Daily updates from the first annual AFI DALLAS International Film Festival presented by Target, founding sponsor Victory Park, March 22 to April 1, 2007

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Question of Faith

Films that look at the who, what why and how of religious beliefs

Like any true film festival, AFI Dallas showcases a vast sampling of romance, horror, comedy and drama. But unlike those other guys, we're also bringing you a four-course feast for the soul.

The documentary KNOCKING follows the day-to-day, door-to-door struggles of America's often misunderstood denominations: Jehovah's Witnesses. Providing a solid history through a consistently unbiased perspective, the film places particular emphasis on lives of Seth Thomas, a 23-year-old Witness whose faith conflicts with his serious medical condition, and Joseph Kempler, a Jewish Holocaust survivor who has since converted.

While director Joel P. Engardio is not a member of the church, he believes that Jehovah's Witnesses embody a crucial, democratic principle.

"There is nothing more American than the pursuit of religious freedom and personal liberty," he says. "And KNOCKING aims to show Jehovah's Witnesses as something much more than the one-dimensional caricature you see on your doorstep."

In the divinely funny mockumentary THE PROPER CARE AND FEEDING OF AN AMERICAN MESSIAH, we are given an in-depth look at the spiritual side of Brian, an average, working-class Joe who believes he is The Messiah.

Well, technically, he thinks he is "a" messiah, and not "the" messiah, but the point is all the same. Having claimed his divinity, Brian (played by Dustin Olson) and his siblings aim to put together a rally in their Florida 'burb. During which, they hope, God will reveal to Brian his ultimate purpose.

"In a way, Brian represents my own ambitions as a filmmaker," says director Chris Hansen (who, by the way, swears he's not the guy from Dateline NBC, though my suspicions remain).

"In some ways, you really have to believe in yourself, which then leads you to start thinking you're a little crazy."

Meanwhile, a skydiver becomes permanently lodged within the Earth's crust, a librarian goes on a blind date with Jesus, a surgeon leaves a tool inside a patient as a joke, and two neighbors race to see who can collect the most cat scan machines.

These are just four of the ten skits you'll find in David Wain's star-studded comedy THE TEN, which takes a twisted look, one by one, at each of the Ten Commandments.

Parlaying his experience in sketch comedy (including both Comedy Central's The State and the more recent Stella) Wain places ordinary people in unusual circumstances - each with biblical ties.

Though it would seem like a true test of faith to craft a humorous story for every single commandment, Wain, who makes a brief appearance in THE TEN (alongside Jessica Alba, Adam Brody, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder and Ken Marino), says otherwise.

"The premises came relatively easily because each theme does lend itself lots of real-world applications."

And finally, in a small town in Mexico, faith is put to the test in aless comical way when the sudden apparition of the Virgin Mary is spotted in the street. The events that unfold, including the influx of 10,000 devout believers, are depicted in Fernando Frias' 10-minute documentary LA VIRGEN DEL ASFALTO (THE VIRGIN OF THE ASPHALT).

But when the source of the image is revealed to be a hoax, the majority of townspeople refuse to let go.

"Believing in this vision," says Frias, "[is to] believe in things that you can only explain with nothing more than [your] faith."
  • KNOCKING, 5:00 p.m., March 26 @ AFC.
  • Magnolia.
  • THE TEN 6:45 p.m., March 31 @ Angelika.
  • THE ASPHALT VIRGIN (part of Documentary Shorts), 5:00 p.m., March 29 @ AFC 6 (and again at 6:30 p.m., March 31 @ SMU Hughes-Trigg Theater)
By Chad Jones, Staff Writer