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Faith Issues in Film Group

Our group meets at 7pm, on first Tuesdays, eight months of the year. We watch the chosen film on our own, and then gather to discuss it; we’re very much like a book club in those aspects. Our meetings often include an introductory worship portion and we end with a time for sharing and prayers. We are always open to new members.

Meetings currently take place by Zoom; please contact for the link.

We are currently on summer break until September 4th. Check back in August to see our 2023-24 schedule.

Here is our 2022-23 schedule:

Sept 6 Belfast
Oct 4 Parallel Mothers
Nov 1 Mango Dreams
Jan 3 My Name Is Pauli Murray
Feb 7 Kundun
Mar 7 Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom
April 4 Passing
May 2 The Sound of Metal

The Sound of Metal (2020)
Directed by: Darius Marder
2021 Oscars: Won Best Film Editing, Best Sound, Nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Picture
Available to watch on Amazon Prime Video (free with subscription or costs money to rent)

Ruben is a heavy metal drummer, and recovering addict, in a band with his girlfriend Lou. His life changes one day when he suddenly loses his hearing. He goes to a rural shelter for deaf recovering addicts run by a man named Joe who believes that deafness is not something that needs to be fixed. We follow Ruben’s struggle to accept his deafness and figure out how he will live his life moving forward.

This film attempts to show what it’s like to be deaf and give insight into the community through creative use of sound in the movie and by prominently showcasing deaf characters. Many of the actors in the film are actually deaf. It also has interesting faith components because Joe is a man of faith and he uses his faith to try and teach Ruben and to lead his community.

Passing (2019)
Director: Rebecca Hall
Starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga
Available on Netflix streaming

The film is based on a 1929 novel by Nella Larsen and is set in the 1920s.  It centers on two light-skinned African American women who run into each other in New York after not having seen each other for many years. One of the women, Irene, is an active member of Harlem’s Black community. The other, Clare, is married to a white man and is passing as white.

The film centers on the tensions inherent in Clare’s life of deception while she yearns to be who she really is, and the inner conflict this evokes in Irene, who is living a bourgeois black life while intrigued by the possibilities and horrified by the risks of passing.

The film implicitly deals compellingly with race, gender, sexuality, and raises important moral questions. 

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom (2019)
Director: Pawo Choyning Dorji
Nominated for an Oscar in the 2022 Foreign Language Film category
Available on Kanopy, Hoopla, Amazon, Google Play, Netflix, Apple TV, Vudu

This is a story about a young Bhutanese man who wants to immigrate to Australia for a singing career, but due to his obligation to a government contract, must serve as a teacher for a year in a very remote outpost in the glacial mountains of Bhutan, cut off from friends, electricity, and (!) the internet. 

Uygen grows up, takes responsibility and learns the value of friendships and community in the company of some adorable kids who believe he can help them “touch the future” and a massive yak tethered in his classroom. It is also a travelogue of Bhutan with amazing scenery and breathtaking visuals.

Kundun (1997)
Director: Martin Scorcese
Original Score by Philip Glass
Available on YouTube and on DVD at the Palo Alto library
The Tibetans refer to the Dalai Lama as “Kundun,” which means “The Presence.” The film Kundun tells the story of the first years of the 14th Dalai Lama’s life, from his discovery at age 4 through his heart-wrenching decision to leave Tibet at the age of 24. As the film progresses, the boy matures in both age and learning. Four charming actors play him at various ages. Local trivia – the actor who played the 12-year old Kundun attended Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto.  
The film portrays the time period when communist China invaded and enforced an oppressive regime upon the peaceful nation of Tibet. It shows the Dalai Lama’s commitment to non-violence and his interest in modernizing Tibet. He escaped to India in 1959 and has been living in exile in Dharamsala ever since.
China’s leaders hotly objected to Disney’s plans to distribute the film and retaliated by banning Disney films and television cartoons. Scorsese and several other members of the production were banned from ever entering China as a result of making the film. Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner later apologized for offending Communist Chinese sensitivities, calling the film “a stupid mistake.”
Kundun is filled with faith issues, since it depicts a country where faith is central to every aspect of life.

