My trip to Cornerstone Festival 2005


Over the Fourth of July weekend this year, I had the chance to spend five days on a farm in the middle of cornfields in Western Illinois. Yes, this is the time for the annual Cornerstone Festival, where 30,000 people descend on this farm to see bands, art, seminars, and films. The music stuff was great, just like it was in 2004.  But for this yearÕs journal, I want to focus on another part of the festival.  A rusty old barn on the farm is transformed into a movie theater, featuring the Flickerings festival, where classic films from all over the world are screened. Rows of folding chairs are arranged facing a movie screen, and a projector and DVD player are set up in the middle of the room. ItÕs not stadium seating, but itÕs at least on par with an actual theater I visited on my vacation in Vernal, Utah, so this isnÕt bad. As far as the quality of the films at Flickerings, for four days, you canÕt beat this lineup anywhere IÔve seen anywhere around these parts. HereÕs a diary of some films I saw at the Flickerings Festival 2005 at the Cornerstone Festival.



Thursday June 30, 2005


Henri Langlois, Passion of the Cinemateque: I figured the three and a half-hours running time of this film would be a little daunting, so I caught the first hour, left to see a seminar at the Wycliffe tent, and returned for the last hour. I found this documentary to be quite interesting, about one manÕs passion to save classic films and build a museum dedicated to the complete history of film. The footage of French films from the early 20th century was interesting and opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed, and the manÕs passion was inspiring.


Breathless: I was eagerly anticipating this, my first exposure to Godard. I found the visual style interesting. The film is renowned for its jump cuts, which were created by stealing seconds of film during sequences like a man driving a car or walking across a street. IÕm not sure this was absolutely necessary, but it did have the effect of giving the film a certain energy. The story was slow and quite talky, but I enjoyed it, and the ending contains one very take, which visually was quite impressive. So IÕm no longer a Godard virgin. IÕm interesting in exploring more. Masculine Feminine is playing in select cities this summer. It played in St. Louis, but unfortunately it happened to play the same weekend that I was at Cornerstone. DÕoh!


Detour: After Breathless, I decided to walk over to the Imaginarium tent where they were holding their own film festival dedicated to Film Noir. This is a genre IÕve heard of but have never explored much of. It was a short film, a little over an hour long, but a good one. Plenty of classic film noir dialogue, delivered by the main character as if he had spent too many nights smoking cigarettes in dingy bars and haunted the memories of lost loves. The story was engaging, a classic case of circumstances that go wrong and women that turn out to be not what they seem to be.



Friday July 1, 2005:


Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music: A documentary made by two women who were total outsiders to the Christian sub-culture, exploring the strange world of the Cornerstone Festival. Actually, Cornerstone isnÕt exactly in the mainstream of the Evangelical sub-culture, which would shun the Goths and the guys with red Mohawks that comprise a significant number of the Cornerstone attendees. ItÕs really a kind of a sub-culture sub-culture, but hearing hardcore bands growl all day long would be daunting for any newcomer. The documentary was quite well done. It consisted of concert footage and interviews with a number of artists such as Josh Duvall, Eric Bazan of Pedro the Lion, and Steve Taylor. What was interesting that most of the interviews concerned the pressures of Christian artists trying to pursue their arts in the Christian culture and struggling with questions like Òshould we use our art to be honest with our audience or are we only supposed to evangelize.Ó And ÒIs it proper to worship with rock music.Ó The documentary was very respectful to the artists and their beliefs and to the JPUSA folks who put on the festival. It even showed moments of audience members raising their arms and singing passionate worship to God, which was genuinely moving. I would recommend this to anyone trying to understand Cornerstone or Christian rock or Christianity in general, because the artists were honest with their struggles, not trying to put on airs as super spiritual. The ladies who made the documentary took questions from the audience afterward, and the Flickerings barn was packed! The discussion was quite interesting, and these ladies were really cool.


Open City: An example of neo-realism, made by Italian director Robero Rossellini immediately after the end of World War II. It was a moving story of the Catholic and Italian resistance to German and Fascist repression during the war. Since the film was filmed in the streets of Italy, which still bore the scars of the war, the film looked incredibly authentic, and correspondingly moving and chilling.


I would have liked to have seen Dogville screening that evening, but the screening conflicted with concerts by the Violet Burning and the Lost Dogs, and I never miss the Dogs at Cstone. Howwwwwwwwl!


Saturday July 2, 2005


Battle of Algiers: All I can say after this film was, Wow. This is maybe the best war film I have ever seen, about the French occupation of Algeria in the 1950s and the Algerian resistance. The film showed the struggle of the resistance of the Algerian people, yet showed the horror of the terrorist-style attacks by the French soldiers and the Algerian resistance leaders. Yet, the film was relatively balanced. The French general in charge of his troops was not portrayed as a monster, but as a professional who had a job to do and led his men in doing it. The film walks tightropes between humanity and horror and between the occupiers and the occupied, and tells an incredible, sobering, and moving story. War is such a horrible thing.


Bonhoeffer: IÕve been waiting to see this film since it was screened at the 2003 St. Louis International Film Festival, and the screening was sold out. The documentary was quite informative about the life of Bonhoeffer, the internal struggles and conflicts he faced in trying to discern how God would use him to oppose the Nazis, and the film showed the controversial choice he made to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot failed, which cost the lives of Bonhoeffer and others involved. His life really makes one ponder the cost of doing what is right and whether I could have shown the same commitment and courage.


The Cow: An pioneering Iranian film telling a simple story about a cow and one manÕs devotion to it, and his obsession when he is told it is dead. The characters of this village are developed very well, and the viewer is drawn into the simple way of life. The characters are flawed and the film doesnÕt shy away from their flaws, and the journey the main character takes in his obsession is disturbing to watch, as he crosses the line between human and beast, and shows the inner animal that can live inside each one of us.



Sunday July 3rd, 2005


A Man Escaped: My introduction to the films of Robert Bresson. Thanks to an informative introduction given by Doug Cummings, he explained BressonÕs style quite well, how he chose not to give the viewer too much information, but used external sounds to convey information within a scene. He also explained how Bresson taught his actors not to emote, and this approach was striking, requiring the viewer to discern the characters thoughts by what is going on around them. The film itself is a simple story of how a French Resistance fighter is imprisoned during World War II, and how he contemplates escape and uses the items at his disposal to plan and execute his escape plan. Along the way, another prisoner is brought into his life, which may or may not scuttle his plans. The ingenuity of this prisoner brings to mind MacGuyver, while his inner conflicts are brought out in conversations with fellow prisoners. This is an outstanding film, not just because itÕs about an escape attempt, but shows the importance of community. I definitely want to explore more of BressonÕs films.


Time of the Wolf: A chilling and suspenseful post-apocalyptic film where the viewer is often kept as much in the dark as the people who are trying to escape an unknown enemy while pursuing an escape that may never come. The effects of sin on the people in this situation are strikingly clear, and an unsettling air hangs over the film. The ending is shocking, confounds the viewersÕ expectations, is ambiguous, yet is surprisingly effective. I have to admit the discussion J. Robert Parks led after the film helped me understand the film quite a bit, and understand the ending. This is a true horror film, not the cheese perpetrated by Freddy and Jason, but the horror of the unknown. This film will freak you out, trust me.


Casablanca: I couldnÕt think of a better place for my first ever viewing of this classic film than with the crazy folks in the Imaginarium tent. The film was wonderful, a true classic, quite inspiring. I liked the romantic elements and they were true to life. They didnÕt conform to the viewers expectations for a modern romantic comedy, but offers something far better in return, dignity. All in all, a great way to finish a great weekend.