As the Newport Beach Film Festival comes to an end, I need to give kudos to the staff and volunteers for their wonderful work in making the festival a outstanding event.
While it has an interesting premise, I had problems with Love Is All You Need? The premise of the film is to create a world in which same-sex relationships are the norm and heterosexual relationships are viewed as deviant and perverted. It is something like what was done with race in the 1995 film White Man’s Burden. When a star quarterback on the college football team (a woman, by the way) falls in love with a male reporter, it sets up a scandal in the town. Meanwhile, a junior high girl is struggling with her sexual identity and is harassed and bullied by others because of their perception of who she is. The film was designed to be a way of talking about bullying and gay bashing—serious problems that LGBT people deal with. However, the film uses the church as a foil, and a very disingenuous portrayal of the church. It is modeled on Westboro Baptist Church, which is an aberration within Christianity. I understand that the church as a whole has a lot to answer for regarding its treatment of LGBT people. (See the notes below on An Act of Love.) But there is venom in the film towards the church which is not much less toxic than the venom that the church in the film aims at the deviant heterosexuals. Probably the film I was most disappointed in at the festival.
In The Great and the Small, a young man on probation for petty crime is living on the street. He gets a job working for a boss who is trying to lead him into bigger crime. He reconnects with an old girlfriend, but mostly for the sex. He also seeks out the woman who adopted the child that his girlfriend had a few years before. She is deeply in grief over the child’s death. As he tries to negotiate his way among the relationships and seeks to find some sense of security in his life, he is also being pursued by a detective looking into his boss’ crimes. The timeline for the film is a bit problematic at times. About half way through it goes back to an earlier scene, but I’m not sure that helps us understand the convergence of storylines. The relationships he has with the two women are something that leads to mutual growth for them all.
In 2013 Rev. Frank Schaefer was put on trial within the United Methodist Church because he performed a same sex marriage for his son and partner. An Act of Love is a documentary that uses the trial and Rev. Schaefer’s story to look at the struggle within the UMC (and by extension many other denominations) over LGBT issues. It does a very good job of tracing the issue back to the church’s 1972 General Conference that adopted language that both recognized that LGBT people are loved by God and should be welcomed in the church, and that homosexuality was “inconsistent” with Christianity. Within the UMC there continues to be a great struggle between those who wish to fully accept LGBT people into the life and ministry of the church and those who seek to maintain a more traditional (and in their minds, biblical) position. The trial and the national coverage it received put this issue into the broader national discussion about sexuality. In the Q&A with director Scott Sheppard (whose father was a United Methodist pastor) and Rev. Schaefer, it was noted that the church’s quadrennial General Conference will be meeting very soon. Copies of the film have been sent to all delegates to the Conference that will be considering possible changes to the way the denomination relates to the issue. This is an excellent film for those who want to think about this issue in the life of the church.