Professor Tom Russell Walked Lecture Attendees Through Personal Experiences and Film Projects to Show how God Has Been with Him Through It All.
Seasoned filmmaker and Theatre Media Arts professor Tom Russell kicked off the 2022-23 Faith + Works Lecture Series on Nov. 3.
Russell titled his lecture, “But My Point is This: My Films and Other Noteworthy Accidents,” on three ways he has seen God’s direction through his films: the surprises, the projects and the messages.
Russell said surprises are any unexpected moments that happen during the filmmaking process. He played a few clips from his past films and explained that although they didn’t go as planned, the results were better than he anticipated.
One noteworthy project that included a surprising moment was a western film Russell directed where the period pistols kept misfiring. While this experience was unintentional, Russell realized that the clumsiness of the scene fit his vision.
Russell went on to explain that God took many of his projects in directions that he didn’t expect.
“The guiding hand may initially appear accidental,” Russell said. “But divine help can also initiate the project itself without our full awareness.”
Russell’s wife, Angie, was struggling in her third year of breast cancer while Russell was working on a film. She urged him to continue with the film despite her difficulties and two weeks into production, she passed away.
Russell struggled to pinpoint the exact reason why he had directed this film at such a trying time, until he met his soon-to-be wife, Courtney, on his way to the Mendocino Film Festival for a screening of the film.
“She was baptized a year later and we have been happily married for nearly 17 years,” Russell said. Although he had a difficult time dealing with Angie’s death during the project, he saw the hand of God in his connection with and eventually marriage to Courtney.
Russell explained that sometimes the experience a cast or crew member has during a project can manifest the Lord’s involvement. In Russell’s scripted podcast “Escape from Planet Death,” Kyle Mooney from “Saturday Night Live” and the late Louie Anderson were cast as two of the leads.
During the recording session, Anderson expressed his gratitude for being a part of the production.
“This is a live, wonderful thing...because there’s so much good energy around it,” Anderson said. “I could just feel it when I walked in the house. And so I’m really happy to be a part of it.”
Finally, Russell mentioned that he saw God’s hand in the greater meanings and messages he discovered through his films.
He explained this concept by using an essay called “Talking About Bicycles,” by British author C.S. Lewis. In this essay, Lewis uses the experience of riding a bicycle to illustrate what he calls the “four ages” of life: un-enchantment, enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment.
Russell explained each of the four ages and how they relate to the perspectives in his work.
In the first age, “un-enchantment,” the bicycle “...was just part of the huge meaningless background of grown-up gadgets against which life went on.”
Lewis likened the second age of enchantment to the early joys and freedoms of riding a bike. Russell described this age as relating to “stirrings in the heart” that are joyful and beautiful.
In his essay, Lewis described the third age, disenchantment, as “journeys that feel uphill both ways,” when the once-loved bicycle becomes utilitarian and heavy.
Russell shared a time in his life when he experienced the third age, soon after Angie passed away. His children were struggling individually and, for the first time, they entered the age of disenchantment regarding their own family. Russell assured audience members that they found and continue to find the way forward through Jesus Christ.
“We may be inclined to think that the material created from the perspective of this third age is only sorrow, anger and despair,” he said, “but I have experienced that the material contributes to healing. It helps us cope with the difficulty.”
Russell then outlined the final stage, re-enchantment, as a stage similar to but more realistic than enchantment. The initial wonder has faded, but in its place is something greater.
Russell acknowledged that one’s problems are not solved by the re-enchantment age. However, he also explained that re-enchantment allows for a change in perspective that has helped him persevere through the “rains” in his life.
One of Russell’s key takeaways from his trials was to simply trust in God. Upon reflecting about the meanings he’s found in his filmmaking and life pursuits, he realized that God often takes things in directions Russell never would have expected.
“I have been supported by the graceful hand of a loving director, one who cares little about movies, but who cares deeply about the people who make them,” said Russell. “I am a witness of His loving kindness and a recipient of His living grace.”