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Case Number 16556: Small Claims Court

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Sole Journey

First Run Features // 2008 // 59 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // June 8th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas is often accused of having no sole. He lost his shoes.

The Charge

The movie that follows ordinary families taking extraordinary measures to stand for justice in spite of the odds.

The Case

Are you familiar with an organization called Soulforce? The Reverend Dr. Mel White and Gary Nixon founded the group in the late 1990s for the purpose of attempting to bring together individuals in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The purpose of the group is to promote LGBT rights through nonviolent protesting and resistance. In recent years, the group has become increasingly visible due to their public marches and protests. This documentary (oddly spelled Sole Journey) chronicles the group's protest of one of its largest opponents, James Dobson's evangelical organization Focus on the Family.

Dobson has been recognized as one of the most influential evangelical leaders in America today. He has authored many best-selling books, hosts a widely syndicated radio program and is generally a household name in the evangelical community. In recent years, Dobson has become increasingly involved in the world of politics, using the considerable sway of his group to battle abortion, stem cell research, and gay rights. Sole Journey presents the viewer with many clips and statements from Dobson on the subject, some of which seem particularly nasty. The worst moment comes when Dobson and Tony Perkins (President of the Dobson-founded Family Research Council) claim that gay marriage is a non-controversial issue that almost everyone can agree should be outlawed. They claim that it is one of the few political issues that unites individuals of all faiths, backgrounds, and cultures, working together to, "preserve traditional marriage." The members of Soulforce determine that Focus on the Family must be protested, and organize a march to the organization's headquarters in Colorado Springs.

Though this documentary is a well-intentioned argument for a political viewpoint I agree with, it doesn't work very well as a film. There is a lot of passion here, but little skill in terms of craftsmanship. A great true story is not a great true story until it has been molded into one by someone who actually knows to tell a story. What we have here is a rather unfocused, sloppily organized series of statements, interviews, and archival clips that never quite manage to become more than the sum of their parts.

The premise is compelling: Soulforce is going to take on Focus on the Family. It's a red state/blue state political rumble in Colorado Springs! In one corner, a powerful, well-funded evangelical who will stop at nothing to prevent gays from being able to marry! In another corner, a rag-tag group of protesters and a couple of celebrities (including openly gay actor Chad Allen, whose appearance in the 2005 Christian film The End of the Spear put him at the center of gay vs. evangelical debates) making a statement about their rights as human beings! The problem is, after the concept is introduced, the telling of the actual story is fumbled badly.

First of all, the film does a surprisingly poor job of creating compelling villains out of Dobson and Focus on the Family. Sure, they show a handful of clips in which Dobson says mean-spirited anti-gay things, but the film doesn't really give us much of an idea of who Dobson is as a person or the sheer scope of his goals. You know how the film goes about convincing us Dobson is influential (which he certainly is)? It shows a seemingly endless montage of news stories about him in which the word "influential" is used. Right, then. When the Soulforce group arrives with hopes of speaking to someone with the organization, how does Focus on the Family respond? They cover up their welcome sign and have a security guard come out to say they are closing the center to visitors temporarily. Certainly a cold and not-very-Christian move, but the film's attempts to depict this as the ultimately injustice just feels a little lightweight when compared with the stories of violence and severe persecution that other gay rights activists have faced. When the big climax (a meeting between a Focus on the Family representative and the activist group) finally arrives, the result is underwhelming: Judy Shepard gives the representative a book filled with pictures of gay families, the representative accepts it without saying thank you, and everybody claps and goes home. That's it, really?

It would have been nice to actually hear a few words from the opposing side, too. Perhaps nobody was willing to speak to the makers of the documentary (Kate Burns and Sheila E. Schroeder, a lesbian couple), but it would have been nice to get the perspective of Focus on the Family from one of their representatives. Instead, we just get cantankerous Dobson clips. Also, I wonder if the filmmakers aren't overselling the significance of the march just a little bit? Certainly a noteworthy bit of activism, but contrasting this group's activities to the accomplishments of Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. seems a bit extreme. The low-budget score is also a weak point, constantly overdramatizing every single moment as something either terribly horrifying or intensely inspiring.

The transfer is rather miserable throughout, with poor source footage used for the majority of the film. Still, this is more or less a talking heads piece that doesn't really require a sharp transfer. It's pretty hard to forgive the non-anamorphic widescreen, though. Audio is garbled and messy throughout, and the music is often dialed up too loud. Extras include a short film about a small protest staged by Burns & Schroeder, a director's statement, and a press kit featuring links to websites with more information about the organization.

The Verdict

Guilty of failing to find a way to translate good intentions into good filmmaking.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 70

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 59 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Religious and Spiritual

Distinguishing Marks

• Director's Statement
• Short Film
• Press Kit


• Soulforce.org

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