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By Phil Hall | March 27, 2005

“Finding Faith in Christ” is a 29-minute movie which is distributed for free on video by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. I discovered this via a TV commercial during a late night channel surf and I was genuinely intrigued by the cheery, can-do optimism promised by the advertisement about the film and its message.

Well, here is a nice surprise: this is actually a very good movie. It is also a bit strange, albeit in a charming manner. As cinematic preaching goes, this works quite nicely.

The format of “Finding Faith in Christ” is quite unusual. It takes place one night at a dinner party in ancient Judea hosted by Thomas (of Doubting Thomas fame), and Thomas is talking about what a great guy Jesus was. Thomas’ wife (who sounds curiously like Anne Bancroft) echoes her husband’s proclamations. Elsewhere at the dinner table is a guest named Jonah (not of the whale fame), who can’t believe anything Thomas is saying about Jesus. Thomas pulls a large scroll out from under the table (why it is there, of all places, is not clear) and notes that the coming of Jesus was predicted for as long as wise men were publishing scrolls.

The film then reverts into a flashback offering thumbnail sketches on the life of Jesus. The Nativity has everyone speaking Aramaic or something close to it (no subtitles or explanations are provided), but when Jesus grows up everyone is speaking Old English (complete with “ye” and “thee” and “thou”) in the flat drawl of the American Midwest. Jesus himself arrives in a crisp white robe, looking a lot like a young Robby Benson affecting the hirsute demeanor of a late-1960s rock star.

Okay, this all sounds silly. But Christ in a bathyscaphe, it actually works. The film is beautifully photographed, handsomely edited, reverential to the original sacred text without becoming strident in getting its point across, and acted with a genuine sincerity of an ensemble who clearly take their work seriously and give the best they can to their roles. While the abbreviated running time does not provide the luxury to absorb every passage of Jesus’ life quickly, and while some important segments are left out (such as the Last Supper and the betrayal by Judas), it nonetheless provides a skillful instruction for anyone in need of such a lesson. And a few scenes, such as the saving of the harlot from the stoning and Jesus walking on water, are created with an intelligence and emotional power that rivals any Hollywood spin on the New Testament.

Wisely, the film ends with Jonah still having his doubts. This floored me — who would expect a religious education film concluding without everyone in divine agreement? It clearly suggests that more discussion is needed on the subject, which is a mature and sincere way to keep a conversation alive for further exploration.

It is a shame that there are no cast or production credits attached to “Finding Faith in Christ” because I would love to give praise to those who were responsible for this fine little production. It is obvious this title was not intended for entertainment or cinematic appreciation, and that is too bad since “Finding Faith in Christ” is just as good as any short film on the indie scene. So here is a big thank you to the Mormons for making this worthwhile flick available for free. Whether it brings the faithful to the Mormon services remains to be seen, but at least it shows the guys in Salt Lake City know how to make a good movie!

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