Pastor revels in Christian noir
Rev. Doug Folsom cringes when he hears the word "Christian" coupled with the word "film."
"Christian movies are cheesy and poorly produced," he chided. "I want to make movies that have a good message, a positive message, but that wouldn’t necessarily be labeled as Christian films."
Folsom, formerly an actor based in New York, is the pastor at St. John’s Anglican Church. Despite his station as a religious leader, Folsom doesn’t shy away from controversial roles in his 10-minute shorts.
A former drunk finds redemption on death row through prayer, a charlatan preacher gets caught in the crosshairs of his own lies and a psychologist feels the scorn of his family after he cheats on his wife in three of Folsom’s recent projects.
The films are the slightly forbidden fruit of the 168 Hour Film Project, a festival for religiously themed shorts shot over a one-week, or 168-hours, period. Organizers receive hundreds of entries every year and Folsom’s projects have finished as high as second place in past years. "You know how some pastors play golf two or three times a week? I’m not into that. My main focus is pastoring to people. Some people say I can’t do both, and I say why not? This church has been open to let me be myself."
"I see my love of film as a way to bring people together," he explained.
Folsom arrived in Park City by way of Los Angeles in August. Since becoming the vicar at St. John’s, Folsom has acted on his faith in cinema. With Folsom’s encouragement, St. John’s congregation purchased a high-definition projection system and used it to screen presidential debates and holiday films, such as "It’s a Wonderful Life."
Folsom’s biggest push has been to get Christians in town excited about the 168 Hour Film Festival.
Not one to slouch, Folsom’s projects are up to snuff with industry standards. Past short films, "Unbound," "Mirage" and "I Believe," employ professional casts and crew. Each cost about $12,000 to produce, about $1,000 a minute. "We’re working on an industry level, but we want to create a positive atmosphere without all the high tension. We’re trying to reflect the love of God on set."
He added, "I’m a filmmaker who is a Christian."
Initially, congregants were skeptical about supporting such an ambitious, and expensive, project, but people warmed up to the idea after see Folsom’s shorts. Members of St. John’s have agreed to help fund, and star in, an entry to this year’s festival held Feb. 19 to 26. The theme is family business.
"I didn’t want to push it on people. I had to explain a lot," said Folsom, whose approach to making movies is distinctly postmodern.
"Movies are the churches of today," he said. "Every filmmaker is preaching something. Why not have some influence on filmmaking that can lift people’s spirits? I want to communicate the truth. I want to do something I believe in, not just anything."
Folsom’s first truly big break was finding God. He first investigated religious office in the mid-1990s, when he was working in New York in "off-off Broadway shows" and soap operas.
In 1995, shortly after reading a book called "A Man called Peter" about a Scottish minister, he became an Episcopalian minister and moved to Los Angeles in 2000, where he worked as a chaplain for Los Angeles Center Studios and held after-hours Bible studies on the CBS, NBC and Disney lots.
"My heart goes out to people in the entertainment because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from," Folsom said. "I had to remind people that your work is not the last film you did, but ‘Does god love me?’"
"Just keep hanging in there," he encouraged. "What if Thomas Edison gave up on the 999th experiment? We wouldn’t have light bulbs. Realize your work is in God’s love for you."
It was through Bellaire Presbyterian Church in North Hollywood that he found God’s love in film, he said. Folsom began working on his first Christian film projects, casting people he knew, some professional actors, in principle roles. "We have both Christian and non-Christians on set," he said. "We’re looking for the highest caliber. One lead actor who played Jesus was a Muslim." He added, "I’m not a Billy Graham. I want to make films that lift people up."
St. John’s Anglican Church will host a showcase of the best the films submitted for the 168-Hour Film Festival on Jan. 18. For more information visit stjohnsanglican.org.
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