“Listening In” Interview with Warren Cole Smith on “Reading” Films

In spring 2018, Ken Boa led a session for the Colson Center for Christian Worldview on “How to ‘Read’ a Film.” Warren Cole Smith, who facilitated the course, decided to sit down with Ken afterward and discuss more in-depth his 10-part process for evaluating films. This was the second time Ken was a guest on Smith’s show this year (earlier, he spoke to him about his book Life in the Presence of God). 



“… it is very unusual to have a guest on Listening In twice, and especially in such quick succession, but stories generally, and movies in particular, are such powerful shapers of worldview that I thought it would be interesting and helpful to have Ken Boa back to talk about his system for watching movies.”


“I say ‘read a film,’ because you’re reading it like you’d read a book.”

On his 10-step process to film analysis:
“[This process] is not … lockstep; … these are 10 components that we’ve discovered really help people think it through … to analyze that experience so that it’s not just an emotional dump, but rather we’re processing it.”

On the importance of genre:
“We need to let the film be what it is and to speak in its own terms. … [Every film] has its own rules of engagement.”

On conflict in films:
“Without conflict and adversity, there’s not much of an interesting story. … It’s this adversity that becomes redemptive. … Conflict is the stuff that drives a story forward.”

On why he likes teaching film:
“I love to teach film because … any story well told always points beyond itself to the greatest story ever told. And so we are all immersed in a great story.”

On the Lord of the Rings Trilogy:
“These humble characters, these hobbits, are much more than meets the eye. And that’s, I think, what God is telling us in our own life journeys, that we may not have big roles as the world would define it … [but] we’re part of something bigger than us. And so our decisions … matter; they really do. … Even if others don’t notice, God does.”

On why he’s currently reading Tolkien’s famous trilogy for the seventh time:
“The more you mature, the more you see. … Most people are exposed to the greatest literature they’ll ever see when they’re not ready for it: high school, college. … In my view, great film needs to be seen multiple times.”

On why “good” films can be “bad” and “bad” films can be “good”:
“A film, even if it is a very nihilistic film, a cynical film, can still, if it’s done with skill and integrity and excellence, be something that’s worth looking at to teach us, to instruct us. So it’s not so simplistic: ‘Good message, good film.’ … I have to choose to eschew the gravel. As you know, every book has [both gravel and gold], but some have a greater proportion of one than the other. … It’s the same with a film.”

On Christian film making/writing:
“We [Christians] have such a robust worldview that we should have the cutting edge [in film making and story telling]. We should have the advantage, but we don’t take advantage of that reality. … And it’s a sad thing because for a thousand years, the church was [on the cutting edge].”