The best documentaries tackle subjects we don’t know much about in a way that gives us insight and makes us think. Reel Redemption, a new feature-length video essay from Tyler Smith, explores the role of the church in film and the world of Christian films. Smith, who wrote, directed and narrates the piece, offers an in-depth look at the history of cinema and the place of religion in that history.
Faith and religion are inexplicably tied to the history of film, as Reel Redemption points out. Whether it served as the basis for epic films—such as The Ten Commandments—provided a moral code or simply formed its own sub-genre. Smith’s film takes a linear approach in tracking the influence of organized religion and Christian audiences in film from its early origins through the modern faith-based film movement.
As someone who attended film school at a Christian college (Biola University), I found the basic subject matter here compelling. But even for those that don’t come from a faith background, this is an interesting celebration of film and look at the influence of a segment of society on the medium, both in terms of influence content and content creation. And as with the best examples of this form, Smith’s film takes a hard look at both sides of the argument without making a strong argument of his own, except to say that Christian films have come far enough and been around long enough to be recognized as their own genre.
Like them or not, Christian films are here to stay, and Reel Redemption looks at the way the genre has evolved, different techniques employed, and the way audiences have voted with their wallets. Reel Redemption also takes a look at the role faith—or the criticism of the church and faith—has played a role in mainstream films, and the way mainstream studios have tried to capitalize on this emerging genre and audience.
This film essay includes plenty of interview footage and some moving and insightful film clips. In fact, the whole thing begins with a clip from the Coen Brothers film Hail, Cesar! (2016) in which a film executive played by Josh Brolin is asking a group of religious leaders to weigh in on a script in production to be sure it won’t offend anyone. It’s a fun introduction and dovetails nicely into the history of the church and film that Smith wants to tell.
The entire film is filled with powerful clips and explorations of the history of film that were fascinating. If you enjoy the medium, you’ll be powerfully drawn to this exploration of film history. It might even give you a list of films you want to check out.
While I enjoyed this film quite a bit, I did wish there were some interviews and insight from filmmakers, especially secular filmmakers who chose to capture stories of faith. That was a perspective that seemed missing from this exploration even though films like that are a big part of what was discussed in this exploration.
Reel Redemption isn’t perfect but it is a faithful exploration of its topic that touches on a number of subjects and films over the course of its nearly 90-minute run time.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast, a proud member of the Drive-In Podcast Network.