Introduction to the Reel Jesus

Tonight is the first film in our local series “The Reel Jesus.” Here are my opening words.

Reel Jesus Introduction

Good evening. My name is Christian Brady and I am dean of the Schreyer Honors College and on behalf of the State College Theatre and the Film Collective I welcome you to the Reel Jesus Film Festival. In a moment I will outline the events of our evening, but first a few words about this series.

While I am an academic administrator, I am a scholar of ancient Judaism. I research and teach on the Judaism of the time of Jesus and the centuries following, often referred to as the “classical” or “golden period” of Judaism. Arguing over who Jesus was and what he might have said or did is an incredibly common occurrence among scholars (and for some it has even proved to be quite lucrative). Yet when we as scholars or clergy write or preach about Jesus we do so in a one-dimensional or linear fashion. You read the words or hear them spoken one after another even as I present to you now this brief introduction.

When a filmmaker presents to us their story of Jesus it is multivalent, three dimensional. They are able not only to select and choose the words which convey the story and the message, they also control the image, selecting the actors, their clothing, the environment, the lighting, the camera angles and shots. The film offers us an immersive experience.

The vocabulary that is available to the filmmaker goes far beyond that of the author, offering them a nearly infinite palette (if I may mix my metaphors) from which to draw. And just as the director can convey their message through the varied media of their medium, we the viewers have just as many opportunities to reinterpret and imagine what we once thought was so familiar and comfortable. I never considered Jesus as having such keen eyes. What does it mean that Judas is portrayed as a black man? How would I depict Satan?

Even those of us raised without any religious education have some image of Jesus, we have some concept of what he did and said. This series of films allows us to see other images and conceptions. Some will be familiar and others quite jarring. The goal, as literary critics are fond of saying, is to “problematize” Jesus, shake loose the stain glass windows present in our minds and offer a different realization.

Tonight we begin our series of four films with Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew, a more traditional and yet far from conventional depiction of the Gospel story. Each movie will be introduced by a member of our community, either a scholar or a member of the clergy. After the film, following a short break, a panel of scholars and clergy will lead us in discussion and conversation about the film. Those of us on the panel will all keep our initial comments very brief so that we may open the floor to you, the audience.

Now I am pleased to introduce tonight’s panel. Our introduction to the film will be presented by Dr. Sherry Roush, Assoc Professor of Italian, Dept of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese. Other members of our panel include Paul Dilley, Assistant Professor in the history of early Christianity and New Testament studies, Dept of History, Allan Stoekl, Professor of French and Comparative Literature, Dept of French, and Rev. Paul Grabill, Pastor of The State College Assembly of God.

Please welcome Dr. Roush.

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