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New smartphone app for children: The Most Important Story Ever Told has just been released by MIS (Most Important Story), the international children’s ministry, based on their evangelistic book of the same name.
For the month of April, to mark Internet Evangelism Day, the team are generously offering this app FREE (normal price $1.99).
Currently available for iPhone/iPad; Android is coming soon.
English and Spanish versions are available now, Farsi and Arabic will be published shortly, with other languages to follow.
Thanks to Disney for releasing their 6-minute short animation Paperman completely free to watch below, embed or download. (And it won an Oscar for best animation.) Unfortunately, since it won an Oscar, they seem to have withdrawn some of the free ones, or allow them to be embedded. Check this one, or search YouTube.
Paperman is enchanting, and if you have ever seen French film The Red Balloon, you’ll notice a clear homage to that magical story (widely available on DVD).
Note how Paperman demonstrates the special power of animation to tell a clear visual story, even without dialogue. Free of the constraints of audible language, silent animation instantly gains a worldwide cross-cultural potential. The audience can create their own mental narrative and backstory, identify with one or other character, and formulate some lesson or question to take away.
Animations can be used in multiple ways. They can carry a direct evangelistic message, or else be used as conversation-starters based on a parable-like spiritual truth. And many apparently secular animations also have embedded spiritual parallels and can be used in a group setting (youth groups, other meetings), one-to-one using a downloaded animation on mobile phone, iPad or laptop, or be embedded in Facebook and Twitter posts as an informal conversation starter.
Alma, for instance, is a chillingly compelling animation with a clear message of inadvertently selling your soul, and therefore an ideal conversation gateway. Paperman itself can point to elements of our search for God, and His search for us.
Since its launch in 2005 (history), YouTube has grown to be the definitive place to find and share video shorts. By 2012, 60 minutes of new video content were being posted to YouTube every minute, with over 2 billion videos viewed worldwide each day. It’s the default place to post short clips, with Vimeo as a distant second for longer videos. YouTube is now the world’s second-largest search interface, after Google.
The ‘print communication culture’ that lasted since the invention of the printing press is being rapidly superceded by the new ‘digital communication culture’. The differences are far-reaching and transformative, because not only are digital media a different means to communicate, but they are transforming the way our culture thinks. For a detailed unpacking of this ongoing change, read Viral: How Social Networking Is Poised to Ignite Revival by Len Sweet.
Print culture was, naturally, text-based, but also tended to be ‘left-brain’ and analytical. Digital culture is visual ‘right-brain’ intuitive, and story-based. In many ways, it is nearer to the oral communication cultures of many countries outside the West. Indeed Christians, being generally bookish people, do not realise the extent to which many even in the West read little, especially books, and have always learned orally via TV and film.
Video shorts are therefore a natural expression of digital culture, and hugely significant for ‘unexpected’ social-networking evangelism. (For an intentional audience, longer films up to feature length are also strategic.)
There is huge potential, both in sharing conversation-starting video clips on Facebook and other social networking systems, and in creating new video shorts.
In all the hype about the Oscars, and the deserved accolades for The Artist, you may have missed the Oscar for best animation. It went to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, a quirky allegory about the healing nature of story. (And due to be released as a bookand phone app.) Watch the full 15-minute animation below, and after it, prizewinning The Porcelain Unicorn.
Both stories reflect a truth also demonstrated in The Artist – that it is possibly to tell effective stories with (virtually) no words. Immediately, this enables films to communicate across language barriers – making conversation-starting and evangelistic film usable in a wider range of contexts.
Indeed, in watching The Artist, I noticed that because our brains do not have to simultaneously process sound, color, 3D, crane shots/fast pans (ie. acting as dual-core or quad-core processors), there is more space to process the essentials of the story.
Legendary British film director Sir Ridley Scott launched a global film making contest for aspiring directors, titled “Tell It Your Way”. There were over 600 entries.
The film could be no longer than three minutes, contain only six lines of narrative and be a compelling story. The winner was Porcelain Unicorn from American director Keegan Wilcox. It’s a story of the lifetimes of two people who are totally opposite, yet, very much the same – all told in three minutes. You can see why it won – enjoy!
