Arizona film screening draws public, stirs conversations

December 7, 2018
Arizona film screening draws public, stirs conversations

It was in every respect a typical night at a multiplex theater. As people walked into a dimmed auditorium at the Harkins 14 in Prescott Valley, Arizona, slides with accompanying music were projected onto the screen. Then the lights fell completely and a feature film rolled.

“Light to the World,” a film about the life and teachings of Baha’u’llah, can be viewed online in several languages.

This Oct. 9 screening, however, was sponsored by area Baha’i communities and free to the public. And the movie shown was Light to the World, a documentary outlining the life and ministry of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Faith.

One audience member praised “the appropriateness of the magnificent images and message for the big screen.” The film shows a diverse array of people from around the world telling how Baha’u’llah’s teachings are touching their lives. Produced for the 2017 bicentenary of Baha’u’llah’s birth, it has frequently been viewed through the internet. Showings in big movie houses are rarer.  

In the aftermath, local Baha’is rejoiced not just in a successful evening but in their increased ability to host large numbers of people interested in how the teachings of Baha’u’llah apply to their lives and society.

That included learning what audience members are curious or concerned about and addressing those questions — as well as introducing attendees to Baha’i-initiated core activities for community building and inviting them to participate.

“The key takeaway is the continuing relevance of the film and a preview in terms of working with large venues,” says Tom Halstead, a Baha’i in Dewey-Humboldt.

Many of the more than 50 attendees “remarked that this was like a ‘peek at the future’ when mass audiences would get a chance to view Baha’i media in large-venue formats,” he recalls.

Halstead, a veteran audio-visual professional, had a big hand in that, coordinating technical aspects from the projection booth. This included the direction of lighting in the theater, as well as organizing slides of the Baha’i writings that were displayed for 45 minutes as people filtered in before the film.  

Little touches to enhance the event

As people filtered in for the Oct. 9 screening of Light to the World in Prescott Valley, slides of the Baha’i writings set to orchestral music were shown for 45 minutes. These “walk in” images were adjusted in their dimensions, so the curtains and lights could be semi-dim for arrivals, says Tom Halstead, who coordinated the presentation.

As the film was cued, the house lights were taken down completely and the curtains adjusted to the new ratio. After the movie, lights were brought all the way up for the period of questions and answers.

Aside from what was learned about staging a presentation, organizers gained valuable experience in promotion, says Halstead. More than 30 internet and broadcast radio stations, as well as several networks of newspapers, were notified and emailed information.

Posters were circulated among like-minded organizations and included descriptions of Baha’i-initiated community-building activities in the area, ranging from spiritual education classes for all ages to devotional gatherings.

At the event, Halstead’s wife, Jeanie, fielded audience questions. Attendees voiced such varied concerns as fears of Islamic terrorism and world government, as well as “faiths’ views of the soul and enlightenment, including the ideas of selflessness promoted by writers like Eckhart Tolle.”

Tom Halstead reflects, “Arizona tends to be conservative … and the movie increased capacity greatly by showing a faith that accepts Muhammad yet is all about peace. Many even commented that a United Nations-like system can allow for love of country and be so peaceful and not racially divided.”

Some attendees have begun engaging in study circles and devotional gatherings. And local Baha’is have discussed inviting those participants to share their experiences during the quarterly meeting held to reflect on the progress of community-building activities.

Interfaith contacts also have invited Baha’is to present the teachings of Baha’u’llah to their congregations and have expressed interest in learning how to apply Baha’i methods of consultation to discussions on racial unity and social justice.

“Another meeting after the movie included a series of seminars on white privilege” hosted by Baha’is Pamm Sosa, who lives in Prescott Valley, and her daughter Wendy, from Houck in the Navajo Nation, says Halstead. Wendy Sosa has given race relations seminars across the state and started a private school for American Indian children.

Recent Census data shows Yavapai is a mostly white county with a significant Latino population and smaller concentrations of African Americans and American Indians. Halstead notes that white privilege is a significant focus of local discussions on the elimination of prejudice.

What’s on the horizon? Perhaps for October 2019 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Bab, the forerunner of Baha’u’llah, “the team that put the event together has its eye on the local stadium,” says Halstead.


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