Religious studies reels out films for debate

15 March 2004

Movie talk: Sa'diyya Shaikh of Religious Studies holds forth.

Films, as critics and cineastes will tell you, are in the main vapid and vacuous, and Hollywood the prime purveyor of bubblegum blather. Occasionally, however, a film will come along that sparks debate and/or resonates with cinemagoers' deepest-held beliefs.

And a little polemic is exactly what three lecturers from the Department of Religious Studies were after when they recently introduced a cinematic element to their second-year course on religion and society. Over the semester-long course, Professor Jim Cochrane, Sa'diyya Shaikh and Raffaella Della Donna will be screening films (mainstream, documentary and art house) that will serve as fulcrum for discussion and writing in class.

"Films provide a visual encounter, portraying immediate and sensory dimensions of a religious tradition that cannot always be conveyed in lectures," said Shaikh of the new additions to the course. "We also hoped that it would give people, in some way, a deeper insight into aspects of the lived reality of religions."

The Screening the Sacred: A religion-in-film festival kicked off with Roland Joffe's The Mission, starring Robert de Niro and Jeremy Irons. The Crucible, the 1996 cinematic version of playwright Arthur Miller's play with Daniel Day-Lewis and long-fingered Winona Ryder, as well as Norman Jewison's adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar have already been screened.

The rest of the line-up is:

  • March 16: Black Robe, the acclaimed but little-known film by Australian director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy) on the first contact between the Huron Indians of Quebec and the Jesuit missionaries from France who came to convert them to Catholicism.
  • March 23: The Serpent and the Rainbow, a 1987 voodoo thriller by horror-meister Wes Craven, featuring a young Bill Pullman.
  • March 30: In Holy Smoke, Kate Winslet plays a young woman searching for the meaning of life in India. The film is directed by Jane 'The Piano' Campion.
  • April 13: The Gods Must Be Crazy, the oft-debated comedy by local director Jamie Uys
  • April 20: Malcolm X, the Spike Lee joint that received a lukewarm reception from critics and cinemagoers.
  • April 27: The Hajj and Islam. The Hajj is an American ABC Nightline Special documentary that tracks five pilgrims from the UK, Pakistan, Kuwait and the US as they prepare for their journey to Mecca. Islam is an Emmy award-winning, Smithsonian World Segment documentary that discusses the history and culture of the "worlds" of Islam.
  • May 4: Divorce Iranian Style, a "fly-on-the-wall" look at proceedings in an Iranian divorce court that allows an insight into the lives of several Iranian women.
  • May 11: Rumi: The Wings of Love (documentary) and Door to the Sky (feature film). Rumi documents the rarely-witnessed "whirling ceremonies" of the Mevlevi and Halveti dervishes, performing the works of 13th century mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi. In Door to the Sky, a young Muslim returns from Paris to visit her dying father in Morocco, where she not just rediscovers her Islamic heritage, but also sets up a shelter for battered women.

The films are screened at 16h00 in Leslie Social Science lecture theatre 2C. Everyone is welcome.

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