I don't believe in a plucking God.
I don't believe in a God who picks winners and losers. I don't believe in a God who gives illnesses or challenges or tragedies. I don't believe in a God who gives riches or victories or riches.
I believe in God. I believe in life.
I believe that God, when we're getting it right, is radiated through every moment and every life experience and every aspect of who we are and how we live.
In other words, I believe that everything we experience is an opportunity to share God's love.
I thought about these things, my personal theology statement of sorts, while watching the rather remarkable indie film Noble Fir, a film that is a Christian film yet is not a "religious" film. Noble Fir is a film that has already garnered considerable success in secular film fests precisely because it is a film that lives into its faith rather than merely preaches it.
Quite simply, Noble Fir may very well be one of the best indie Christian films I've seen because it does exactly what Christian films have the power to do when they set aside their egos, personal agendas, and preachiness and simply tell the stories that people need to hear.
Henry Dean, played with stunning sensitivity and insight by Richard E. Wilson, is a rather remarkable man.
He's remarkably angry.
He's remarkably bitter.
He's remarkably dark and isolative and grieving.
Oh my, how he's grieving.
To the credit of the film's co-writers/directors Joseph Arney and Christopher Graham, exactly why Henry is so angry and what exactly he's grieving isn't so much revealed as it is slowly discovered over the course of our own relationship as viewers and participants in Henry's life. Henry is a Christmas tree farmer nearing the end of the growing season, a not so ironic fact considering that Henry himself appears to have started withering away consumed by a silent rage that is becoming less and less silent. To say that Wilson perfectly embodies the soul of a grieving man is an understatement, because his performance is so complete here that it's nearly impossible to finish watching the film without wondering about Wilson himself.
After finding its initial success in secular fests such as Cinequest and Switzerland's Lucerne International Film Festival and garnering praise along the way, Noble Fir is now beginning its journey towards reaching a more faith-based market and has already been accepted into L.A.'s Pan Pacific Film Festival, a Christian film fest, happening from July 24th - 26th, 2014 at the Aratani Community Center in Los Angeles. As an added bonus, Wilson has been nominated for a Stellae Award alongside Angus Macfadyen of Taken by Grace and David Lyons of Penance for Best Actor. In fact, if I have any beef with the Stellae Awards it's in wondering how the film itself didn't snag a nomination for Best Feature Narrative or, for that matter, Best Cinematography for Justin Holbrook's intimate and deeply moving lensing.
Noble Fir is a film where every aspect of the film is central to its success ranging from Holbrook's camera work to Arney and Graham's production design to original music contributed by Ian Jenkins and First Name Michael. While the film is clearly centered around the character of Henry Dean, this is not to say that the other characters, even the film's bit players, are not also important to everything that unfolds. Samuel Pearson and Matthew Goes have quietly beautiful scenes, while Chad M. Saunders excels in one scene that speaks volumes. Mandy Rose Nichols, David Kessler, and a host of others round out a solid ensemble cast all of whom contribute to the ways in which the story unfolds.
Noble Fir doesn't shy away from the dark and potentially dangerous places that are anger and bitterness can take us if we allow ourselves to become consumed by them, but it also doesn't allow itself to become consumed by them. There are scenes that unfold that unpeel the layers of Henry, both because of Wilson's fine performance and because of a script that wisely offers glimpses of light even within the greatest darkness.
I remember watching the social networking postings of an old high school friend recently whose son had survived the recent school shooting in Oregon. As she worked to weave her thoughts and emotions through the myriad of thoughts and emotions, she developed a sort of mantra that "Love must win." Filmed on location in Oregon, Noble Fir reminded me of this mantra often as I watched Henry struggle to make sense only to realize, perhaps, that sometimes life doesn't make sense.
Love must win.
While Hollywood also seldom makes sense, I can only hope that you will get a chance to see one of the most deeply moving and inspiring indie Christian films I've had the privilege to see in recent memory.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic