Welcome to Clinton County

Film Info: “Welcome to Clinton County” (1979) – Part of the”Profiles of Rural Religion” series produced by P.J. O’Connell for the Rural Documentary Project and Penn State Broadcasting – 58 minutes

Distributor:   Pennsylvania State University Media Sales DVD – $25

Summary: An introduction to the religious makeup of Clinton County, PA. From the ethnic Catholics of Renovo, through the fundamentalist Baptists of North Bend and the struggling Jews of Lock Haven, to the consolidated Lutherans of Nittany and Sugar Valleys, this is a survey of religious conditions and outlooks in this rural county. The film also serves to set the scene for the remaining films in the “Profiles of Rural Religion” series.

We’re Really in It With You, Charlie

Film Info: “We’re Really in It With You, Charlie” (1979) – Part of the”Profiles of Rural Religion” series produced by P.J. O’Connell for the Rural Documentary Project and Penn State Broadcasting – 58 minutes

Distributor:   Pennsylvania State University Media Sales DVD – $25

Summary: Rural pastor Charlie is an “Outsider” having moved to the area only one year before. Charlie Mason is a thoughtful smart aleck, irreverently reverent, a counselor, a politician, an outsider in the small rural city where he is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Lock Haven, PA. Rev. Mason is in conflict with his new congregation. He believes “they just want to have a church, and I want to do something important in the lives of people.” Conflict–real and imagined–is at the heart of this examination of a clergyman and his relationships with his congregation.

Profiles on Rural Religion: Last Words

Film Info: “Last Words” (1979) – Part of the”Profiles of Rural Religion” series produced by P.J. O’Connell for the Rural Documentary Project and Penn State Broadcasting – 58 minutes

Distributor:   Pennsylvania State University Media Sales DVD – $25

Summary: To conclude the “Profiles of Rural Religion” series, the series consultants, sociologists Don Crider and Joe Faulkner, come to the TV studio for some analysis and some dialogue with the subjects of the six documentaries. But the dialogue develops most strongly between the subjects themselves, as questions of diversity and religious choice become prominent. And the program provides a final, frontal encounter between Suzie Andresen and Glenn Stover (see “Separate Realities”). Their quite different religious views, untempered and forcefully put, illustrate the range and intensity of religious expression in Rural America.

Sugar Valley Sampler

Film Info: “Sugar Valley Sampler” (1979) – Part of the”Profiles of Rural Religion” series roduced by P.J. O’Connell for the Rural Documentary Project and Penn State Broadcasting – 58 minutes

Distributor:   Pennsylvania State University Media Sales DVD – $25

Summary: Sugar Valley is a “bowl,” with only two breaks in the mountain rim. For 200 years, it was largely self-sufficient, economically, socially, and religiously. Since World War II, however, the Valley has slowly changed. There are two Lutheran churches where once there were nine, a group based out of the United Church of Christ is fighting a school merger with a district outside the Valley, and at the annual community picnic there are now electric-guitared rock groups. But the content of the lyrics–the gospel message–has remained much the same. This is a film of preservation and of change, of meeting the needs of the times and of holding on to what is dear. Sugar Valley is changing, but gradually, sometimes grudgingly and, when possible, on its own terms.

“Enlarging the Kingdom: African Pentecostals in Italy”

Film Info:  “Enlarging the Kingdom: African Pentecostals in Italy”  Directed by Annalisa Butticci and Andrew Esiebo  35 minutes, 2012

Distributor: Annalisa Butticci, http://www.pentecostalaesthetics.net/documentary/

Film Summary (from the website): 

Enlarging the Kingdom explores the encounter, interactions, and conflicts between Catholicism and African Pentecostalism. By putting in conversation Nigerian and Ghanaian Pastors and Catholic Priests the documentary looks at their diverse understanding of evil forces, authorized and unauthorized forms of relating to the Divine, the making of idols and icons, religious leadership and authority, women access to the pulpit and religious politics of the Italian Nation State. Enlarging the Kingdom offers a unique insight into the challenges of African Pentecostals in Italy and the role of Pentecostal Churches for African immigrant communities.

“Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Church”

Film Title: “Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Church” — by James Ault and Michael Camerini — 1987 — 2 versions: 87 minutes and 58 minutes

Distributor: James Ault Productions — www.jamesault.com


An engrossing and detailed look at a small Fundamentalist congregation in Massachusetts in the mid- 1980s. It follows several families, detailing their views of their religion and of the world. It provides an insider’s view without varnishing away negative details. First rate!

I find the shorter version more useful for the classroom, as it leaves time for a quick debriefing in an 80-minute class period. The discussion during the next class period works best if I give students study questions and ask them to relate the film to their reading.

Leave plenty of time for talk! Most students need it.  (JS)

Keywords: Fundamentalism, worldview, conversion, family life, sects

“Parish Portraits”

Film Title: “Parish Portaits” — by James Ault — 1999 — 51 minutes
Distributor: James Ault Productions — www.jamesault.com
Summary: (from the distributor’s website)

Portraits of four diverse Episcopal churches for the Zacchaeus Project and Trinity Institute’s national teleconference “Roots and Wings,” September 27-9, 1999. Includes short scenes on different themes–Episcopal identity, youth, women clergy, etc.–and a longer version of challenges faced by an Anglo-Latino congregation in Oxnard, California.

