If you’ve followed the earlier parts of our story, I hope you’ve now seen that the Campfire Film Foundation has a bigger vision than being just another educational resource website. A core part of our work involves serving teachers and leaders who guide the hearts and minds of our leaders of the future - using quality short films.
3 WAYS TO GET INVOLVED
As teachers, there are many ways to get involved with Campfire, but here’s just three to get you started.
1. Are you a ‘big thinker’?
We’re always on the lookout for community leaders in “big thinking”. Once a quarter we run what’s called an ‘online showcase’ with 5 films and comment from ‘experts’ who contribute their thoughts on issues raised by our films. Anyone familiar with our old site will have seen people like Tim Costello, Waleed Aly and numerous others who have contributed in this way. Our next showcase is scheduled for late September - with all ‘expert’ slots filled - but there’s plenty more to come. We aim to get representative responses from every major religious/ideological viewpoint in Australia.
2. Are you a writer?
There’s also “Fireside notes” to be written for every film we get in. This is where the deep unpacking of the films are done. We’re already receiving work from a shortlist of teachers who can do this for a nominal payment, and I’d be interested in further offers if you think this is something for yourself or one of the media teachers at your school.
3. Are you wanting to engage your students?
By far the easiest way to get involved and support our filmmakers and the broader work, is to sign up as a member for your school. I’m currently making times to catch up with individual schools over the next 6 to 8 weeks about how Campfire can benefit your school. I’d love to visit your school to do that.
For less than $45/film you can start tapping into the kind of films I’ve been talking about. We offer bundled quotas of either 10, 25 or unlimited usage. You can get started straight away by registering online at http://campfire.org.au/register-teacher This is competitively priced when you consider the cost of regular educational videos.
Remember also that YOUR membership supports our vital work, and supports the creative film artists who inspire and challenge YOU and YOUR STUDENTS.
Finally, our 2min promo clip shows students at Waverley Christian College watching our Campfire winner for 2009 – a film called ‘Hope’. No surprise that they were moved.
As I’ve already said, I’m a Christian. I believe in a big God, and if I have questions or fears about other faiths, I know that God is big enough to deal with it, even if I’m not. Having arrived back at my own faith after times of questioning in my life, I’m often reminded of the way my own father used to approach hard topics. Not just at home but also at Sunday School.
I’d be one of those kids who’d sit up the front and give the usual answers:
– and he would question me and ask, “why do you say that?”… and…
"That’s the answer you’re supposed to give, but is that what you really think?"
This importance of questioning has always coloured my thinking and I think it prepared me for this whole area of interfaith, which I admit to being fairly new to.
A few years back, the youth pastor at our church asked me to run a series of Campfire studies over 6 weeks with our young people – all late teens – and one of the films we showed was A Land Called Paradise. After watching this film we had some discussion groups, and the questions started to roll in. One young guy said, “so if Muslim’s say I love Jesus – then what’s the difference?” And they were challenged into thinking about what that meant for them as Christians and started diving into their bibles for answers… many of them for the first time. The reports back at the end of the 6 weeks was “that was one of the best bible studies we’ve ever done!”
Were they more tolerant & understanding about people of other faiths?
Were they stronger in their own faith and conviction?
With the chance to explore these big questions in a safe space, they grew, both inwardly AND outwardly. THIS is the kind of space that Campfire is providing, that schools can now get easy access to as members.
"83% of young people are confused about what they believe"
Study by Dr Philip Hughes, (ACU / Monash Uni 2007)
Short films that explore deep issues open up doors of discussion. This can happen, not only in areas reserved for ‘religion’ and ‘values education’, but also in different subjects right across the curriculum. I believe wholeheartedly that spirituality lies beneath EVERY aspect of life and study, not just in subjects like religion and society. It’s bigger than politics, and its even bigger than education itself.
"I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual"
Study of college students (Laurence, SA Govt, 2006)
Who would have guessed 20 years ago that we’d have a long-standing weekly national youth radio program featuring a Jew talking to a Catholic Priest. John Saffran and Father Bob have become national treasures!
Likewise, it’s no surprise that programs “Judith Lucy’s Spiritual Journeys” is doing so well according to TV ratings. Religious & spiritual programming, to the surprise of many, is NOT going away; if anything, it’s increasing.
Campfire is helping to fill the desire for deep, culturally-sensitive learning in a very real way.
In really practical terms, Campfire is an online library of short films relating to a range of curriculum areas like: Aboriginal perspectives, Health & Physical Ed, Religion & Society, Philosophy, Media, English, personal development plus a range of other areas. We tackle the hardest subject areas by helping teachers to generate honest discussion.
Importantly, as a member, you can stream films directly, or even download them and put them into a system like ClickView, DVC or VTV – whichever you have in your school.
Every film also comes with teacher notes we called “Fireside notes” which get deep into the heart of the film and offer a series of discussion questions.
