High Art and Holy Spirit Team Up at the Ragamuffin Film Festival

The Hope Arts Festival and local film collective Project Seven host an Evangelical Christian film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown this weekend.

Jeffrey Travis' Hurry Ronnie will screen as part of the first film program on Saturday.
Jeffrey Travis' "Hurry Ronnie" will screen as part of the first film program on Saturday.

Anyone who's had to sit through recent Evangelical Christian attempts at feature filmmaking -- we're talking Omega Code and its hellishly cornball offspring -- knows that despite frequent attempts to hybridize the work and the Word, the end result is usually cannon fodder for critics and cloyingly preachy to just about everyone else, fellow travelers included.

It's no mistake, then, that Austin filmmaker David Taylor and the local Evangelical church Hope Chapel have joined forces to create a film festival -- called Ragamuffin -- that not only bypasses the overwrought sermonizing but also showcases a wide swath of filmmaking talent that ranges from Taylor's own AdBusters-inspired, 30-second faux public service announcements to more contemplative shorts like Jeffrey Travis' "The Party," which tackles adult themes that are both universal and Christian from a whole new angle.

Ragamuffin's roster boasts uniformly excellent production values (the films we saw ranged from well shot and edited miniDV pieces to 16mm and beyond) and short, sharp sociological commentary mixed in with minor-key moralizing and a generous helping of comedy.

Taylor's work with local film collective Project Seven (which has participating filmmakers producing seven short films over the course of 2002 -- see www.project seven.info/ for more) and his involvement with Hope Chapel led to the creation of Ragamuffin under the aegis of the church's annual Hope Arts Festival, now in its fifth year. The result is a Christian film fest that often feels anything but; Taylor's subversive PSAs ("Narcissus II" riffs on Calvin Klein's Obsession ad campaign) feel like a product of Naomi Klein's respected No Logo anti-ad and anti-corporate culture campaign. It's culture jamming operating under a higher state of grace.

The festival Web site (www.ragamuffinfilm.org) even goes so far as to list "Subversive" under the four-point "What We Love" philosophical mandate of the fest. That's not exactly the cardinal virtue the mainstream tends to associate with Christian camerawork, but Taylor, a former sociology graduate student-turned-cineaste, firmly believes that "Christians are very -- and I don't mean this in a pejorative sense -- immature when it comes to filmmaking. They tend to confuse story with sermon, and on top of that they're not telling very good stories. And that's the impetus behind Ragamuffin: Maybe we can contribute to the maturation of Christian filmmaking and simultaneously provide a venue for those films to be seen."

Of course, if the Prince of Peace popped up in Hollywood these days he'd likely be tossed out on his holy patoot and have to make do shooting guerrilla docs for PBS series The Territory or doing some God-sanctioned culture jamming of his own. As Taylor sagely notes, "If Jesus were to come back today he wouldn't be very popular. But he'd be hired by AdBusters for sure."

After all, Jesus saves -- those lab costs are hell on the pocketbook.

The Hope Arts Festival and Project Seven present the Ragamuffin Film Festival this weekend, July 12-13. An opening party takes place at Flight Path Coffeehouse (5011 Duval) on Friday, July 12, at 6:30pm. Two film programs will be screened on Saturday, July 13, at 4:30pm and 7pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown (409 Colorado), followed by an awards ceremony and party at Flight Path at 10pm. Admission costs $6/general; $4.50/students, seniors, & AFS members; tickets may be purchased online in advance at www.drafthouse.com.

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Ragamuffin Film Festival, David Taylor, Project Seven, Hope Chapel, Jeffrey Travis, The Party, Narcissus, Hope Arts Festival

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