Saturday, January 28 at 9:30 a.m. you can catch a special screening of Wings of Desire at a/perture and engage in conversation about the film with Joshua Canzona afterward. He is an adjunct professor in the Divinity School at Wake Forest and a doctoral candidate in theology and religious studies at Georgetown. I have encountered Josh in professional circles and am looking forward to hearing his insights tomorrow. Before that, I asked him a few questions about a/perture’s Looking at Art Cinema program and about Wings of Desire.
Mary: How did you get involved in the Looking at Art Cinema program, and what is special about this series of films and talks?
Joshua: I attended a/perture screenings of Day for Night (François Truffaut) and Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami) when Wake alum and local filmmaker Cagney Gentry hosted the program. I really like French New Wave and the Truffaut selection drew me in but I especially enjoyed the friendly and open conversation after the screening. You do not need to be a film expert to participate in a Looking at Art Cinema event. I ended up having a conversation with Cagney about my interest concerning religion in film and Lawren Desai, the owner of Aperture, thought it would be a good theme to explore in the program.
Mary: I wish I had been there to hear Cagney — one of my former students and favorite people. He’s a talented filmmaker, too.
Joshua: The chance to see great films in the cinema is special in itself but the best part of this program is that it brings together different parts of the Winston-Salem community to share their passion for movies. I am especially grateful for the support Wake Forest and the Divinity School at Wake Forest has shown for this event.
Mary: You are screening and discussing the film Wings of Desire on Saturday morning. What would you like people coming to the screening who have never before seen the film to know as context?
Joshua: The film is set in Berlin near the end of the Cold War and it has a strong sense of time and place. Were you to make a list of great “city movies,” this would surely be near the top.
It is a film about angels—yes. But the religious questions are human questions; it is a film about humanity and what it means to be human. More simply, I would approach this and all the films in this series with three questions in mind: (1) What can I learn about the power of film? (2) What can I learn about religion? (3) What can I learn about the relationship between religion and film?
Mary: Are there personal reasons you selected this particular film for the program?
Joshua: Wings of Desire is an especially beautiful film. Inspired by Rilke and largely unscripted, it has a spontaneous and poetic quality. The black and white cinematography by Henri Alekan (1909-2001) is breathtaking. I have listened to the director’s commentary for this film and there is a scene where he describes Alekan spending hours pulling in dozens of lights to capture the right feeling; he calls Alekan a painter of light and shadow.
In terms of theme and message, I will tell you this. I once knew a Harvard professor, an anthropologist, who is perhaps the wisest and most intelligent person I have ever known. We were talking one evening about the meaning of life and I could tell he was about to render a verdict and recite a quote. I thought it might be some ancient scripture or Greek tragedy. It was Wings of Desire. You will have to attend the film to find out what he said.
Mary: What didn’t I ask you that you wish I had?
Joshua: I have been thinking about this film series as a whole and how the three films fit together. We are showing Wings of Desire (January 28), Secret Sunshine (February 18), and Persepolis (March 18). I have called the series a reflection on “faith, doubt, and transcendence.” You might also say that all three are “existential” films. By this I mean they are all films about the human search for meaning. Perhaps I should say the struggle for meaning. In Islam there is a story that when the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad, Gabriel seized upon him and squeezed him so hard he thought he might die. In the Book of Genesis there is the story of Jacob who literally wrestled with God (or perhaps an angel) throughout the night. Recently someone asked what I meant by “transcendence” and I think it best to say I am referring to those transformative moments when we transgress boundaries and go beyond ourselves. I will take this question and ask another that I do not yet know the answer to: How is it that film, apart from every other art form, can reveal the transcendent and the divine?
I hope your readers will consider attending this event where we will try to unravel questions like this one in a fun and supportive environment.
Mary: Thanks, Josh! I’m looking forward to seeing the film and hearing from you tomorrow.