Films are a great way to encourage people to think about
big questions. We don't like the word "evangelism",
because it immediately raises preconceptions in people's minds. We
prefer the concept of walking people on their spiritual journey as
they seek answers to the big questions of life.
Damaris is run by a team of people who have a
firm grasp on the Bible, a clear understanding of popular
culture, and the ability to relate one to the other. Between us, we
are able to seek out new films that help people as they move on
their spiritual journey.
One of the things I discovered is that you can think:
"Oh, we'll put on some Christian event and people will
come." They won't. It's not where they're at. But they are
still thinking about spiritual and moral issues, and they think
about them through the films. We realised what we've got to do is
say: "If you're thinking about deep things like hope, trust,
dedication, and you're going to the cinema, here are resources to
help. . ."
Practically every film we see, we think of different
people we could share this with. With The Best Exotic
Marigold Hotel, it was about how we can help the older
generation think about taking risks, for instance. We think of
young people taking risks, but old people can do that as well -
step out and do something different.
Back in the early days, when we were creating
Bible-study material for home groups in partnership with Scripture
Union, we produced a large resource based around the issues raised
by Harry Potter.
First and foremost, and most important, we must treat
the film with integrity. It's not about cherry-picking
bits that we can illustrate a Gospel story with. We must look at
the ideas that the film explores and the questions it raises, and
consider how, with complete integrity, we can help people who have
watched it to develop their thinking about those issues.
We don't use exploitative films, either of
people in the film, or the audience. Pornography - we wouldn't be
involved in anything like that. That's not helping people to think
about issues. It's exploiting their weaknesses and
Damaris is a registered charity that depends on the
gifts of Christians, churches, and grant-making trusts to
enable us to pioneer and develop new resources.
We work in partnership with the film industry.
We introduce different audiences to the key themes and messages of
the film. There's the cinema-going public who will go to anything -
a small number. We're part of the means by which the film industry
can interest other people who are looking for films that interest
them, and we are helping people on their spiritual journey. As long
as we treat the films with integrity, there is never any
We create community educational resources to go with new
films as they are released in the cinema. Sometimes, they
are special, short films, a whole range of different types, or
little reflective films we call a "Movie Moment": presenting clips
from the film and raising life issues designed to stimulate
Reel to Real takes issues raised in a film to real
life. So, from Africa United we made a whole
bunch of videos on child soldiers, AIDS orphans, child
prostitution, and got experts in that subject to speak about these
issues and how people might take action.
Nobody buys them: they're given away free. Each
one is designed for a particular group; so, for example, our
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was made for the University
of the Third Age, which is made up of a quarter of a million people
across the UK. We also produce work for groups that do film studies
and cultural studies.
We began by creating resources for churches;
but I was very struck by God's command to Abraham in Genesis 13:
"You'll be a blessing to all people." So we're moving much more to
making resources that any community group can use: Scouts and
Guides, Rotary, schools. We do website assemblies online every week
for primary and secondary schools. It's great fun when we release
clips from the film and a teacher can show it to their class,
saying: "Next week this film is coming out."
We worked with 20th Century Fox to get Chariots of
Fire re-released for the Olympics. We had a feature
about it in the opening ceremony, and we had the film digitally
remastered and released throughout the country.
I wanted to be a doctor as a child, and
originally came to Southampton to study medicine, but switched to
psychology at the last minute. Then, at post-graduate level, I
moved into philosophy. As a teenager, I was fascinated by different
philosophies and religions.
I made a commitment to be a sceptic, and to seek truth
wherever it would lead me. This led me, in time, to
becoming convinced of the truth of the life and teaching of
I regret not completing my Ph.D. All the
research was done; much of it was written. But my wife and I were
head-hunted by the Billy Graham Association, and the attraction of
all the opportunities to help people to explore the gospel was
I used to love camping and walking, but now we
are hugely attracted by cruises. Is that a sign of age?
Recently I have started to relax by reading
biographies. It's fascinating to read the inside track on
people's experiences as they journey through life
Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto: whenever I
feel tired or jaded - I have a wonderful drawing room upholstered
in leather, my little bit of luxury - I put that on, and sit on the
sofa. That's enjoying life.
I wrote a book called Get More like Jesus While
Watching TV [Damaris, 2005]. I say which is my
favourite film in that; so I could just say buy the book. But it's
It's A Wonderful Life. It's a 1950s film that engages you
emotionally and intellectually, and you ask: 'What would the world
be like if I hadn't lived? What has been my impact on the world?'
There's an angel in it, which is theologically way off-beam, but
I'm not worried about that, because it helps people think.
I've been deeply influenced by Peter Berger and his
concept of signals of transcendence. One of the things he
talks about is the idea that there are things in the world around
us that awaken within us an insight into the deeper questions of
life, transcending the material world. You watch a sunset. There's
got to be more. . . A newborn baby: amazing. That happens in the
cinema all the time. For so many people, it provides wonderful
signals of the transcendent.
Is it possible to be forgiven? To find a love
that will stay with us for ever? We're going to be working on
Nativity 2, and it's about a small group of kids entering
a Songs for Christmas competition, and David Tennant is in it.
There's a line in the film from someone talking about how his dad
left him, and he says: "Ever since then, all I've wanted is a best
friend who would stay with me for ever." You're laughing all the
way through because it's so funny, then there's a quiet, moving
moment, particularly powerful because it's in the midst of all this
humour. So many people will say that, too. We want to say: "Well,
perhaps there's a God who loves you and will be with you for
Colossians 3 is both the favourite and the
least-liked - because it challenges me every time I read
it. It's practical and inspirational at the same time - and, no
matter how long you have been following Jesus, there is always more
in that chapter to challenge you.
I get angry about the way in which some people in the
Church advocate entertainment over serious engagement. I
love practical jokes, love humour - but people in the Church think
Christian outreach means just entertaining them, or engaging with
People misunderstand film if they think it's merely
entertainment. There's a huge layer of complexity in even
a superficial rom. com. A lot of work has gone in to engage people
at all levels - aesthetically, artistically, emotionally. We
identify with a character very powerfully, feel the emotion with
them, engage intellectually, think about the questions they are
facing. We are whole people, emotional, intellectual, active.
I'm happiest whenever I am with a group of
people who are actively engaged in thinking about the big questions
I pray that I will be able to "make the most of every
opportunity" [Colossians 4].
I'd like to get locked in a church with my son.
We could talk philosophy and theology without having to stop for
Nick Pollard was talking to Terence Handley