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Seattle Pacific University
Spring 2007 | Volume 30, Number 1 | Books, Film & Music

Film Critic Guides Readers “Through a Screen Darkly”

Jeffery Overstreet
Jeffrey Overstreet practices film criticism as cultural engagement.
When Seattle Pacific University Response Contributing Editor Jeffrey Overstreet ’94 wrote Through a Screen Darkly (Regal Books, 2007), a book on faith and film, people took notice. As a film critic not only for Response, but also for Christianity Today, Risen magazine, and his own ultrapopular website — — Overstreet has a built-in faith-based audience. What he admits he was not expecting was a starred review from Publishers Weekly and accolades from filmmakers. Recently, he answered questions about movie-watching, integrity, and art:

What’s your first memory of going to a movie theatre?
When I was 5, my parents took me to see “Snow White.” At the end, seeing the dwarves struggling up the hill with lightning flashes, I thought, “OK, I’m going to make movies a big part of my life!” To learn that storytelling could be taken to that level of intensity and spectacle changed my life.

Why do you think some Christians shun secular films?
Movies take us into the imaginations of people with wide-ranging perspectives. That can be intimidating. But author Frederick Buechner suggests we love our neighbors by seeing the world through their eyes. Yes, movies can be dangerous, reflecting some distorted worldviews. But Jesus didn’t respond to his neighbors by running away at the first sign of sinful behavior. I see him engaging with people courageously, without compromising his own integrity.

How does a movie-watcher compromise integrity?
We need to be mindful, not just see movies as escapism. Some people say, “I go to the movies to turn my brain off.” That’s like saying, “I eat dinner to turn my stomach off.” If we’re not discerning with mind and heart, then movies can be distracting and seducing.

What makes your book about film unusual?
In 10 years of writing movie reviews, I’ve often been asked extremely challenging questions about art and faith. In this book, I answer those by telling stories about how movies have influenced my life. I wanted to provide something different than the all-too-common tone of “Christian contempt” toward popular culture, without shrugging off responsibility or denying what’s truly at stake. How we interact with art reflects how we interact with people.

Through a Screen Darkly is available on and Coming in September 2007 is Overstreet’s first fantasy novel, Auralia’s Colors (WaterBrook Press, 2007), in which an imaginative young woman upsets a kingdom’s regulations about who gets to wear certain colors. “Its theme,” says Overstreet, “matches my book on film: the power of art to reveal redeeming visions of God.”

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