The God Who Speaks won “Best Documentary” at CWVFF 2018 and is now available on DVD or digital on demand. Director M.D. Perkins took some time to share with us reflections from his journey in creating this film.
What was your background in filmmaking before directing The God Who Speaks?
I have been interested in filmmaking since the fourth grade. I made short projects with my siblings growing up and eventually went to film school at Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia. Of course, film school gave me the opportunity to do basically everything there was to do on a film set – from catering to gripping to directing and editing. After graduation, I bounced around the independent film industry in Louisiana for several years working on film sets, mostly as a grip/electrician or in set construction before finding my way back to my hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. I directed two ultra-low budget features and an experimental short film called Strife of Tongues.
In 2014, I was hired by American Family Studios to come into a project as a producer and editor. They, along with Media Gratiae, had embarked on a biographical documentary called Logic on Fire: The Life and Legacy of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It was a combination of theological understanding and storytelling that allowed me the opportunity to work so extensively on that project.
I am on staff with American Family Studios (the video division of American Family Association) and have a hand in most of the short imaging videos, commercials, video curriculums and larger scale documentary projects we produce.
How did The God Who Speaks project help you grow as a filmmaker?
During the process of creating The God Who Speaks I was forced to think through the unique challenges of crafting a theological documentary. Theology is inherently word-based and film is inherently pictorial. How do you make a visual film about something as abstract as the authority of the Bible? My decision was to structure the entire verbal content of the movie first (all the interviews) and then build all the visual/auditory elements to fit the tone, content and visual needs of the movie. It’s an unusual way to build a film but it was what I felt was necessary for this project because the content was so crucial.
I wanted the visuals to add weight, interest, historical continuity and beauty to the interview content. Austin Brooks (my Director of Photography and co-Editor) and I didn’t want cheap images or arbitrary shots to fill the movie. You can only cut to a shot of a Bible so many times before it really cheapens that image. So we chose to visually show the history of the Bible even as the verbal content spoke more directly to the theological understanding of the Bible. This included traveling to Israel and filming historical sites along with gaining access to archives to film biblical manuscripts.
The God Who Speaks challenged me to be both a good theologian and a good filmmaker – not to shrink back on either front. I would say that project grew me in many spiritually significant ways as well, primarily a renewed sense of confidence in the Bible as God’s Word and a deep desire and pressing commitment to share that understanding with others.
How did you work to honor God in the process of making this film?
I believe that honoring God in filmmaking must include being conscious of how we approach both the process and the final product. It was essential that the things said about the Bible on-screen were accurate and the things said about God were absolutely true and maintained a right emphasis on His character. This included who we interviewed, the kinds of questions I asked them and how the footage was edited.
My team of coworkers are all believers who were excited to learn and grow spiritually in this process too, so our filming trips were full of great conversations about God, the Christian life, the realities of Christ and the Gospel, and the beauty of what it means to be His children. We structured our filming time so as to honor the Sabbath – consciously choosing not to use Sunday as a travel day and certainly not as a filming day while giving time for corporate worship even if we are away from our home churches.
Because this project is about the Word of God it was crucial that we recognize our weakness as a team and our dependence on God to provide for our every need. There were many hours of prayer at multiple points throughout the process of planning, filming, and editing. “Unless the Lord builds the house its laborers labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
Why are you personally passionate about the message of The God Who Speaks?
The God Who Speaks is about the fact that God has spoken to us through His Word. It is trustworthy, reliable and authoritative. As someone who has been redeemed by God’s grace, how can I not be absolutely thrilled by the fact that I have access to God’s revelation of Himself in Scripture?
As someone who sees the way the culture continues to slide further away from confidence in basic truth claims and the way the church has sadly become less confident in the Bible’s authority to give us everything we need for life and godliness, it only fuels me more with the urgent and needed message to return to God’s Word. The claims of skeptics regarding the Bible are so shallow and misguided – the Christian really has no reason to waver when faced with those doubts. I want to see the Church of Jesus Christ live upon the realities of God as revealed in His Word. If this documentary can do anything to stir Christians to think about the enormity, weightiness, beauty, and graciousness of having the Bible then I would just be thrilled.
How can people help support this movie?
The God Who Speaks is available to purchase on DVD and digital rental through http://thegodwhospeaks.org.
AFS also developed an 8-week Sunday School curriculum from the extended interview footage for the documentary called The God Who Speaks: Sunday School Kit. It gives churches a way to use the documentary material in a helpful format for their classroom settings.
Finally, if you would like to host a screening of the documentary in your church and would be interested in having a producer come and talk about it, please let me know. We are doing a number of event screenings of the movie in local churches and would love to consider the possibility of a producer-attended screening in your area. Email me (M.D. Perkins) at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss further.
How were you encouraged by the Christian Worldview Film Festival?
I was particularly curious to see what other documentaries were being made. I loved seeing Café Diego, Light in the Congo, Come Alive and Alien Intrusion. As a believer, it’s always encouraging to learn about the work God is doing through Christians in various cultural contexts. As a filmmaker, I am encouraged that there are so many stories of real people in real places that are worth shining a light on and showing the world what is taking place there. So, I’m encouraged to keep finding unique and interesting real-world stories to tell on-screen.
Any closing thoughts?
I would say to young filmmakers: do not neglect or downplay the importance of documentaries. I love narrative features and I’d love to direct another one in the future. But there is something really great about the directness with which you can present your message in a documentary that you can’t do as easily in a narrative. Honestly, I get the sense that many young filmmakers think of documentaries as a second-class art form, something to do only if they can’t get their narrative off the ground. I used to think that way too. But let’s think bigger than that.
There is so much that can be done with the Christian message and worldview within the documentary medium and we are only just scratching the surface. There are ways that we can present fascinating and beautiful stories – or even presenting abstract ideas and theology – all within a context of faith-based nonfiction filmmaking.
The marketplace is full of documentaries that are basically vehicles for secular humanism in all its facets – as it relates to politics, sociology, culture, history and anything else. The best ones always find interesting stories with interesting characters and situations that give an opportunity to describe and define bigger ideas and issues. Let’s get inspired to throw our voices into the fray. If the documentary art form is limited, it is only because our vision is limited.
Such great encouragement to all of us as filmmakers and as Christians! If you haven’t seen this documentary, visit https://thegodwhospeaks.org/ to find out how you can watch it.