22nd BIRTHDAY OF CINEMA IN FOCUS
The winter of 2016 marks the 22nd year that the movie commentary Cinema in Focus has been published. Invited to write a column by the editor of the Santa Barbara News Press, a NY Times newspaper at the time, Denny Wayman and Hal Conklin began writing a new type of movie review. Wanting the column to speak to the values presented in film, the editor invited Denny and Hal, as a pastor and a politician, to address the spiritual and social messages in film. Originally published under the name Cinema of Values, the column soon changed its name to Cinema in Focus as Denny and Hal focused on the values presented in the movies they reviewed.
This unique perspective on films gathered an immediate audience and, instead of fulfilling the original intention of writing only a three month column, Cinema in Focus is now beginning its 23rd year and is published in print and on-line in a variety of outlets. In addition, the column has become a part of university training and film school examination both in the United States and around the world. In 2016, over 2,000 cities were represented in its readership from many of the nations of the world.
As lovers of film, Denny and Hal take note of the directing, acting, screenwriting and cinematic arts, but these factors are not the primary basis on which the films are rated. Using a four-star rating system, the spiritual and social values are the basis for giving a film a 1 Star – Degrading designation, or a 4 Star – Inspiring one. If a film is simply entertaining but offers little to help us understand ourselves or the human condition, then it is given a 2 Star – Entertaining rating. But if the film causes us to look at ourselves and our values, spiritually and socially, even if we do not agree with the perspective of the director or writer, then it receives a 3 Star – Thought Provoking description.
The goal of the column is to encourage public discourse about the most powerful art form yet created. In its “larger-than-life” experience in the theater, cinema has the power to invite its viewers into a vicarious experience that can only be paralleled by literature. Unlike the smaller television screen which can provide a continuous influence but is less engaging, cinema has the power to impact the way we view ourselves and the world.
Due to this unique power, the social and spiritual values in a film come across loud and clear and need to be discussed. This discussion is not about viewing the film “rightly or wrongly” – as though art has a “right” and “wrong” form, but rather to accept the art as it is and then look at its impact, message, worldview and influence. Such an examination is necessary for us as viewers to be able to thoughtfully engage the film’s message without being seduced by or reactive to its values.
As the column enters its 23rd year of publication, Cinema in Focus also celebrates its 21st year on the internet. Providing opportunity for the world to engage in the discussion, as American filmmakers are the primary source of cinema throughout the world, our readers are invited to consider how these messages impact their own spiritual and social values and cultures. Translated into several of the European languages, the column is also available in Asian characters on the web. To view the column online go to www.cinemainfocus.com.