Fuller Students Prepare for Sundance Film Festival and Windrider Film Forum
For many students at Fuller Theological Seminary, the idea
of taking a class involving a trip to the Sundance Film Festival sounds too
good to be true.
often are you given the chance to experience and immerse yourself in the beauty
of well-made and challenging films?” said Jessi Knippel, a Fuller Master
of Theology student whose emphasis is film.
She enrolled in Fuller’s “Theology, Film, and Culture: Engaging
Independent Films” course, enabling her to attend the Sundance Film Festival in
2012. She said the opportunity was a
dream come true.
“Films, especially Sundance films, have been a powerful
point of connection for how I read and understand the world around me,” said
Kutter Callaway, an affiliate professor who teaches
Theology and Culture, is in his third year leading the class, but he has been
involved with the process for five years--as a teacher’s assistant, and also designer
of the online component of the course. With
a PhD in Theology and Culture, Callaway said one of his primary theological concerns
had to do with discovering the role film has in theology, spirituality and
“My initial interest wasn’t regarding film, but more to do
with how people are using these cultural stories to make sense of their life,
and how do I as a person of faith connect what God’s doing in the world with
what they’re saying in the film?” said Callaway.
He will be taking this year's class to the film festival on January 21 - 27.
Created by Will Stoller-Lee, director of Fuller Seminary in
Colorado, Fuller alum John Pretty and Craig Detweiler, the Fuller/Sundance
tradition began as a one-week intensive course, some readings, and a final
“Although students loved the trip to Sundance and the
conversations it generated, many wondered how to relate their experience to their
communities theologically,” said Callaway.
It was with this premise that Stoller-Lee organized the Windrider Film Forum--a forum held as part of the Colorado College of Summer Festival of the Arts, which has brought in engaging films and filmmakers for community dialogues on topics of religious faith, culture, and social change. Continuing the tradition of bringing several short films and filmmakers to Sundance, the 9th annual Windrider Forum will showcase not one but two recent Academy Award nominated short films on its opening night, January 21. Buzkashi Boys, nominated for Best Short Film, and Head over Heels, nominated for Best Animated Short Film, will screen with filmmaker interviews to follow.
"This is now the fourth year in a row that Windrider has brought in an Oscar-nominated short, including 2011 when God of Love and Luke Matheny took home the golden statue," noted Windrider director, Stoller-Lee.
According to Callaway, since filmmakers love to talk about why they made the film, it really makes for a constructive
conversation about art, culture, faith, and spirituality. The possibility of hearing filmmakers in person “sealed the
deal” for Richard Goodwin, who graduated in June 2012, with a Masters in Theology and a
Theology and the Arts emphasis, to attend Fuller.
“We had the screenwriter of 'Higher Ground,' Carolyn Briggs,
drop by the Windrider Forum, along with Alrick Brown and his team of filmmakers
behind the Audience Choice winner, Kinyarwanda,” said Goodwin.
In preparation for the class, he read “Reel Spirituality,”
by Rob Johnson, and “Scoring Transcendence,” by Callaway, which discusses
theology and film music.
“I learned to be more attentive to the role of music in
film,” said Goodwin.
addition to dialoguing with filmmakers and seeing music in a theological light,
the class exceeded Goodwin’s expectations in other ways.
was the hot topic of the festival the year I attended, and so there were a lot
of significant films and resultant conversations that stuck with
me--specifically questions and conversations around forgiveness and justice,”
Avril Speaks, a student at Fuller Seminary who has just begun taking the class this quarter, is also pursuing an MAT with a
Theology and the Arts emphasis.
“The fact that Fuller embraces Sundance films gave me a
little insight into what type of program Fuller has,” said Speaks. “I knew this was the school for me, because
these are the types of films that speak to me the most.”
Speaks said she is particularly looking forward to the
question and answer sessions with the directors.
“Sometimes it's hard to understand the true meaning of a
film until you have the opportunity to talk to its creator and hear what the
original intent was,” she said. “Understanding
the artist sometimes goes a long way in understanding the art.”
Students getting a master’s with a Theology and the Arts
emphasis fall within the Fuller Brehm Center, where students can earn an MA or
PhD in Theology, Art, Culture, and Worship.
“I love that the classes within the Brehm Center tend to
meet me right where I am at the crossroads in the conversation of film and
theology,” said Speaks.
Students from Biola University, Taylor University, Brigham Young
University, Point Loma University, and Northwestern College also take part in the Sundance Film Festival and
Windrider Forum. This year the “Engaging
Independent Films” class organizers are starting a pastor’s track for people
who are not taking the class for academic credit, but want to come and partner
with Fuller in having conversations about faith.
“The Windrider Forum is open to anyone in pastoral ministry
with an emphasis in how you engage culture, even if you’re not a student,” said
If you are interested in participating in the class next year, please
contact Kutter Callaway at 626.584.5683 for additional information.