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.



Film Info: A film by Roberto Cipriani and Toni Occhiello.  48 minutes. Italian and English.  1989/1992.

Distribution: University Roma Tre, this is the link

Film Summary: This movie presents a popular religiosity event in Southern italy: the processions of so called “Red Christ” during Holy Week. Red color is both a religious and a political symbol.

“Jilbab: A Documentary on the Indonesian Woman’s Headscarf”

Film Info: “Jilbab: A Documentary on the Indonesian Woman’s Headscarf”.  Directed by Jenn Lindsay, 2011.  Various lengths, from a focused 20 minute version to a more complex, 50 minute version.

Distributor: Jenn Lindsay (www.jennlindsay.comDownloadable preview posted on Vimeo:

Film Summary: In Jogjakarta, Indonesia, the Muslim women’s headscarf is distinctively colorful, fashionable, fun and expressive. What are the dreams and commitments behind the choice to veil or not to veil?  JILBAB, a documentary named after the Indonesian word for the Muslim hijab, is about veiling trends for women in the city of “Jogja.” It features students from Universitas Gadjah Madah, designers of local women’s fashion boutiques,and Muslim women from outside of Indonesia speaking about the significance of veiling (or not veiling), veiling ideology and fashion, and the history of veiling in Islam. This film explores uniquely Javanese Islam, its unmistakable religious aesthetics, and what the jilbab suggests in an Indonesian context as opposed to Middle Eastern, North American or European Muslim contexts.

“Laatoo: Dance and Spirituality in Pakistan”

Film Info:  Laatoo: Dance and Spirituality in Pakistan” /« Laatoo : Danse et spiritualité au Pakistan »  English and Urdu with French subtitles. Directed by Alix Philippon and Faizaan Peerzada.  2003.  

Distributed by: Alix Philippon (Sciences Po, Aix-en-Provence, France).  There are various versions, ranging from 45 minutes to an hour and a quarter.  Contact the director for information.

Film Summary:  LAATOO is a documentary about the role of dance in Pakistan : from the classical Kathak,Bharanatyam and Odyssi to the sufi tradition of the dervish right up to the dances performed by prostitutes. The film uses scenes and interviews with great dancers such as Naheed Siddiqui, Sheema Kirmani, Tehreema Mitha, Indu Mitha and Fasi-ur-Rehman to help us locate Pakistani dance in its religious, philosophical, social, and political contexts.

LAATOO est un documentaire qui fait l’état des lieux de la danse au Pakistan : de la danse classique comme le khatak, le bharatanatyam et l’odissi, à la tradition soufie des derviches jusqu’aux danses pratiquées par les prostituées. C’est à travers les témoignages des grands danseurs classiques tels que Naheed Siddiqui, Sheema Kirmani, Tehreema Mitha, Indu Mitha et Fasi-ur-Rehman, que nous découvrons la danse et sa problématique dans son contexte religieux, philosophique, social et politique.

“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,

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.


Film title: “Knocking” — by Joel P. Engardio and Tom Shepard — 2005 or 2006 — 53 minutes (plus extras on the DVD)
Distributor: New Day Films — 888.367.9154 —
Summary: (from the distributor’s blurb)

KNOCKING opens the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses. While protecting their own rights, they have won a record number of court cases expanding freedoms for all Americans. In Nazi Germany, they chose the concentration camps over fighting for Hitler. They refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds but support the science of bloodless medicine. They are moral conservatives who stay out of politics and the Culture War. KNOCKING follows two families who stand firm for their often controversial and misunderstood faith. Their stories reveal how one unlikely religion helped to shape history beyond the doorstep.

Keywords: sects, pacifists, American religion, religion and law

“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 —


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 —
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

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 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.