OK – you’ve got accurate expectations for your film night, and after much agonising you’ve chosen the film to use. What’s next?
The next step is to decide the format of the evening – in other words, other than showing the film, what will happen over the course of the evening? How can you encourage those there to start engaging with the film’s big themes?
There are several formats that can all be utilised. To an extent, the format you choose will influence the outcome and nature of discussion over the evening.
1. Someone gives a talk after the film
This would be most similar to the traditional ‘epilogue’ at the end of an evening. A key theme or idea from the film can be presented with a Christian perspective. This can work well – I can, for instance, think of one event where Gran Torino was showed, and where the speaker winsomely compared and contrasted Walt’s sacrifice with Jesus’ own sacrifice. If this approach is used, the key thing is to keep the message short (I’d say 10 minutes maximum) and to illustrate every point from the film (if possible). The downside of this approach is that it stifles discussion, and if the speaker is not very used to this type of event, the links to the Christian worldview can be quite tenuous.
2. Before the film, give hints for certain things to look out for
In this approach, the audience are encouraged to look out for a certain theme or themes before the film even starts. This heightens awareness of these themes as the film is shown. At the end of the film, the audience can be encouraged to share what they noticed about the theme, and whether or not they agree with the film’s portrayal of this theme. For instance, a group could show Man On Wire – before the film is shown, they could be asked to look out for the film’s portrayal of beauty, or ambition, or fulfilment. This can work effectively, particularly for groups that are not used to discussing films. However, be aware that groups will vary in their ability to spot themes (naturally, some will pick up the subtleties more than others). Sometimes it’s hard to tell people what to look out for without inadvertently given a spoiler. Additionally, if a person feels most moved by another theme in the film, there is little or no opportunity to discuss it afterwards.
3. Allow time for open discussion after the film
This is my preferred method for a film night. The film is shown, people are encouraged to stay around and to discuss scenes, items and themes that have particularly struck them from the film. Discussions can be structured (where a group leader goes it with a specific set of questions) or more unstructured (where more open questions are used). I’ll write more on this in posts to come, but it seems to me that almost any group – regardless of their experience – can profitably use these questions:
- What was your initial reaction to the film? What was it that prompted this reaction?
- What impressed you most about the film? (this could be the plot, script or screenplay, an acting performance, film making technique, cinematography, soundtrack etc.)
- Did any part of the film stand out to you as particularly meaningful or powerful in any way? Why?
- What is the message of the film, or view of life and the world that is presented? (Try to state this in a sentence). How did the film-maker’s technique seek to make this message plausible or compelling?
- To what extent do you agree with the message of the film?
What I like about this set of questions is that it approaches the film as a piece of art. We can find good things to say about the film even if we fundamentally disagree with its message. Additionally, these questions give space for those in the discussion to speak about things from the film that they particularly enjoyed. Having set this positive tone, you can then try to state the message of the film in a sentence (this is harder than you think, but can be very enjoyable in a group setting!) and talk about the extent that you agree with this statement. It’s at this point where it can be natural to present a Christian perspective without shoe-horning it. Then prepare for conversations to go on well into the night!
Sarah Dawkins gives her experience of a recent film night, and being surprised in her weakness here.