My Name Is Pauli Murray (2021)
Directors: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
Available on Amazon Prime

Fifteen years before Rosa Parks refused to surrender her bus seat, a full decade before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned separate-but-equal legislation, Pauli Murray was already knee-deep fighting for social justice. A pioneering attorney, activist, priest and dedicated memoirist, Murray shaped landmark litigation–and consciousness–around race and gender equity. As an African American youth raised in the segregated South–who was also wrestling with broader notions of gender identity–Pauli understood, intrinsically, what it was to exist beyond previously accepted categories and cultural norms. Both Pauli’s personal path and tireless advocacy foreshadowed some of the most politically consequential issues of our time. 

Told largely in Pauli’s own words, My Name is Pauli Murray is a candid recounting of that unique and extraordinary journey. The SF Chronicle called it “Jaw-dropping…an extraordinary documentary.” The Guardian (UK) said: “A black, queer, gender nonconforming lawyer, civil rights activist, feminist, poet and priest, Pauli Murray (1910-85) was ahead of her time. It is perhaps because of this, and despite her contributions to real social change, her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt and her influence on people such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that she remains a little-known figure in US history. This thorough and informative documentary, from the team behind RBG,shines a light on a brilliant and uncompromising firebrand who paved the way for generations to come.” 

Mango Dreams (2018)
Directed by John Upchurch, an American; produced and written by Mazahir Rahim
Available on Amazon Prime.
Though filmed in India with Indian actors, the script is all in English, so there are no subtitles to deal with.

The story is about an Indian doctor, Dr. Amit Singh, who has had a successful career but who is now widowed and whose son is living in the U.S.  He is in the early stages of dementia, and is haunted by childhood memories of Partition, when all of family were killed. He wants to return to his native place before he dies and randomly hails Salim, an auto-rickshaw driver to take him there. Salim remembers Dr. Singh as the doctor who saved his son’s life, so offers to drive him anywhere as a way of repaying his debt.  Salim is Muslim and his wife was raped and burned to death by Hindus in the 2002 Gujarat riots.

A good part of the film is their improbable road trip during which Amit and Salim forge an unforgettable friendship and help each other discover the peace they have been longing for. It is a storyline that treats the sides equally, with no implied dominance of one over the other, and thus a refreshing change from the more typical movie treatments of hostile ethnic- relationships framed in terms of star-crossed lovers or sports rivalries.

Parallel Mothers (2021)
Directed by Pedro Almodovar, stars Penelope Cruz, who was nominated for an Oscar
In Spanish, with English subtitles
Available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and at the Palo Alto Library

From a review on “In Parallel Mothers/Madres Paralelas, all the usual Almodovar ingredients are blended together exquisitely. An unorthodox story about women and motherhood, superb acting from Penelope Cruz, tasteful clothing and interiors, beautiful cinematography and intelligent dialogues with surprising twists. But this time, Almodovar adds a little extra: a subtle attack on the right-leaning political parties in Spain.

The point Almodovar wants to make about Spain is intelligently integrated into the story. It is about death, war and coping with past sins. The contrast with the other themes in the film is striking: we see Cruz, and the other parallel mother, Milena Smit, involved in childbirth, friendship and rethinking their own lives.”

Belfast (2021)
Director: Kenneth Branaugh
The film can be streamed on Amazon Prime

The film takes place in Belfast, Northern Ireland, near the start of the Troubles in August 1969. In the opening scenes, we witness nine-year-old Buddy’s delight and adventure as he takes in the vibrancy and pace of his neighborhood, a diverse community of Protestants and Catholics. But Buddy soon realizes that he must now learn to live with both the good days of play and the terrible ones of sectarian violence.

Buddy’s coming-of-age experiences are rendered with such authenticity that we find ourselves caught up in them: remembering the simple pleasures of playing soccer, trying to make sense of the tension in his home due to his parents’ debts, the mystery of religion as the preacher defines the road to heaven and the road to hell, and the joy of music and dance as an expression of community. 

This is a beautifully made film that explores the complex characters and relationships in three generations of Buddy’s family. It touches on themes of home and change and making sense of the world. It also features Van Morrison music.