies don’t have enough substance to be prayers of longing,” said Dordt Digital Media professor Mark Volkers about Larsen’s thesis. “They have enough in them to be entertaining, and that’s okay. But many movies are a longing of the heart, or a cry or a plea. Through the story, we connect with the characters and recognize touch points with our own lives.”
Later in the evening, Larsen, who is also co-host of the podcast “Filmspotting” and writer and editor for the online magazine “Think Christian,” led an interactive screening of the 2010 Coen Brother’s Western “True Grit.”
Using audience input, Larsen dissected a number of shots, scenes and sequences, explaining how they fit under the broader theme of confession—once again arguing that even a movie like “True Grit,” which is not explicitly a “Christian” movie, can still speak to deeper truth. In this case, the movie acts as a prayer of confession.
Seventy years after Sioux Center’s infamous anti-movie campaign, it would appear as though film culture is alive, well and even thriving at Dordt College.