Thursday 18th July 2013
The 168 Film Festival announced its nominees yesterday, including four Australian films. Christopher W. Bailey and Dana Newell’s film Lost in the Dark was nominated for the best film award, putting them in the running for the Grand Prize: a feature film production budget of up to $1 million dollars.
Other Australian films to be nominated were The Red File (Best International Film), Paladin (Best International Film, Best Supporting Actor – Nick Neild, Best Sound Design, Best Make Up), and Never Too Late (Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress).
168 Film Festival is a filmmaking competition with a difference. It aims to be “an incubator for writers and filmmakers to explore scripture and to practice their craft”. As such, for the main category in the festival, filmmakers are assigned a random piece of Scripture, and given 168 hours, or seven days, to shoot and edit a ten minute film based on those verses.
The verse assigned to Chris Bailey for his film Lost in the Dark was Exodus 21:23-25, the famous ‘eye for an eye’ passage. And he admits that he was slightly disappointed at this at first.
“We had no idea how we were going to do it. Because one of our goals was to communicate the gospel and Christ’s love to people who’ve never encountered Christianity before. At first we were disappointed: how are we going to do that with such a tough, hard Old Testament law?
“That was a huge challenge, but we spent a lot of time trying to understand the verse. But we finally understood that the historical context of it was … the practice of escalated violence, so if you did something wrong to someone else, they would come and hurt your whole family. What God was doing with this law was actually trying to de-escalate the violence. When we saw that, that helped us move forward and find a story that could express God’s love.”
Chris entered the competition because he has a passion for filmmaking that is deeply connected with his faith, and has been since he was ten.
“I remember really early on, praying and asking God what I should do with my life, and what he’d made me for was film. So I had this deep belief early on, because as I progressed … I got into film school in the US where I grew up, and the first couple of films I made … were just horrible! You watch them today, they’re painful. I needed that deep belief that it was something God made me for.”
His own faith came about through his dad who was a pastor. Every Sunday he would not really listen to the sermon, instead spending the time writing stories in a little book. Then one Sunday, when he was ten, he heard the gospel message, at the close of his dad’s sermon, and responded to the altar call to come down the front and accept Christ. This time it “clicked … with an inescapable urgency” and he ran down the long aisle of their big church to finally get to his father. His father turned around, burst into tears, and they prayed together.
It’s evident that Chris loves film, and even more, he is passionate about being a Christian who works in film, and makes films that are able to speak of Christ in a way that isn’t cringeworthy.
“A lot of the films we cringe at are made just for Christian audiences. And we don’t like to see that. We want to see films that are speaking to people that aren’t Christians. And that’s what I’m passionate about. How can I make films that express Christ, and express the gospel, in ways that are accessible and enjoyable for people who’ve never encountered Christ before, never stepped into a church and never would?
“The frame of reference that helps for me is that it’s about questions: asking questions, and raising questions and not being a filmmaker that comes to the table with “here’s all the answers”. And that’s hard for us as Christians because we’ve some great answers. But the problem is that no one’s asking those questions. So we’ve got to say, ‘Hey, look this is how I see the world, I’m just going to put it in front of you for interpretation. For you to take what you want out of it.’ And I think giving people that kind of autonomy and respect is really valuable.”
He also talked about the evangelistic opportunities that had arisen from being on a film set.
“I worked on a film once where one of the lead actors came up to me, the first day, and I was first assistant director, on this film. And he said, ‘Hey, I’ve just been watching you, and I just wanted to know, are you a devout Christian?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know if I’d call myself devout, but yeah, sure, I’m a Christian.’ And he said, ‘I’ve always had questions about the Bible, but I’ve never had anyone I can talk to about it, can I just ask you these questions?’
The man became a Christian within the first week, and the next four weeks of the shoot, Chris had the opportunity to sit and disciple him almost every day. And he said that other opportunities exist, simply because of the intense nature of a film shoot.
“Film communities … they live together, and they work together, and they travel together. And there’s not a lot of Christians in that environment. And a lot of people have questions, and are curious about what it’s all about, but have no one they can really talk to. Just being there is huge.”
Chris said that should he (and co-writer and producer Dana Newell) win the grand prize, there’s one film that he’d especially like the chance to work on, a film that he’s already written the screenplay for, called The Hunted: a thriller about a man who loses his family to a monster, and in the wake of that, makes an uneasy friendship with a young boy, who is unsure if the man, or the monster, are all they seem to be.
If he does, it will be a long way from his first film: a science report ‘from Pluto’, shot on his uncle’s video camera.
Lost in the Dark was also nominated in six other categories: Best International Film, Best Supporting Actress (Sarah Walton), Best Cinematography (Ty Tuin), Best Sound Design, Best Original Score (Daniel Saban) and Best Make Up.
And it wasn’t just the film that was biblically inspired, as Chris was open about the fact that he, too, is sustained by Scripture. One of the verses that sustains him is from Psalm 27. “‘Even though war is declared against me, I will remain confident’. I just love that sense of an entire war being declared, and yet [the Psalmist] will be confident in Christ and the power of God.”
Top image and middle image, credited to Ian Finnan, used with permission.