Prince of Peace, God of War
reviewed by Andrew James
Prince of Peace, God of War tackles a sensitive issue to many Americans and indeed, many around the world as well: Christianity's acceptance and use of violence and war against others and how the Christian faith seems to have slipped from its early ideals of what Christ's message and teachings meant. To discuss the idea, director John Campea has edited together his interviews with several theologians, professors and ministers from North America that seem to take a stance one way or another in regards to the question of whether war and violence is sometimes acceptable and was even encouraged at times by Christ and the entire religious entity.
Should this film hit the major circuit and be seen by many, it is sure to generate debate, controversy and anger from a lot of people. This is good. Anything that sparks a dialogue between people or gets people to open their eyes to ideas they might have missed before is a good thing. I can think of about 100 people off the top of my head that I'd like to show this film to.
Many of the more popular documentaries of today are not truly documentaries, but actually propaganda pieces that are trying to gain support for one idea or another. I've never thought this is necessarily a bad thing, but I also appreciate it when documentary film devote time to both sides of an issue; even if the opposing viewpoint doesn't quite jive with what the director is trying to accomplish or believes himself. Truly great documentaries give all sides to a story and let the viewer decide what to think about the issue on their own. With Prince of Peace, although there's clearly an agenda, we get opposing viewpoints from intelligent speakers from both sides of the argument which is refreshing to see. Though the director himself is present in the film and posits ideas and his obvious position, the speakers dissenting against the main message of the director and film seem to be given a fair shake and are not cleverly edited or shed in a poor light at all. This is refreshing and doesn't make me feel like I'm being manipulated.
Prince of Peace, God of War is broken down very carefully into several main points; almost in an outline format. This is a tactic that keeps the viewer on track and interested (much like Errol Morris' The Fog of War). Each point is then discussed by several of the aforementioned speakers and edited together extremely well. It's as if each speaker is in the same room and having a conversation with one another (though they're clearly not). We go back and forth from person to person and hear their case points and rebuttals. It's like watching "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher," but with far more speakers in different geographic locations and without all the annoying shouting over one another. We get everyone's perspective clearly, concisely and in context. I was amazed at the coherence that is maintained and the seamlessness between points.
Length. Quite often with documentaries, I start to feel a little bored at about the halfway mark. The film maker has usually made his/her point by now or it's obvious where the film is going to end up. For whatever reason, they often feel the need to keep going and going because they feel their film won't be recognized as legit or as "prestigious" without the two hour running length. Then the film begins to feel redundant and even contrived as the director tries futilely to keep us interested in a point that's already been hammered home. In Prince of Peace, if anything, I felt the film could've gone on a bit longer. I was legitimately interested in each point being made and was having a debate in my own head as I watched each speaker present their case. I'm sure the discussion could go on for literally hours and remain interesting, but I think Campea may be a director that knows when to say when and that sometimes less is more.
The most prominent of the interviewees is Bruxy Cavey - senior minister of "The Meeting House" - a sort of church for those who don't dig church. It's one of, if not the largest church in Canada. He's an interesting, "hippie-looking" fellow with obvious charisma and fervor for his subject. Not only is he the most prominent speaker within the film, he's also probably the most charismatic, interesting and informative of the bunch. With this one speaker alone, the film is able to avoid what otherwise might come off as a bit stuffy; what with all of the college professors in their suits and ties and rows of textbooks behind them. "Peace is not a goal" he says, "but a lifestyle."
I have to admit that I sort of went into my screening of this movie with a preconceived notion as to what was to lie within. Coming out with some new insight and information that I didn't have before was something I honestly didn't expect and I'm glad I was able to see this movie now - at this point in history. I was surprised to see a very reserved amount of attack on the Bush administration and the government establishment as a whole. Not because I'm necessarily adverse to this, but because it's been done a million times and frankly it's getting a little stale. Prince of Peace, God of War has its own message and agenda about religion and violence over the course of history and within the present; and somehow it manages to stray away from mudslinging and political dissent which was also refreshing.
For a first time director, I must say I was rather impressed. Sure it shows some signs of a meager budget and there may be one or two what appear to be technical glitches, but these are easily overlooked as the general idea and passion of the guests and their beliefs are well conveyed in a clear and concise way. With the vast amount of information and historical perspectives throughout the film, it would have been very easy for this documentary to turn into a muddled mess. Fortunately though, the editing and directing keep us planted firmly on the tracks through the entire journey. The focus is kept on the information and encompassing question: “What would Jesus do?” Many going into the film will walk away with something to think about and just possibly a new perspective on the issue of religion and war.