Also, school librarians will be pleased to know that all our films are indexed using what are known as SCIS numbers, used in most Australian and New Zealand schools.
When two people argue and fight, the common orientation is a face to face confrontation. This can happen when we’re exploring issues of a religious or spiritual nature. But around a campfire, people come together.
The two people who once argued can direct their attention at something else – the fire – and discuss the issue of importance without the personal attacks.
THIS is the metaphor of Campfire. And in the place of fire we use short films – one of the most potent art forms in society today.
So our mission is two-fold:
to promote understanding of one’s own beliefs and respect for the beliefs of others using the power of short films.
to encourage filmmakers to explore issues of deep meaning in their films – whether that’s spiritual, cultural, or philosophical.
Campfire is a social enterprise, meaning that we are an organisation that exists FIRST AND FOREMOST FOR OUR MISSION. We’re not-for-profit, but as I heard it put recently, we’re also not for loss! We get our income through membership access to our online collection.
HYBRID LIBRARY AND FESTIVAL
As well as building a collection of short films online, we also run a yearly film festival screening. We see this an important way to engage with the local community and to really celebrate our filmmakers. There’s nothing quite like having your film screened in a cinema, perhaps it’s something to do with having a captive audience in front of a large projection of your work.
In 2009 we were pleased to gain the support of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (or ACMI) at Fed Square – and we’re now officially recognised as ACMI Screen Partners. We ran our first awards screening there in December of 2009 in conjunction with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Here’s a 1minute clip of the highlights of our inaugural event on Vimeo.
Now that the Campfire Film Foundation is a public, not-for-profit company, I’d like to think that my personal connection with it all is able to recede into the background. In reality of course, it’s now — as much as any time in the past 5 years — that I’m quizzed about my personal thoughts. When it comes to matters of deep meaning, faith and spirituality, it seems we don’t entirely trust people until they’ve “come clean”. The following 4-part post is based on a talk I gave this week at an AARE (Aust Assoc of Religious Education) conference in Melbourne on the subject of “faith and art”.
I hope it also provides some useful background to anyone curious about this emerging organisation called Campfire.
The seed for Campfire started back in about 1997, when I was a documentary student at the Victorian College of the Arts. As a Christian, I got sick of how Christians kept being portrayed as the idiot nut-cases in films we watched. When it came time to make my own documentary, I found this woman who was completely wrapped-up in her self-made American New Age guru. This Jewish woman had a real mixed bag of spirituality going on, which I thought would make a great story. Subconsciously, I was doing some serious pay-back, showing up someone else who I thought was a real nut-case. Of course I never said that – but these were my unconscious thoughts at the time.
During the making of that doco, it slowly dawned on me what I was doing: I was creating something to smash down someone’s reputation. Somewhat ashamed, I decided I could do better than that. After all, as a follower of Christ I am called to love my neighbour, and realised I should be using art to explore and build up rather than close-off and tear-down.
So, the seed was laid to find ways to do just that.
After film school I did some freelance work on documentaries for ABC and SBS before heading into a long stint producing videos for a major Australia educational video production company. The topics were broad – everything from bullying to gene technology and evolution – everything EXCEPT the topic of faith & spirituality.
In fact the attitude of my boss at the time was to “leave religion alone”. He argued that it was too hard, it didn’t sell, and it was full of freaks who were cashed-up making their own programs with their own agenda anyway. That sounded reasonable.
Then things started changing. It was 2006, YouTube had just demonstrated that it was possible to use the internet for exhibiting short films, and after ‘9-11’ our collective consciousness was preoccupied with the kind of terrorism fuelled by religious zealotry. I asked a friend of mine, William Kentler, if he could build a YouTube-style website with a forum, and after the immediate shock, he said yes.
CAMPFIRE IS BORN
I took up the challenge of my atheist boss and got in touch with a young Muslim filmmaker with a great little film he’d won an award for at the StKilda Film Festival. I also got hold of a Christian film and a Buddhist film, and the whole thing started growing. We launched our first online festival in February 2007, with 5 short films.
I quickly realised that I needed a bit of emotional and spiritual support for myself, and came across an older guy, Rev Gavin Baulch, who became my mentor and friend, and continues to support me and the work we do.
To this day I continue to meet new filmmakers whose work delights and inspires me – particularly in the way I see and explore new aspects of my faith. Sometimes I’m confronted, challenged and even repulsed, at other times I’m reassured, inspired and pushed along further in the way I think about life and meaning. I’ve seen how it does the same for others also, regardless of their spiritual or religious persuasion.
What’s exciting now is that I get to spend ALL of my time working on this hobby and passion of mine.
We’re starting a new list here on the Campfire Film Foundation blog which simply tries to keep track of what teachers are asking us for.
As we visit different schools and talk to different teachers, we find a lot of gaps in short film content. We’re quite open about this list because ultimately we’re driven by the desire to get schools using quality short films, no matter where it comes from. If it comes through us - that’s fantastic, because then short filmmakers can get rewarded for their work.