A MAN in jeans and a hoodie walks through a wood, his face
darkened with rage and pain. Memories of angry confrontations churn
through his mind, as he screws up the photo of him and his
girlfriend and throws it away.
There is a flicker of light, and he notices two children, all in
black, standing before him. They have come to tell him, in their
own way, that Mary is telling him the truth, and much, much more. .
It is not the traditional depiction of the nativity story, but
then that is the whole point. This surprisingly moving short film,
No Pressure, is an entry in the Nativity Factor
competition, in which contestants are challenged to make a film
that tells the old, old story in a new and engaging way.
The competition is run by ITN and Jerusalem Productions. "We're
looking for a creative and original retelling of the nativity
story," Dan Faulks, of ITN, explains. "It doesn't necessarily have
to be radically different - it could be quite traditional, if it
had amazing production values."
The first competition was held last year, and the winner was the
Revd Gavin Tyte, Priest-in-Charge of St Peter and St Paul's,
Uplyme, in Devon, with The Beatbox Nativity, a one-man
summary of Luke's nativity story that uses rap and beatbox. "That
was a pretty traditional version of the story," Mr Faulks says,
"but done in a really off-the-wall way".
The point of the contest, he says, "is to raise awareness of the
Christian values around the Christmas story. It's not exactly
aiming to raise the profile of the nativity story, because it's
everywhere, but trying to get people to take another look at
The film, featuring the figure in jeans and a hoodie, and two
young "angels", gets its title, No Pressure, from the
angels' ironic words of reassurance to Joseph. It is the work of
4six3, a group that makes DVDs that explore life issues for
Christian children's groups.
The project is run by Sarah Robinson and Nick Willoughby, and
involves local young people in the acting and camerawork, and some
of the writing and production. Mrs Robinson and Mr Willoughby take
the adult roles in the film.
"We wanted something a bit different which changed the direction
a little, and brought in the humour," Mrs Robinson says. "It grew
from a sketch we did five or six years ago about angels arguing who
was going to tell Joseph the message from God, and we thought, 'How
can we expand on that?'
"Nick and I write together, and one will have an idea, and the
other expand it, and it works very well. We recorded it in one day,
everyone had a great time, and we were thrilled with it."
A VERY different entry comes from Canon Taffy Davies, Rural Dean
of Macclesfield. The Founding is a beautiful
pencil-drawing animation, in black and white - with one notable
exception - and silent apart from a musical track. If the style
seems familiar, Canon Davies is the erstwhile cartoonist for
The Church of England Newspaper.
In this film, craftspeople in a modern-day foundry make a
mysterious metal artefact, which is then shipped out to Bethlehem.
We see them painstakingly make a mould, fill it with molten metal,
and later paint the resultant disc blue. A series of vans and ships
carries it to its destination, the greatest obstacle being the
Israeli separation wall. Finally, it arrives, and is put in place -
and, if you haven't guessed what it is, I won't spoil the
"I was attracted by the idea of the Nativity Factor," Canon
Davies says, "but I wince when I see angels, and donkeys, and
shepherds, and clouds; so I wanted to do something different. I do
my own Christmas cards, and I based the film on one I did a couple
of years ago, working back from that image to develop the
"It gave me the opportunity to make some contemporary comments
about the situation in the Middle East at the moment. I asked
someone who's got good connections with the Middle East what the
postal address would be for Bethlehem. It turns out it would be
something like: 'The Palestinian Autonomous District, via Israel';
so there's the subplot."
Canon Davies says that the drawings took him a couple of
evenings, and then his friend Phil Wattis animated them in a couple
of hours. "No false modesty, but people say 'How do you find the
time to do these things?' It's just spending a couple of evenings
away from the pub, really."
BOTH 4six3 and Canon Davies have found that, in entering the
competition, they have created a resource for churches. Both have
heard from people who saw the video on the competition website, and
wanted to use it as part of their carol service - which they were
delighted to agree to.
The Potato Eaters' Nativity is an entry by FISH
(Friends in Social Harmony), the young people's group at Guiseley
Methodist Church, Yorkshire. Using the unlikely inspiration of Van
Gogh's painting Potato Eaters, they staged a nativity
where all the parts are played by potato puppets, against a
backdrop based on the original painting.
"The people who were speaking had to be next to the camera,"
Becky Morrish, the 15-year-old who dressed and voiced the potato
Mary, says; "so other people had to duck behind the stage and
control the potatoes. It was a fun thing to do. Everyone enjoyed
Joseph finds the hotels are all "wedged" full, and Mary
complains she is "roasting" after the journey. "We had a session
where we had to think of as many potato references as possible, and
then Nick [the Revd Nick Baker] combined as many as possible into a
Mr Baker says: "It went from the sublime - chatting about the
meaning of Christmas - to 'How are we going to get this across?'
'Potatoes.' 'OK then. . .'"
Other entries in the competition include a superhero live-action
comic strip X-Mas Origins; a futuristic science-fiction
version Nativity 3001: A space Godyssey; and one told
through voiceovers of animals, An Animal's Tale.
There is also Humble Beginnings, in the style of a
trailer for a teen-drama movie; and The Chinnie's
Nativity, acted by talking chins.
The competition has a separate category for under-16s. In this,
you can see A Nativity Told Through Dinosaurs, by Taliesin
Coleman; Posh Jesus and Street Jesus, both by
Orchard School, Bristol; and The Lego Nativity, by Jacob,
Samuel, and Matthew Crow.
To see the films and find out who won, visit www.thenativityfactor.com.