And he taught them many things by parables...
Mark 4:2

Being There, 1979
I have traveled to many countries as a filmmaker, and during those travels I have sometimes been asked to preach, or say a few words, at church services along the way. Invariably, the first thing I make clear to folks is that I’m not a theologian or seminary graduate. To put the disclaimer in film terms, I wouldn’t want anyone hearing my “sermon” to confuse me with Chance, the simple-minded gardener played by Peter Sellers in the movie Being There. In the film, people erroneously think Chance is some sort of savant when in reality all he has done in life is watch a lot of television!

Rather, I tend toward the story-telling approach if and when invited into the pulpit. I think I’m in good company on that one. Great preachers always tell compelling stories and Jesus himself was a master storyteller. This “power of story” was brought home to me a few weeks ago when I went to meet a man for coffee. His name was Scott, and he had reached out to me because he had a film project he wanted to get off the ground and thought I could help. It was our first meeting face-to-face.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, Scott asked me a question: “Which two movies that you saw by the age of twelve had the most influence on your life?”

Ben-Hur is one,” I answered immediately. “And the second one…” I hesitated. There were many movies I might have mentioned, but the question was which two movies had most influenced me. “The second movie,” I said, “would be To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962 (dir. Robert Mulligan)
Scott raised his eyebrows. “To Kill a Mockingbird. Why that film?” he asked. So, I told Scott a story. Two stories, actually. The first one goes like this…
It was late December 1962, a cool afternoon in Tampa, Florida. I was ten years old and had gone to the downtown Tampa Theatre with my mother and younger brother to watch To Kill a Mockingbird.  
I always enjoyed going to the movies with my mother. For one thing, she bought me whatever candy I wanted. My typical choices were SweeTarts and Jujubes, though a Dots Theater Box would do in a pinch. And oh yes, let me not forget the milk caramel Sugar Daddies that came on a stick. Those suckers could last an entire movie!

More significantly, Mom was always emotionally affected by the movies she saw, and this has probably influenced my own desire to be a filmmaker. She would often talk to the actors on screen, warning them that the bad guy was hiding a gun, or that so-and-so couldn’t be trusted. I remember the mix of pride and embarrassment I felt when her spirited engagement with the film sometimes provoked other theatre patrons to hiss loudly and call for quiet!
Yes, Mom laughed and cried easily (a trait I seem to have inherited), and if I recall correctly, she did both while watching To Kill a Mockingbird
As for myself, what I most remember from that viewing in 1962 is that the movie was in black and white and filled me with a deep, wordless sadness. I also remember a tenderness in the music and a white-haired man who had shown wonderful kindness to a small boy and girl.
And now, the second story…

Flash forward to the year 1986 (wait, is that Back to the Future?) when I found myself watching To Kill a Mockingbird the second time. I was living in New York City, working as a pizza deliveryman at a small restaurant on Richmond Avenue in Staten Island. The owner was an elderly man named Salvatore. (As an aside, I once made it into the local newspaper when the brakes on Salvatore’s delivery truck failed one night and I collided with a utility pole outside a nightclub, leading to a black-out over half of Staten Island.)
Sal’s restaurant had a warm, cozy feeling. His wife and son would help him in the kitchen, and he allowed me to sit at a table in the dining area when there were no deliveries to be made. He kept a small, beat-up television turned on in the corner, and returning from a delivery one evening I discovered To Kill a Mockingbird was on the air. A flood of memories came over me as I watched the film again after twenty-four years. But there was a new perspective as well. I had become a follower of Christ five years previously, and now had a different way of looking at the world.
Boo and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird
Flash forward to 2019…

I looked across the table at my new friend. “Watching that film again after all those years… ” My voice trailed off. “It was an eye-opener; literally, an eye-opener.” I then explained to Scott how, watching the film a second time, I perceived new significance in the characters and situations that before had certainly stirred my heart but also left me with unanswered questions. Now, I saw a depiction of the struggle of good against evil in which Atticus Finch represented a loving Heavenly Father; Scout and Jem frail humanity; the racist Bob Ewell, the devil; and Boo Radley, the white-haired recluse, the all-powerful Holy Spirit watching continually over God’s children, protecting them from the evil one. The movie was a parable! And I was struck with the thought that the creators of the film, knowingly or unknowingly (I tend toward knowingly), had given us a story within a story, encouraging us to be beacons of light in a dark world.

If I may be allowed one more flashback…  

When I gave my life over to God by a riverbank in Sweden in 1981, I knew I had made the right decision. I was at peace with God. I also said to myself, “You’ll never be a filmmaker now.” As I sat there by the Motala River, I weighed my options and decided I would become a missionary. For me at the time, filmmaking was a sullied affair, contaminated by ego and pride.
I did, in fact, become a missionary and for two years pushed aside the idea of ever being a filmmaker. But like Jonah, I had been called to Nineveh and to Nineveh I would go.
Now, I know why. As I heard someone say recently, “The shortest distance between a person and the truth is a story.” I think Jesus would agree with that statement. Did he not teach the people many things by parables? As we imitate him in all things, let us follow his lead here, too. Pray for me… for other storytellers, too… as we address audiences gathered ‘round the cultural campfires of our day. Pray that we will do more than entertain with the stories we tell. Pray that we will speak to the deep needs of the human heart and elevate the souls of women and men toward the living God.
With love and affection,

See Final Solution on the big screen! One screening only, 3 PM May 11, at the AMC Sundial 20, 153 2nd Ave N, Saint Petersburg, Florida.

Admission is free, but you must email to reserve your seat.

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Cristóbal Krusen is a filmmaker and author. He founded Messenger Films in 1988.

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