What has been truly fun and interesting about these first screenings is the difference in the audiences in New York, Washington, and Columbia, SC. In NY, nobody moved for the first 20 minutes and just as we were about to despair, the first audible reaction came. Tissues came out later on and, in true cold journalistic fashion, the sadder the audience was, the happier we were. During the Q&A, one person brought up the issue of clergy working for a institution engaged in killing, another brought up Abu Ghraib, and a third declared he was an atheist who was happy to let others pray… The most touching comment came from the former wife of a military chaplain who recognized many of the situations presented in the film.
In DC, the audience was bigger (about 400 people), some of whom had had a cocktail during a reception, and I mention this only because that may help explain why this audience emoted from the start. Hmmm…. and now that I think of it, so did private audience of friends who have had the benefit of a bit of mellowing with drink and fine food… a lesson to be learned here for sure. The chaplain who appears often in the film (the very well spoken and good looking Ben Sandford) joined us for the Q&A in which some asked about the toll on chaplains, the role of chaplains as counselors, etc. What made this audience stand out was that it included the lawyer for Dr. Baugham, who lobbies on the Hill for the Evangelical chaplains, representatives of the Secular Coalition, chaplains in the Army Chief of Chaplains’ office, and a number of veterans.
We all then headed to Columbia, SC, where we screened the doc for an audience of retired and active duty military chaplains and endorsers, all members of the Military Chaplains Association (MCA). This was a very different audience and probably our toughest because they know the chaplaincy inside out. Some objected to the fact that we showed only one endorser, Rev. Baugham, and did not include the head of NCMAF, the more mainstream and larger endorsing agent. We explained that our intent was to present the two opposing views that lobby Congress and the chaplaincy, which is why the film contrasts his views with those of Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.
We were pleased that, this objection aside, the members of MCA all seemed to like the movie. One Navy chaplain stood up and, choking up, said he had done just about every job depicted in the film and had never known how to speak about it to his family. Now he would use the film to do this.
By the time he finished, we all had shiny eyes.
photos by John Shuford at the Newseum screening on April 30.
Top (left to right): Charles Haynes, Andrea Hull, Ben Sandford, Lee Lawrence, Terry Nickelson.