Faith On Film

A scene from Faith Connections

A scene from Faith Connections

As we find ourselves in an increasingly secular society where organised religion is on the decline, faith in all its forms still seems to be a hot topic in the movies.

Faith Connections, the latest feature from independent Indian filmmaker Pan Nalin (Samsara, Valley of the Flowers) offers a different take on spirituality. This heart-warming documentary hones in on the stories of a handful of people amidst a sea of Hindus who make the pilgrimage to India’s Kumbh Mela. The largest human gathering in the world sees a congregation of over 100 million people bathe in the ‘precious nectar churned from the ocean’.

Among the stories is that of a Yogi and the precious relationship he shares with his adopted son; a street kid living from meal to meal who takes refuge with the Sadhus, a group of holy men whose practice, amongst other things, involves smoking a lot of weed; and perhaps the most heartbreaking story, a mother searching for her child, lost amidst the throng of pilgrims. Each one gives refreshing insight into the meaning of worship.

There have been some great films exploring the concept of faith over the years. Although there are too many to list, here are ten belief-provoking features.

Noah (2014)
Recounting the well known biblical story of Noah, played by our Russell, and his arc, this film has been criticised for embellishing the traditional story. Despite complaints, the biblical epic reportedly took $4.5 million at the Australian box office during its opening weekend alone.

Eat, Pray, Love (2010)
Love it or hate it, Elizabeth Gilbert’s autobiographical book about self-discovery was a spiritual beacon for many women. So much so that it garnered a feature film starring Julia Roberts. In between eating her way through Italy and finding love in Bali, Gilbert travels to India to immerse herself in Hindu prayer.

The Chosen (1981)
An oldie but a goodie, this tale of two Jewish boys in 1940s Brooklyn – one from an ultra conservative family, the other’s liberal – sees them each navigate a difficult path. Each boy seeks to satisfy the expectations of their religion, family, education and their own friendship.

The Passion of the Christ (2004)
It’s hard to believe Mel Gibson’s controversial retelling of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion is ten year’s old. The film charts Jesus’ final hours, sparing no detail of the torture he suffered. At the time of its release Roger Ebert claimed “this is the most violent film I have ever seen.”

Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
This action-packed film from director Ridley Scott of Gladiator fame harks back to the Crusades of the Middle Ages where blacksmith Balian (Orlando Bloom) journeys from France to the fabled Holy City. During the trek to Jerusalem his father (Liam Neeson) passes down his sword and with it the responsibility of maintaining peace so that a kingdom of heaven may exist on earth.

Conversations with God (2006)
A car accident leaves Neale Donald Walsch with a broken neck, no job and no home. Completely disillusioned with life he demands some answers from God and to his great surprise he gets them. This true story is based on Walsch’s series of books by the same name.

Raw Faith (2010)
Despite advocating the virtues of faith and love to her congregation Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell realises she’s never been in love herself. This refreshing documentary covers two years of her life as she endeavours to practice what she preaches.

Doubt (2008)
The theme of this film is particularly topical in light of the current Royal Commission into child sex abuse within the Catholic Church. A nun and principal of a Catholic school (Meryl Streep) questions the nature of the relationship a new priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has developed with his student.

Wadjda (2012)
Ten-year-old Wadjda lives in Riyadh where her desperate desire to own a bicycle clashes with the moral code of her Muslim faith. The film is female director Haifaa al-Mansour’s debut and earned her critical acclaim at international film festivals from Venice to Los Angeles.

 Beyond the Clouds (1995)
In the final story of this four-part film by Michelangelo Antonioni This Body of Filth, a man and woman contemplate the elements of faith; thoughts and words, the spiritual and physical, life and death.

Faith Connections is screening now at ACMI Cinemas until Thu 24 Apr. Wadjda screens as part of Seniors’ Cinema from Sat 16 – Tue 26 Aug.

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