Valleys and peaks
When God calls us to a vocation, like in all things, He does not just promise prosperity. He promises us trouble – the kind of trouble that keeps us clinging to Him. Need sustains faith, and He knows this full well.
So does filmmaker Dylan Jenkinson. The founder of Vancouver-based Hope of Glory Pictures recently took in the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), while promoting a feature length production he has in development.
While comfortable rubbing shoulders with filmdom’s best and brightest, Jenkinson is also all too familiar with the sacrifices and pitfalls of a big screen career. He was a single father for much of his 20s, and his troubled past also involved substance abuse.
Jenkinson is now happily remarried, working faithfully – come peak or come valley – and ever wading through the joys and struggles of truth-telling in the world’s favourite visual form.
“I’ve been asking myself why some films capture a real, true picture of who God is – and why others, often overt Christian films, miss the mark,” Jenkinson told BCCN, in an early morning interview before a day of filming.
As an example of a spiritually successful film, he cited Ordet (The Word) by Carl Dreyer, who was most best known for his silent classic, The Passion of Joan of Arc.
In Ordet, he said, “there’s a scene showing someone, through the act of prayer, coming back from the dead. It is so real and compelling. Though not an explicitly Christian film, it is one of the best films in terms of a Christian making a film. It is clearly about God, and accessible to all kinds of people. The big question for me is: ‘What is it that makes that work’?
“So often, Christians talk about media in terms of its effects: how it is corrupting people’s minds. And then they want to use the same medium to change people’s minds in another way. It can be another form of coercion. I think there is something beyond that has to do with capturing beauty.”
For Jenkinson, “it all comes down to beauty and storytelling. Beautiful music itself is an expression of who God is. A film that reveals beauty in itself has integrity in God’s kingdom. It’s right to reveal beauty. I think if something is beautiful and truthful, it can speak of God.”
Ordet, he said, “is about a Catholic and a Protestant family, and how they view each other. It’s very directly about God, but not over-sentimentalized. I think films that reveal both the light and the dark – in other words, truth – reveal more about God. I am on the quest to figure this stuff out, and to do the work necessary to create films like this.”
In 2009 Jenkinson had the opportunity to spend six months training at the prestigious Canadian Film Centre in Toronto.
“I was feeling stale in my job,” he said, “and then during a time of prayer I felt a still small voice suggest I study at the Film Centre. I ran it by my daughter, my family and friends and everything lined up for a six month commitment in Toronto.”
After applying four times, twice early in his career as a director and later as a writer, he was given an extraordinary opportunity: working with Keystone Media, doing direct story development for Disney. Jenkinson then applied to the highly competitive program once more, this time as a producer, and he hit the mark.
“Being at the Producers’ Lab at the Film Centre let me get out of office work. The resources were there, so I could simply focus on script development and shooting. We produced several short films during that time.
“When I finished, I was faced with the question: ‘What am I aiming for’? I realized that I would rather make one incredible film in my life – a film like Once. I think that is a worthy goal; not to be lazy, but to aim for excellence – make the highest quality film possible, and sink my life into that.”
Asked what originally led him to the art of film, he said: “I realized I think visually, and love storytelling – so I should do something with that. I had a very good teacher in my TV and Film class in high school, and loved making videos. Originally I thought I would go into social work or some kind of addiction counseling – but realized that, through film, I could still work with and love people.”
His dream was eventually realized when he established Hope of Glory Pictures.
“I produced a short film in 2005, and I needed a company to do that film. I raised that money through direct donations, and involving people in my life. Hope of Glory originated from the verse in Colossians 1 that says: ‘To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.’
So, what does active faith looks like in the film making business?
“In film, everything is contract-basis; full-time jobs are incredibly rare. What is more of a step of faith is wanting a full, holistic life – having a good family life, being involved in church and community, and producing excellent work.
“If I put everything into being a director, I could probably do that – but I would have to sacrifice my family on that altar. God has called me to film, to love my daughter, and to love my wife – not to the exclusion of one or the other.”
“There is a film I have been developing for a few years, called Prison Boy. At the 2010 TIFF I was there networking, and I got some support from Telefilm Canada; and I attached a director to it, who just won the Tribeca best narrative feature.
“So when I was at TIFF, I was mostly going to parties and talking with people – to let people know that the project is moving forward. The next step is raising the financing to shoot it.
“It is a huge step of faith when you are financing a film – you personally go to the bank – and borrow millions of dollars against promises people make on paper.”
Jenkinson’s perspective reflects the trust Christians put in the words of scripture. In the hope of glory, we walk by faith, not by sight.