36 Parables: A Fresh Look at the Words of Christ

by Christopher Martin

The Vagabond begins to panic. He’s tired, dirty, and disheveled. He’s been on his feet for far too long. And now this: His cherished necklace is missing. He searches his jacket pocket. No luck. He checks the pockets of his pants for a third time and then a fourth. Still nothing.

He needs that necklace and it is gone. It may not look like much, but it is priceless to the Vagabond. And he will go to any length to retrieve it. “I must find it,” says the Vagabond as he begins his search. “I have to. Nothing can stop me until I find it.”

So unfolds the story told in Found, a dramatic retelling of the Parable of the Lost Coin, which Christ shares in Luke 15:8-10. Found – set in a modern city, with an elderly vagabond searching for a necklace he values far more than its monetary worth – is one of the films in 36 Parables, a series of 12 DVDs, each containing three short films adapted from the parables of Christ. Conceived by John Schimke ’03 and produced by Schimke along with Stewart Redwine ’05, and David Gaw ’97, the series debuted in December 2005, with the remaining 10 DVDs scheduled for release over the next three years.

Inspired in part by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue, a 10-part film series based on the Ten Commandments, the APU alumni found Christ’s parables perfectly suited their calling.

“Creating a series around the parables gave us a goal and outline for 36 films centered around Scripture,” Redwine said. “As a Christian, I strongly believe in participating on projects centered on God’s Word, which is living and real and powerful. The framework of 36 parables provided a tangible goal to incorporate Scripture into our work.”

Just as Jesus tailored His parables for the audience, the 36 Parables DVD series features modern adaptations of Christ’s teachings in an effort to instruct and inspire a 21st century audience.

“You can’t separate the films from the Scripture,” Redwine said. “Our goal was to take the Word of God and find a new way to directly express it to people. Jesus used parables to get His message to the audience of his day. We want these films to convey His message to the modern audience, partly through the films themselves, but also by leading them to read or reread the original parables.”

Though the 36 Parables team plans to focus the initial marketing of the series as a teaching tool for pastors and church-small group leaders, they hope the quality of DVDs merit their eventual place alongside mainstream Hollywood DVDs in Christians’ home media libraries. While developing the series, the filmmakers wrestled with how to best present Christ’s words through film. “There are so many elements to each of the parables and we knew we needed to do our due diligence,” Gaw said. “We spoke to many pastors and dug hard into biblical commentaries. We didn’t want the films to preach, but we did want them to inspire audiences to go back to Christ’s original words in the Bible.”

Schimke found the process of adapting the parables rewarding, as it gave him a stronger appreciation for Christ’s words. “We spent a lot of time making sure that we understood the parables before we began adapting them,” Schimke said. “We wanted to place them in a modern context while still keeping Christ’s stories and messages intact.”

Backstory: A Project Is Born
According to Schimke, 36 Parables emerged after three challenging years of development. “I spent two years pitching this project to anyone who would listen to me,” Schimke said. “I kept hearing from people that they loved the project, but didn’t have the funds to support it.”

Initially discouraged, Schimke shelved the project until a fortuitous turn of events led to him find an investor to help launch 36 Parables. With Redwine and Gaw soon on board, the partners raised more than $125,000 in investment money to cover production of the first three films, an e-commerce website (www.36parables.com), DVD duplication, and advertising costs. They also received help from APU’s Department of Theater, Film, and Television through a stewardship program that allows alumni of the program to use school equipment for a nominal fee.

“36 Parables was the first alumni project to benefit from this program,” said Monica Ganas, Ph.D., associate professor. “We’re teaching these Christian filmmakers that there is value in what they do, and now we’re glad we can help them create their projects.”

The 36 Parables team also called on fellow APU alumni with experience working in the film industry to help with the project. More than 20 APU students and alumni are working on 36 Parables at every level of the production ladder, from makeup artists to sound technicians. The production team hopes to continue working with students and alumni on each of the remaining 33 shoots.

“I can’t imagine completing this project without APU students and alumni,” said Gaw. “The community experience that APU creates has enabled us to maintain relationships beyond college.”

“As we work on these projects, we want to do anything we can to include APU students and alumni,” Gaw said. “We anticipate hiring them for roles in front of and behind the camera. APU has provided so much for each of us that we are excited to have opportunities to give back.”

In addition to the three short films, the first DVD includes a documentary with interviews from leading scholars and theologians on Christianity and the arts. These include screenwriter Craig Detweiler, REEL Spirituality author Robert Johnston, and Barbara Nicolosi, lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies and executive director of Act One, Inc., a Christian screenwriting program in Hollywood.

“One of the challenges we foresaw with these films is that the audience doesn’t have reference points for who we are as filmmakers,” Gaw says. “We decided to include the documentary as a means to explain ourselves to the Christian audience. But they also work as yet one more education tool for the audience on both the importance of the parables and the importance of Christians using the arts as a teaching tool.”

“As a Christian, I strongly believe in participating on projects centered on God’s Word, which is living and real and powerful. The framework of 36 parables provided a tangible goal to incorporate Scripture into our work.”

According to Redwine, the reaction to the first DVD in the series has been positive. “I’ve seen several people moved to tears after viewing Found,” Redwine said. “Sometimes we get so close to God’s Word that our hearts become hardened to its implications. To be reminded that God seeks each one of us like the character in Found seeks the lost jewelry really resonates with the viewer.”

“We just want the films to create conversation and get people to study the Bible, Gaw said. “To hear that a pastor or a small-group leader uses the films to initiate discussion on the words of Christ is the best review we could ever get.”

Christopher Martin ’98 is a freelance writer in Washington, DC. [email protected]