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Religion in the Frame

Film Still: Witness


January 28–February 2, 2018

Facets is pleased to collaborate with the Martin Marty Center for the Public Understanding of Religion to bring you Religion in the Frame—a six-day exploration of religious ideas, themes, and conflicts as depicted in film. After each screening, Facets Board Member Gretchen Helfrich talks with a religion scholar affiliated with the Martin Marty Center to explore the religious content of each film, deepening the audience's engagement with the material.

The Martin Marty Center—part of the University of Chicago Divinity School—fosters interdisciplinary research on religion by University of Chicago faculty and graduate students, in cooperation with affiliated scholars from around the world. The Martin Marty Center celebrates its 20th anniversary and Martin Marty's 90th birthday on February 3, 2018.

Gretchen Helfrich is a member of the Facets board and a civil rights attorney. She is also the former host of Odyssey on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.

Elmer Gantry

Film still: Elmer Gantry


Best Actor
Best Supporting Actress
Academy Awards

From tent revivals to do-it-yourself ministries, just about everything that makes American Protestantism unique is on display in this 1960 classic. Best Actor-winner Burt Lancaster plays a charismatic, silver-tongued, ethically dubious salesman who takes a liking to a pretty evangelist (Jean Simmons), and decides he can sell religion too, if it will get him closer to her. In this adaptation of Sinclair Lewis' 1927 novel, salvation meets show-biz, and Elmer Gantry makes the introduction.

Martin Marty, author of the three volume masterwork Modern American Religion, is one of the preeminent authorities on protestantism in America. He is also the namesake of the Martin Marty Center for Religion and Public Life at the University of Chicago, the co-sponsor of this film series. Marty will take part in a post-screening discussion of the film's depiction of American Christianity.

Directed by Richard Brooks, U.S.A., 1960, 146 mins.


  • Sunday, Jan. 28 at 6:00 pm


Film still: Kumare
Audience Award
SXSW Film Fest
"What started as a long, elaborate joke becomes a journey, both for [Vikram] Gandhi's students and for the filmmaker himself"
  —Washington Post
"In a sense, the deception he practices on his followers is contemptible, but in another sense, they're all in it together"
  —Roger Ebert

In a Borat-like move, New Jersey filmmaker Vikram Gandhi decides to pose as an Indian holy man, Sri Kumaré, who takes his invented philosophy to Phoenix, Arizona, to see if he can get anyone to follow him. This unusual documentary takes off in an unexpected direction, however, when Kumaré's new-found acolytes begin to teach Gandhi some profound lessons in what—and who—is holy. Roger Ebert wrote that the film "reflects a truth that is often expressed in three words: 'Act as if.'"

Religious historian Christian Wedemeyer (University of Chicago Divinity School) comes to Facets for a post-screening discussion about spiritual seeking—with so many religious options available today, how do people make their way through the crowded religious marketplace?

Directed by Vikram Gandhi, U.S.A, 2011, 84 mins.


  • Monday, Jan. 29 at 6:30 pm


Film still: Witness
"Powerful, assured, full of beautiful imagery and thankfully devoid of easy moralising, it also offers a performance of surprising skill and sensitivity from Ford"
  —TimeOut London
4 stars
  —Roger Ebert

Samuel Lapp, an 8-year-old Amish boy, witnesses a murder in a Philadelphia train station. Against their will, Samuel and his recently widowed mother Rachel (Kelly McGillis) are drawn into the violent, dangerous world of the "English" (the non-Amish). At the same time, police detective John Book (Harrison Ford) is forced into the Amish world, the only place he can be safe from the murderous and corrupt elements in his own police department.

Laurie Zoloth, Dean of the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and past president of the American Academy of Religion, will be on hand for a post-film discussion of the film's depiction of religious life as an idealized escape from contemporary urban reality.

Directed by Peter Weir, U.S.A, 1985, 112 mins.


  • Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 6:30 pm

A Serious Man

Film still: A Serious Man


"A bleakly antic meditation on divine intent"
  —New York Times
4 stars
  —Roger Ebert

Physics professor Larry Gopnik's life is nothing but tsuris—Yiddish for "troubles." His wife is leaving him, he's alienated from his kids, and he's in danger of losing his job. And it just goes downhill from there. In this critically acclaimed film, the Coen brothers tell a modern-day Job story as a dark comedy about faith, suffering, and the divine.

Sarah Hammerschlag, historian of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, will be participating in a post-screening discussion of the film's religious themes, including Jewish conceptions of God and the meaning of suffering as well as the figure of the Jew in the contemporary imagination.

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, U.S.A, 2009, 106 mins.


  • Wednesday, Jan. 31 at 6:30 pm

Groundhog Day

Film still: Groundhog Day
"The perfect comedy, for ever... 20 years after its release, Groundhog Day can still take your breath away"
  —The Guardian
4 stars "Groundhog Day is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable"
  —Roger Ebert

Directed by former Facets Board Member Harold Ramis, Groundhog Day is one of the most beloved—and hilarious—American comedies of the last 25 years. It has also been called "an underground Buddhist classic." Bill Murray, as TV weatherman Phil Connors, is forced to relive the same day over and over, giving us a depiction of the Buddhist concept of "Samsara"—the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth into a world of suffering. What does Phil learn from his multiple reincarnations? How does he escape the cycle, and where does the escape take him?

Dan Arnold, a scholar of Indian Buddhism at the University of Chicago Divinity School, joins Gretchen Helfrich for a post-screening conversation about the film's engagement with Buddhism, rebirth, and Phil's journey out of the cycle.

Directed by Harold Ramis, USA,1993, 101 mins.


  • Thursday, Feb. 1 at 6:30 pm

The Lizard

Film still: The Lizard


"[Director Kamal] Tabrizi enriches his congenial farce with two complementary, though controversial, moral lessons"
  —LA Weekly

In this Iranian comedy, a thief, Reza, escapes from prison disguised as a mullah. He flees to a small border town where he is mistaken for the real mullah the villagers had been expecting. Keeping up the ruse, Reza comes to a new, deeper understanding of Islam, transforming some of the villagers as well. The film takes some pot shots at the Iranian clerical establishment, but also explores serious religious themes such as the relationship between internal states and external appearances—an important concern in Shia Islam. And it's funny!

After the screening, Alireza Doostdar, a scholar of Islam at the University of Chicago Divinity School whose work focuses on Iran, will be on hand to talk about and reflect on the religious dimensions of the film.

Directed by Kamal Tabrizi, USA, 2004, 115 mins.


  • Friday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 pm


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Donations are requested


The Facets Cinémathèque is located at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago. Call the Cinémathèque Hotline at 773.281.4114 for the latest schedule, showtimes and updates.

For all Cinémathèque inquiries, contact Charles Coleman at 773.281.9075 or

  • John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Artworks: National Endowment for the Arts
  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
  • Comer Family Foundation
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Alphawood Foundation
  • Polk Bros. Foundation