There were several reasons that we went:
1. Grandma and Pop needed a chauffeur. I was only too happy to oblige ... especially if it meant going to a Vision Forum Conference!
2. Leslie and I love going to Vision Forum Conferences. We both agreed that we could attend a Vision Forum Conference on a subject we were completely unfamiliar with and that we cared nothing about, and still come away inspired and renewed. Just hearing Mr. Phillips talk about how every aspect of our lives needs to be evaluated in terms of the Bible is extremely inspiring.
3. Meeting other like-minded Christians is a great encouragement. Leslie and I enjoy talking with people, learning where they're from, how big their families are, what kind of church they go to, what their interests are, how they heard about Vision Forum.
4. Pop is interested in having his unique World War II experiences made into a documentary. I think that he was hoping that Leslie and I could do it for him, but the more sessions that Leslie and I attended, the more we realized that we were definitely not the ones to undertake this! We met several wonderful people, though, who were very interested in Pop's story. We'll see what the Lord does with that!
Just Leslie and I attended the Academy. It was held at Pearl Stables - originally a stable, which was eventually converted into a brewery. It was absolutely beautiful! It was recently renovated into a venue for weddings, receptions, conferences, and other events. I think that the Academy was only the second group to use it.
The opening talk, which lasted about two hours, was given by Mr. Phillips and Mr. Botkin. Each of the other speakers also gave a short introduction explaining what they would be talking about throughout the Academy. This first talk was my favorite of the entire Academy. Both Mr. Phillips and Mr. Botkin talked about what it truly meant to be a Christian filmmaker. Not only do filmmakers need to create films that don't have scenes in them that actually defile the viewers, but they also need to make films that are built upon a solid, biblical worldview. This doesn't mean that films cannot have in them a rebellious, disrespectful child; it simply means that the rebellion and disrespect need to be revealed for what they are: sin. This kind of behavior should not be condoned as cute or normal.
Another subject covered in the opening session was the act of watching films. One of the points that was stressed over and over again throughout both the Academy and the Festival was "Don't watch films passively!" Don't allow your mind to inertly soak in all of the unbiblical, ungodly messages in films. It doesn't mean that we cannot watch any of the films that are out there today (unless they actually defile the viewer, of course); it just means that we need to use them as learning tools, constantly evaluating them according to biblical standards.
Over the next two days, we were almost overwhelmed by all of the information that was thrown at us. While we didn't grasp very much of the technical information, it was still interesting to discover a little bit about how movies are made, how cameras work, and how computers and modern technology fit into all of this.
Ken Carpenter covered several different aspects of filmmaking. He owns two companies: "Franklin Family Media" and "Franklin Springs Films." He showed clips of different films, series, commercials, and documentaries that he'd done. While addressing many of the technical aspects of the films, he also spoke about the underlying worldviews of each film.
Mr. David Rasmussen was a quiet, almost shy man. But wait til you hear what he does for a living! During his talk, he told us all about his latest Everest expedition! "Latest" is right. He's been on several. People hire him to film their outdoor expeditions to later make documentaries or other films. Some of the conditions that he's filmed under are absolutely amazing! Sleeping in tents pitched into the side of a 45 degree slope halfway up the biggest mountain in the world ... doesn't seem like it would be conducive to good filmmaking. He had to carry all of his camera gear on his back, so of course he couldn't use the big, high-tech 35mm cameras he would have liked to use. But the footage was still absolutely breathtaking!
One of my favorite sessions was given by Isaac Botkin. He took everyone step-by-step through the entire process of creating a short animated film. He and his siblings had put together a 3-1/2 minute film to use for this demonstration. His brother and sisters did the music, he and his brothers did different voices, and he did the animating on the computer ... completely digitally. Here are a few images from the 3-1/2 minute film:
As you can see, everything looks like it's made of Lego's. It was really interesting how Isaac Botkin constructed these Lego men and ships digitally.
Another one of my favorite sessions was given by Stephen Kendrick, producer of the very successful Christian film, Facing the Giants. The story behind it is pretty amazing. The film itself is amazing, too!
With just a $100,000 budget, this film was made by a church, relying purely on donations. God did so many great things in the making of this film. Some of the stories that Mr. Kendrick told about how the Lord orchestrated everything are so stirring. I don't have time to tell them all here, though.
Mr. Kendrick mainly talked about how to glorify God through your films. With Facing the Giants, each actor had to sign something certifying that there was nothing in his or her life that would cause God to remove His blessing from this film. I think that everyone who acted in it was a Christian, and about 1/3 of them were homeschoolers. All of the actors were volunteers. Mr. Kendrick was asked if they could take God out of the film, to appeal to a larger audience. "No." "Well, could you just take Jesus out of it?" "No." They wanted to be sure that people knew they were talking about God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and not Buddha or Allah.
Its first weekend in the theaters, Facing the Giants "beat" several Hollywood films that were made with a much larger budget. Facing the Giants ended up fourth on the charts. Toward the beginning of the Academy, before Mr. Kendrick's talk, Mr. Phillips announced that the film had brought in $1.2 million the first weekend. Seeing Mr. Kendrick in the back of the room, Mr. Phillips asked him if it had reached $2 million yet. Mr. Kendrick simply said "Four." Everyone was just slightly blown away.
Anyway, it is a wonderful, inspiring, refreshing, God-honoring film with a powerful message. If they would have given in and taken God out of the film, it would have been a slightly cheesy film. I really don't think that this film would have done as well in theaters without the strong, biblical message. That's what made it unique and different. Everything fell into place at just the right times in the plot. If this had been attributed to chance, or "luck," cheese would have been oozing off of the screen. But the message that God is in control, and that he interferes in the affairs of man completely eliminated any whiff of cheese. The only feeling that you come away from the movie with is one of awe and inspiration. We truly have a great God!
Another wonderful session was given by Mr. Botkin and his son, Benjamin. Mr. Botkin talked about how essential good music is to a film. We watched clips of different films, from Raiders of the Lost Ark to Over the Hedge (or maybe it was Chicken Little; I don't remember). He pointed out how essential the music was to each scene, and also talked about different ways that music can be used in films: in the background, in the foreground, etc. Benjamin improvised on a keyboard while watching a silent movie, and it was very apparent how much the music determined the mood.
The closing ceremony was really special. Instead of just having everyone pick up their certificates on the way out, Mr. Phillips personally called out each person's name and handed each his or her certificate. I never realized what a personable man Mr. Phillips is. For each person, he had a comment, question, or piece of encouragement or information. Even though it took awhile to get through all 200 attendees, Leslie and I enjoyed hearing him talk to each person and watching him interact with people of all ages.
The Academy was a wonderful experience for Leslie and me. We came away with so much. It was nice to have someone to discuss everything with, and Leslie and I normally had a "picnic" in the lobby of our hotel when we got back (normally around 11pm or so). We discussed everything that had happened, and checked the Harris twins' blog to get anything that we missed during the day. The Academy was a wonderful time to meet new people, learn new things, renew our visions, and spend some real quality time together.
The Harris twins, Alex and Brett, (younger brothers to Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye) kept up live blogging throughout the Academy and Festival. To see a much more in-depth description of both, you can go to their blog.