Thursday, April 3, 2008

Being Reel Careful

Robert has a post up at his blog about movie nights for youth groups, and what to show at them. It's a great question, and one I have struggled with over and over again for movie nights, long charter bus rides, and Disciple Now sleepovers.

What are some entertaining and appropriate choices for movie night? It's a fine line to walk. I would never dream of exposing my students to crap like Facing The Giants, but is it ever okay to show Pulp Fiction? I have a friend who has, and shows stuff like that to his group all the time. I don't think I'd be comfortable with that, but what would I be comfortable with?

Is there a level of acceptable profanity? Does it matter which words are used? Even the S-word is commonly used in PG films, but on a bus full of Middle and High School students, you can't hear the movie for all the "ohhhh!"'s and "what!?"'s every time they say it. PG-13 films (appropriate for 13 year olds?) are even allowed a certain quota of F-words. And those things sneak up on you. You might remember what you're watching as a perfectly acceptable family flick, that you've watched a million times before. But when you watch it with students, you notice language, content and situations you would have never even blinked at before. It's like watching it with your parents, or grandparents.

Maybe it's just an indicator about how hypocritical we all are in our church/home lives. We're all watching these movies at home, but when we watch them together on a bus, we're like Baptists running into each other at the liquor store. Sooo appalled.

The point is - you can only watch The Princess Bride and Labyrinth so many times. Actually - I'm pretty sure Bowie's - ahem - "hose-pipe syndrome" in that flick is offensive enough. And I'm not sure how many cartoon or computer animated features my High Schoolers will endure before there's a mutiny, and I'm left standing on the side of the road, while the bus pulls away showing Seasons 1-5 of Family Guy and the Flight of the Conchords DVD. Oh - and until there's a complete REVOLUTION in the way "Christian" or "Inspirational" films are made - I'll not be showing any of that drivel.

So what are some really good movies that you'd consider appropriate for a youth group movie night, or, let's sayyyy - a 16 hour charter bus trip to Glorieta, NM June 22-28, 2008?


Cory said...

Ah, JT. Were you referring to me in that post? Cause that characterization of utilizing film would certainly fit me...anywhoo...

Although I did have trouble with this issue in one congregation, mostly because of one family, I have successfully navigated this issue in three congregations.

For me, I make several assumptions: 1) That my kids, regardless of how spiritual or mature I think they are, will watch whatever the hell they want to. They'll find a way to get a ticket to a movie that they aren't supposed to enter...they'll find a friend who'll let them in the back door...they'll go to a friends house to watch 300 even though mom told them they couldn't. If we're dealing with real kids (who are not removed from the real world), then this is reality.

2) If I am doing my job, I am really okay with #1. I use the contemplative model for youth ministry...I want the kids to always be aware of the presence of God in their midst...always. When their at church, at the movies, watching YouTube, or dealing with a sudden death. If I am doing my job of teaching them how to do that, then they can see God (or sometime the blatant absence) in the midst of everything. I don't buy the "garbage in, garbage out" theory, and believe that people of God, even teenagers, can learn the skills necessary to filter/discern Truth in all places. This is why we do "God in the Movies". If I can do this with the...if I can model it for them, they will learn to do it on their own. I had a kid (one of those who you never think is listening to anything) come up to me and say, "Hey Cory, I'm so pissed at you." What? Why? "Because I was watching this movie the other day and I couldn't NOT think about Jesus!"

3) Parents extend some level of trust to me as a spiritual leader of their student by allowing them to come. If they cannot trust my ability to guide their kid, there is a great issue at work that simply a movie. This has to be built, cultivated, and honestly addressed in parent's meetings. If you don't feel you have that, work on it. And for movies, send out an letter, email, or text...tell them: "Hey, we're watching a PG-13 movie this week. It has language and violence in it, but no sexuality or nudity. Please trust that I believe the ends of the experience of this movie fully justifies the means. If you are not comfortable with that, please do not send your students.

4) I would rather be the arbiter of appropriateness than rely on an external system. I know my kids. I know they can handle. I concede language - quite a bit - and some violence, but I am much more guarded against sexuality and never allow nudity (well, once on accident, and it was abstract, but that's another story). I usually preface every movie and say, "there are two f-bombs coming and a lot of shits, damns, and bitches. Please be mature and see the reality of the context it represents."

To get to your direct question, here are some we have shown in one setting or another:
The Matrix
About a Boy
Freedom Writers (heavy on language)
The Guardian
The Truman Show
Chocolat (with two blackouts)
The Prestige
The Illusionist
Remember the Titans
(Might add We are Marshall soon)
And of course, Batman Begins!
That's all I can remember right now...

And yes, we've watched Family Guy and Seinfeld episodes too...

The Bagboy said...

You could use this as an opportunity to discuss what your kids think is appropriate in pop-culture and entertainment, and maybe even bring the parents into it. It gives you the opportunity to talk about what it is that makes cursing wrong, or depictions of sex, or whatever, and how to use sound judgement in examining those things in entertainment.

J.T. said...

Busted. I was totally talking about you, Cory. Could you hear the jealousy in my heart? LOL.

And you guys are both definitely spot-on. But it seems like you're both speaking in terms of something that's intended to teach. I'm just talking about something to pass the time. Pure entertainment.

Now that I say that out loud - I understand that that's THE VERY THING I HATE, and that every opportunity is an opportunity to teach something, rather than entertain.

Cory said...


Those movies aren't entertaining? You love Batman Begins!

As Russell Crowe in Gladiator: "Are you not entertained!"