Animation is a powerful medium, either for starting discussion, or creating directly evangelistic material. Read more.
Perhaps God will call you to make animations or other forms of storytelling? There are a huge opportunity. One place to learn more is the School of Cartooning and Animation.
You could try making a stop-motion short, with modelling clay or Lego models, even as a youth group project. It is surprisingly easy, with a normal digital camera, tripod, and careful lighting.
Sharing on social networks
One-click posting of conversation-starting video shorts onto Facebook and other social network pages, is a great way to share faith. Videos at YesHEIs.com, GlobalShortFilmNetwork, and Focus are intended for this.
You can also download video shorts onto smartphones. And the Talking About Jesus iPhone app draws together some video shorts from key international speakers.
Regular readers of this blog will have noticed an occasional tendency to enthuse about the Japanese animé films from Studio Ghibli. So here we go again! Arrietty is their latest.
Released in Japan in 2010, it came to Europe in early 2011 and UK/Australia in July. Now, finally, North America gets it too – released on 17 February, under the US title The Secret World of Arrietty. The delay must be in part because Disney, for better or worse, has rejected the existing English soundtrack and started again with different, American, actors. Actually, when watching Studio Ghibli I generally prefer to switch to the Japanese-language version and read the English subtitles.
Because it is a sheer delight. Pure treasure. The artwork and soundtrack are beautiful, detailed and subtle. At one point, you can even hear the sound of a ladybird’s wings starting to open. The story-telling is gently paced and harmonious. The opening song and other music from French Breton celtic singer and harpist Cécile Corbel a joy – see video below. (Lyric: English | Japanese) Indeed, Ghibli theme music is usually haunting and first class, as this orchestral medley demonstrates.
True to the book
If you have read Mary Norton’s The Borrowers books or seen the BBC serial, you’ll recognize the first two books’ narrative as retold in the Ghibli version, although it is slimmed down and placed in a Japanese setting. It is very true to the spirit of the original, unlike the Jim Broadbent/John Goodman 2007 film which was pure gung-ho Tom and Jerry action. The BBC made a new 90-minute TV version with Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, and Christopher Eccleston, shown Christmas 2011. BBC also aired two mini-series in 1992-3. All three are available on DVD.
If you want to come to the story fresh, skip the spoiler synopsis in the Wikipedia article, which has lots of helpful information about the film. For a sensitive and detailed review, see Helen McCarthy’s article. McCarthy is a foremost expert, writing and speaker on many areas of Japanese culture including animé. You can watch her lectureFrom Nausicaa to Ashitaka: The development of the heroic ideal in the 20th century works of Hayao Miyazaki at the University of Maryland.
If you missed it as a movie in Europe/Australasia, the English DVD (Region 2) is available in UK and many other countries. Release in North America is mid-2012 after its movie theater run. You can already buy the Japanese-language version (all-regions DVD with English subtitles) from good Asian suppliers such as ZoomMovie with cheap delivery charges. You may also prefer the British dub to the Disney US English dub (which inexplicably has removed Cecile Corbel’s song).
If you don’t know the genre, start with the less fantastical Studio Ghbili titles such as Only Yesterday, The Cat Returns, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Nausicaa, Whisper of the Heart, and Ponyo. The pre-Ghibli Castle of Cagliostro and (for younger children) Panda Go Panda are also fun. A further pre-Ghibli gem directed by Hayao Miyazaki is the 1978 26-episode made-for-TV Future Boy Conan. It’s not distributed in the West, but can be easily found on eBay or Asian anime suppliers. Similar films in the Ghibli style include The Girl Who Jumped Through Time, and Mai Mai Miracle. Most Ghibli films relate to any age group, through perhaps Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies are too esoteric/scary (and Grave is sad) for younger ones. For teens and adults, check animations by the late great Satoshi Kon, such as Millennium Actress. You can find trailers for all these films on YouTube.
Popular culture frequently gives us spiritual parallels and starting points for conversation. What can we see in Arrietty?
The main theme is the need to escape from an untenable situation with a journey to an unknown freedom. This resonates clearly with the Exodus story (itself reflected so tragically right through Jewish history), which the Bible clearly positions as both a historical physical escape and a figurative parallel of spiritual journey into new life.
