The New York Times' coverage of the Sundance Film Festival included a fascinating profile of an unusual film critic: Sister Rose Pacatte, a nun of the Daughters of St. Paul who also holds a master's degree in media studies from the University of London, and writes movie reviews for The National Catholic Reporter. This was Sister Rose's first trip to Sundance; she was a "Sundance virgin," in the parlance of the festival. "OK, that fits," she chuckles on her blog, which covers cinema "at the crossroads of faith and film." From the Times:
"Sister Rose was serving not as a sentry protecting religious belief from cinematic product, but rather as a mediator helping to explain one to the other. As such, she embodies a departure both from the religious temptation to police popular culture, in the manner of the Roman Catholic Church’s now-defunct Legion of Decency, and the effort in fundamentalist circles to create a parallel universe of theologically safe movies, television and music. 'To paraphrase a Gospel passage, Christ came into the world to redeem the culture, not to condemn it,' Sister Rose, 61, said in an interview here. 'It’s a negotiation. You don’t give everything a free pass. Something has to come out of your convictions and values. But what matters isn’t what the movie contains, but what it means.'"
When secular audiences hear the words "religion" and "film criticism" they're instinctive reaction, I suspect, is to anticipate writers who are critical of movies because they contain what they deem to be objectionable content. But there are a growing number of spiritually-inclined critics writing about movies to engage with their ideas rather than to simply condemn them; a few of them are contributors to our Criticwire Survey.
Sister Rose belongs to this tradition. After reading the Times' article, I found her blog and her Sundance coverage. I'm not Catholic, but I found her perspective smart and illuminating. I was particularly interested in how she tackled movies that portray organized religion in a negative light, like "God Loves Uganda," a documentary about American missionaries efforts to demonize homosexuality in Africa. Instead of simply dismissing the film, Sister Rose spoke with the director after the screening, and researched the issues involved before writing her thoughtful review. Forget the religious component; any critic who can honestly consider their own preconceptions through the prism of film is one worth reading.
Read more of "Acting as a Mediator at the Crossroads of Faith and Film" and Sister Rose's blog.