Can at least four of the Best Picture nominees for an Academy Awards Oscar, such as "Midnight in Paris," "War Horse," "Hugo," and "The Artist," serve as the basis for a class at church on exploring theological themes?
For longtime Hollywood producer and devout Christian Ralph Winter, the answer is a resounding yes. The same answer goes for Montrose Church, located just east of Hollywood Hills and Burbank, where Winter teaches the four-week class, "Grow 207: Theology and Film."
Winter's last session of the class offered this year is planned for Sunday morning, the day of the 84th Academy Awards which takes place in the evening.
"If we don't engage with movies, television, and social media storytelling, I think we as Christians fail to engage our culture and community," Winter recently told Christianity Today during an interview.
"Oscar season is a great opportunity to do that. We should be looking at the stories and movies that our culture honors, and dialogue about whether we can embrace them, learn from them, and what we find true or beautiful about them," he insisted. "It's a way for us to reflect on our own journey and find out if and how it matches up with the stories, and then dialogue about why it does or doesn't."
Winter, who once considered becoming a pastor, produced "Star Trek: The Search for Spock" in 1984 and has been busy in the film industry ever since, CT reported. He has overseen such projects as the " X-Men" and "Fantastic 4" movies, as well as independent films targeted more toward a faith audience, including "The Least of These," "Thr3e," "House," and "The Visitation."
He explained how he determined which movies to use for his class.
"I thought it would be interesting to examine the Best Picture nominees, and see how those stories match up with what we understand as Christians," Winter told CT. "This year I selected four nominees –"Midnight in Paris," "War Horse," Hugo," and "The Artist," in that order.
"Each week we discuss one of the films and how they relate to our Christian faith. I tried to find movies that had some connection to each other, and I think all of these are about what we can learn from the past, and how we can recalibrate for the future. I also find it interesting that all of these films are set in a similar time period in the 20th century, and are all specifically related to filmmaking in Paris or are made by French filmmakers."
He was asked how the class fits into a "worthwhile Christian learning experience."
"The process is similar to our own journeys: We have to find meaning with our 'battles,' to learn something about ourselves we didn't know before. When we find those things, particularly in relationship or in community, it can unleash real power-power to understand the meaning of our journey and what new power we can access to move forward," he answered.
"We should ask ourselves, 'What are the key questions the story is raising? How do we respond to these questions? What theological reflections relate to these questions? How do our responses connect with the movie story's responses?' Asking good questions is a great way to get people into dialogue with the movies. The grid or the criteria matters less than getting the 'audience' to engage with you, and flesh out these issues."
Winter said that as an Academy member, the awards season is an opportunity for members to highlight their thoughts on "the best achievement in various categories of our storytelling artistry, and what we think inspires others to do great work and achievement."
"For producers, the Oscar goes to the producers of the Best Picture; it is our highest award, the last one of the show, and frankly what we all aspire to someday," he told CT.
"Grow Classes" at Montrose Church asks students to "take the next step in [their] journey with Christ by attending [the church's] second Core Class, an in-depth Bible study, or special-interest class," according to the church's website. Other Grow classes include a Jeremiah Bible study and a Financial Peace University class, which is a highly acclaimed Christian-based study on learning how to manage money.
Winter did not immediately respond to The Christian Post's request for comment.