The restricted enclosed world in which the Borrower family has lived in reasonable safety (due to wise precautions) is finally compromised. Likewise we may live for years within a limited or non-existent understanding of ourselves in relation to God’s purpose and plan for us. Sometimes it needs a crisis to jump-start us into a spiritual journey, to search for who God really is and how Jesus fits into this picture.
You may see other parallels too? Please add them using the ‘Comment’ link below.
7 reasons to like Studio Ghibli films
They are tender and gentle, not in-your-face, all constant action, noise and smart-guy banter. They don’t try to doll up a thin story with a thrill a minute.
They appeal to people of any age. Before she was five, our youngest granddaughter could easily understand Nausicaä – Valley of the Wind, and proclaimed it her best movie. Yet they are not ‘children’s stories’. In Japan, these are mainstream adult viewing as befits their deeper levels of complexity.
They reflect the many attractive facets of Japanese culture, where politeness, harmony and understated gentleness are key. (Japanese cuisine is like this too – cooking is a delight of subtle harmonious flavors.)
Many Ghibli films tell their story through the eyes of a child or young person, who is learning to face challenges in the wider world. Frequently, this is a girl, in contrast to Western animations where, with the exception of princess stories, it’s normally a male lead (as The Guardiandiscusses in an excellent article).
Ghibli films demonstrate a far-reaching contrast to Western ‘me-centered’ individualistic culture. Consider, for instance, most of our favorite Disney princess-themed stories. It’s all about the heroine and a her journey to get her life-goal – usually a prince and freedom. She may receive and give help to others along the way. But the big prize is exclusively hers. (See hard-hitting cartoon and discussion on Disney princesses, which happily does not criticise the saintly Belle!)
Eastern culture is different – the community is more important than the individual. Ghibli heroes and heroines are not about getting, but giving. They usually bring redemptive help to others around them, rather as Vianne channels healing to her repressed village in Chocolat. Indeed, their main prize is the satisfaction of having helped others, while gaining maturity and wisdom from the life lessons in this journey.
I wonder which is the more biblical?
Villains are not usually portrayed as utterly evil, but honestly nuanced with at least some good motives or traits, and they frequently find a measure of redemptive resolution through the leading character. (Again, compare with Chocolat.)
The central character is also honestly depicted, often with flaws or other issues. They are not cutesy, stereotyped or cloyingly sweet.
This charming animated short illustrates some of the strengths of the genre to communicate well, especially without using dialogue. Animator Wesley Lewis has previously worked on Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist.
Animated snapshot stories like this allow the audience to create their own mental narrative and backstory, identify with one or other character, and formulate some lesson or thought to take away. As conversation starters in a youth group, one-to-one discussion, or online, they are unique.
Blessings also to Aalma Productions, who are just launching bible-based children’s animations.
To celebrate the 200th issue of Web Evangelism Bulletin this month, we are giving away a number of Christian books and other resources. All you will need to do is blog/tweet/Facebook about them. Watch out for more news next time.
Because animation is not photo-realism, it takes us into a magic parallel world of our imagination where anything is possible. Watch this 9-minute animation short Invention of Love.
Could you use animations like this as conversation starters around areas of Christian truth and the Good News? By posting on Facebook? In a youth group meeting? Downloaded on your mobile phone? Somewhere else?
Just watched Mai Mai Miracle a tender coming-of-age children’s adventure. Sheer delight. Not available with English dialogue or from mainstream sources in the West. But it does have English subtitles, and is available from online anime specialists in Asia – our Region 0 (ie. universal) copy came quickly from ZoomMovie.com in Malaysia.
And a treat in store for anyone aged 3 to 103: Studio Ghibli’s The Borrower Arrietty (adapted from Mary Norton’s children’s story The Borrowers) released in English in US and Europe earlier this year, and will be in UK cinemas on 29 July. Here’s the (subtitle version) trailer:
“YouTube is celebrating its sixth birthday this month, and the Google subsidiary is doing it partly by sharing some big numbers that underscore its overwhelming dominance in the online video streaming space,” says TechCrunch blog. YouTube is now delivering a staggering 3 billion viewings a day, with 48 hours of new video being uploaded each minute (double the amount this time last year). Check TechCrunch’s analysis of the stats.
