Faith and film in the Western Territory
Cinematically teaching the gospel to kids
Launched in October 2006, the Zone Film Institute (ZFI) program at the Glendale, Calif. corps offers filmmaking classes to local youth—providing access to the latest digital film equipment with a foundation of faith. The program director is Wes Burrell, and Glendale Corps leaders are Captains James and Barbara Sloan.
“We live in a media-saturated society but are ill-equipped to recognize manipulation,” said Burrell, who also serves as the assistant director (responsible for all logistics) on the film shoots. “Film creates a forum for discussion and exploration…this program serves to educate the kids to be critical viewers.”
The intention of ZFI was to create a film program for underprivileged kids who would not otherwise have this opportunity. Because the students have no prior training, Burrell is able to start the instruction from scratch.
“The kids don’t have to know how to tell a story cinematically—but if you give them a voice, a creative outlet, they’ll tell their own story,” Burrell said.
Students learn the Adobe production suite, necessary in the professional world and useful in obtaining future employment.
According to Burrell, the objective is to give the class a specific and clear framework, like a chase scene, and let them plug in all the elements.
And that is what they did—Burrell showed his students a series of clips from chase scenes and then dissected the plot devices and visual elements.
Meeting twice a week for three months, the class produced their first movie, two minutes in length, called The Chase, about a boy trying to recover his stolen candy. (To view The Chase, go to www.glendalecorps.org/zfi and click first on the link to zfi.blip.tv and then on the link to The Chase.)
ZFI hosts movie screenings as well, recently showing Watership Down. Burrell said the movie is about displaced rabbits that immigrate into a new community but have difficulty assimilating. According to Burrell, this brings up similar issues in the Glendale community, which has issues integrating the Armenian and Latino populations.
“A kid will watch a movie and it will open him up,” Burrell said. “Once they’re watching, they’re engaged, and discussing cinematic elements afterwards allows us to get into things that relate directly to their lives—allows for their own self-reflection and depth of thinking.
“My heart is for teaching arts education from a Christian viewpoint,” said Burrell, who is a member of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church. “I want to utilize the equipment, techniques and media to get into hands that will affect change.”
ZFI student, Alex Manukian, 14, said he believes movies are “the best things in the world because it’s something from your imagination that you can create.”
“It’s interesting to watch yourself on screen,” Manukian said. “You get a weird feeling inside like you accomplished something.”
Burrell explained that start-up funding for the program came from The Salvation Army Southern California Division ministry grant, with continuation funds through a grant from the Mustard Seed Foundation as well as community support.
ZFI also produces regular film guides, New Translifeations, in partnership with students from Fuller Theological Seminary. The guides explore contemporary films to act as a bridge between the “filmmakers’ intentions and moviegoers’ reactions.”
The latest film guide addresses movies like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Napoleon Dynamite, seeking to captivate teenagers while asking important questions.
“As we all spend more time surrounded by electronic input, we must figure out how to connect to our media with our minds, our entertainment with our highest aspirations,” reads an excerpt from the New Translifeations introduction.
Captain James Sloan said, “The ZFI program is bringing new children to our corps. The video projects explore filmmaking while staff help the middle and high school aged youth explore life choicesæit has allowed us to impact kids spiritually, ethically and morally.”
—Christin Davis –