EDITORS NOTE: This review was originally published during the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Smorgasbord moviemaking means director and co-writer Daniel Karslake can tell the stories of five conservative families grappling with gay children in his sprawling social message film “For the Bible Tells Me So.” The fact that the religious right uses a literal, and arguably incorrect, interpretation of the Bible is nothing new and Karslake (working with screenwriter Nancy Kennedy) offers no additional insights into the culture war between evangelicals and the gay community.
But Karslake’s evident filmmaking skills, ones he honed on the excellent PBS newsmagazine show “In the Life,” include the ability to gather insight from his participants in the most stressful circumstances, skillful HD camerawork and most of all, a deep and compassionate feel for the material. His one mistake is a cartoon sequence in the middle of the film that’s meant to provide some comic relief but sticks out from the film like a sore thumb.
The problem with a smorgasbord movie like “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a disappointment for everyone but the most devoted gay rights advocates, is the challenge of adequately covering every subject, making the big picture case for their stories and finally, tying the multiple subplots into a neat, finale package. “For the Bible Tells Me So” feels like that film that never ends, or a film whose director doesn’t how to end things. I’ve always believed that there is such a thing as a documentary filmmaker who loves his subject too much and while I praise and support Karslake’s advocacy for equal rights for all Americans, his passion cripples his film terribly.
My second issue with the film is its complete lack of surprises. The villains are bulls-eye clear. Numerous shots of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart calling gays “abominations” turn redundant. Karslake and his crew would have done the “For the Bible Tells Me So” justice by seeking out the new intolerants, people like Citizens of Community Values founder Phil Burress, who works tirelessly to outlaw gay marriage.
The only surprise is how entrenched intolerance is within the conservative Christian communities. The heroes of the film, religious leaders and experts who argue against literal interpretations of the Bible, also lack spark. The exception is former U.S. Congressman and Presidential candidate Dick Gephardt and his lesbian daughter Chrissy. The love and support Gephardt, his wife Jane, and his family show for Chrissy is inspiring and one wishes Karslake would understand that some subjects shine better than others and that subjects don’t all deserve equal time. Actually, my desire for Karslake to focus on Gephardt is a desire for him to show filmmaking restraint. My advice is this: Next time, choose a single subject; one you know very little about.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Steve Ramos is an award-winning film writer based in Cincinnati, Ohio. When not on assignment, he maintains the blog Flyover Online.