Our visual age
Our new digital communication age is highly visual. The video clip has almost become the default means of effective communication, and therefore is essential in evangelism …
Jesus used storytelling, not bible exposition, to reach outsiders. None of his parables embedded the entire gospel – instead they communicated byte-sized elements of truth, in a conversation-starting, thought-provoking, open-ended, contextualized, visual story. (Visual in the sense that a good storyteller paints a visual picture in the minds of the hearers.)
But surely I need lots of training and expensive equipment?
There’s free training and editing software available – and like most things, we learn by doing. Even an average digital camera or high-end smart phone can produce very acceptable video: watch the videos here, all shot on mobiles.
Check these Top 10 Video Production Tips. Among them: Keep It Short. 5 minutes is plenty long enough for most purposes. 3 minutes often better. Less is more. Watch how tv adverts can tell an entire story in 30 seconds, with much of the message embedded in the visual action, sets, and facial expressions, rather than the dialogue. (Not that outreach video should have the sense and feel of an advert, but we must learn from the experts of this storytelling style.)
Creatives, youth groups, missions – let’s start making clips!
Churches, why not demonstrate how to embed YesHEIs.com and Global Short Film Network video clips into Facebook with one click. A 5-minute live-web digital-projector session during a service will help members understand just how easy it is.
Free ebooks – last call
Last call to get free e-book downloads during May Digital Outreach Month – for instance Netcasters, Craig von Buseck’s valuable study of the opportunities of digital evangelism, and God Space, Doug Pollock’s vital explanation of non-formulaic, non-preachy, non-offputting conversational evangelism, equally applicable to online and offline sharing, and many more.
The highly-recommended Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk is now available, as a free Kindle download. Sorry, this download offer only applies to US residents accessing the Amazon US site, and not, as I had hoped, worldwide. If you try to access it from other countries, and use the one-click download, you will be charged the normal price. Don’t click the download button unless you can see the price showing as 0.00 – unless of course you want to pay for the book.
Note: if you do not have a Kindle, you can still download Kindle books. Just install the free software from Amazon onto your computer, Android device or iPhone, and you are ready to go. Amazon offers a number of free classic titles, and these are surprisingly easy to read even on a mobile phone.
Please tell others on Facebook and Twitter
Please tell others about these books, using these ready-made one-click links for Facebook and Twitter. (You can change the hashtag in your tweet to reflect any interest group or community you belong to.)
History’s most-translated film, JESUS, is now available in a unique translation. Instead of being in a different language, the new short film uses the Japanese animé format to tell the story of Jesus in a visual presentation familiar to Internet-savvy cultures.
My Last Day, premiered worldwide online April 21, is the first professionally produced Christian movie ever done in animé, Japanese-style animation. Seven years in the making, the nine-minute movie frames the story of the crucifixion through the eyes of the thief crucified next to Jesus of Nazareth.
Barry Cook, director of Disney’s Mulan and visual effects supervisor for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, wrote the story for My Last Day. Since animé appeals to media-heavy cultures, Cook explains, the potential impact of using animé for a Christian movie is staggering.
“I believe the type of animation we desire to achieve with this project will appeal strongly to a young generation, a postmodern generation,” said Cook. “It won’t be their grandparents’ JESUS film. It won’t even be their parents’ The Passion of the Christ. It will be the story of Jesus told in their language.”
My Last Day, animated by Tokyo’s renowned STUDIO4°C, unfolds through the eyes of one of the criminals who receives the same brutal crucifixion sentence as Jesus. The criminal passes from regret to repentance to redemption as his own guilt causes him to realize Jesus’ innocence.
The animé film is the latest part of The JESUS Film Project’s strategy to create and translate media tools to communicate the story of Jesus in heart languages of the world. Because all of the dialogue from My Last Day is taken from the original JESUS film, My Last Day will eventually have 1,100 language options. My Last Day is freely available at GlobalShortFilmNetwork.com
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