Keywords: American religion; Episopalians; parish life

“Fall From Grace”

Film Title: “Fall From Grace” — by K. Ryan Jones — 2007 — 71 minutes
Distributor: www.fallfromgracemovie.net

Summary: (from the producers)

“God hates fags,” “You’re going to Hell,” “Thank God for 9/11,” “Thank God for dead soldiers.” Even in the darkness, the picket signs glow, not simply because of their neon hues, but because of the incandescent hate with which they are branded.

This shocking rhetoric flows from the Reverend Fred Phelps and his followers at the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas – smack in the center of America’s heartland. Whether it’s on their toxic website www.godhatesfags.com or at one of the 22,000 demonstrations they’ve staged over the last fifteen years, the Church is focused on one key message: America is doomed because, for too long, it has tolerated homosexuality and allowed it to thrive. Church members picket daily in the city of Topeka and often travel abroad. Most recently, Pastor Phelps and his followers have targeted military funerals for soldiers killed in the war in Iraq as a venue to preach God’s wrath against a nation that has apparently been “taken over by the fags.”

Directed by first-time filmmaker K. Ryan Jones – currently a senior at the University of Kansas – Fall From Grace is the first in-depth documentary feature film to focus on Pastor Phelps and his hate group, and features unprecedented access, interviews with Pastor Phelps and other members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Fall From Grace also includes interviews with the myriad of dissenters: Topeka leaders and officials, ministers, theologians, and two of Pastor Phelps’s adult children who have chosen to leave the church and their family.

Westboro Baptist Church is led by Pastor Fred Phelps, a lawyer who was disbarred in the mid-90s for witness intimidation, who started the church fifty years ago. It is a small group, comprised mostly of members of the Phelps family, but their hatred is prolific. They demonstrate anywhere they feel that their message is applicable, like the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming student who was killed for being gay and most recently, at the funerals of military servicemen and women killed in Iraq.

Fall From Grace takes the viewer inside this surreal world with rare interviews and footage of several pickets and church services. The film focuses on a group that represents a variety of contemporary American issues, including intolerance of homosexuality, the right to freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and the War in Iraq.

Call To Witness

Film Title: Call to Witness: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Ordination in the Lutheran Church — by Pam Walton — 59 minutes

Distributor: Pam Walton Productions

Summary: (from the distributor’s website)

What People are Saying. . .

“Call to Witness is both an elegy to shattered lives and ruined careers and a testimony to the courage and commitment of queer pastors and their partners who are engaged in one of the most important and controversial battles of our time.”
– Outfest 2000, The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Film Festival

“Call to Witness goes behind the angry rhetoric to paint a compelling picture of a denomination’s struggle to come to terms with its gay and lesbian congregants. It is an enlightened meditation on an issue that threatens to tear our nation apart and should be required viewing for both sides of the cultural divide.”
– Chris Bull, Washington Correspondent, The Advocate / Co-author, Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement, and the Politics of the 1990s.

“The stories in Call to Witness need to be heard if we are to seriously engage in the ‘study of sexuality’ that is currently underway in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That study has multiple sides and this video presents one seldom heard by the people in our pews, or in the public.”
–Bishop Emeritus Paul Egertson, Southwest California Synod, ELCA.

“In just sixty minutes, Call to Witness captures not only an important piece of history, but also illustrates why religious debates are so essential to our struggle for civil rights.”
– Jim Mitulski, GLBT Outreach Coordinator, James Hormel Center, San Francisco

The Video Includes . . .

> The stories of Rev. Steve Sabin in Iowa, who was outed by his bishop, supported by his congregation, and “tried” by the national church because he refused to resign; Rev. Jane Ralph in Missouri, who was forced out of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with no recourse; and Pastoral Minister Anita C. Hill in Minnesota, who at the time was working to be ordained as an openly lesbian pastor. (Rev. Hill was ordained in an act of ecclesiastical disobedience on April 28, 2001.)

> The stories of two San Francisco congregations that defied the ELCA in 1990 by calling Revs. Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart, and Jeff Johnson, openly gay and lesbian pastors not on the approved ELCA roster.

> An interview with Reverend Joseph Wagner, ELCA Division for Ministry, and Bishop Charles Maahs, ELCA Conference of Bishops.

> The vigilant work of Luthern Lesbian and Gay Ministries as they support pastors and congregations who are being forced out of the ELCA.

Holy Ghost People

Film Title: Holy Ghost People, by Peter Adair (1967) — 57 minutes

Distributor: Available from GPod

Summary: Holy Ghost People describes the beliefs and practices of a snake-handling Pentecostal church and shows candid shots of the congregation during a service, including snake handling and glossolalia. In a dramatic ending, the leader is bitten by a rattlesnake.

For a longer review, see the above GPod link, which has posted most of a review by Gary Morris from: Bright Lights Film Journal.  (Click here, then scroll down the page to find the full review.)