The Campfire Story: Part 1 of 4
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.
Tomorrow: Part 2 - What the Campfire Film Foundation is