I helped again this year to shortlist the television category for the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards for Excellence in Religious Programming. It’s a great privilege to be involved in this process: I watched 37 different nominated television programmes all that explored issues of religion, philosophy and ethics. We had to get this list down to our top 10 and then after that a final top 6 were chosen. The standard, as ever, was extremely high and there was such variety in the styles of programme from drama to documentary to reality TV.
These are the 6 finalists in the TV category, and here I include my take on each of them:
Broken, the BBC drama starring Sean Bean almost needs no introduction. I have already written about this on my blog and I am shortly going to publish a discipleship course based on Broken (watch this space!) When shortlisting these 37 programmes it was Broken that came out on top by quite a long way. I have never seen such a well-written, well-acted and filmed drama on television that reflects the life of a parish priest and what real life is like in our poorer communities. The programme touched on so many real life issues including abuse, mental health, crime, poverty, gambling – all seen through the prism of a Catholic Priest’s fragile faith. I feel that Broken would be very worthy winner of this award – but we’ll have to wait until the ceremony in June to see if the judges agree. Don’t stop reading here though – the other candidates are worth finding out about as well!
Many of the programmes nominated this year focused on the life of refugees. This particular documentary stood out as it was made over a three year period and explored the lives of refugees stuck in different parts of Europe. It showed ordinary life – such as watching a Syrian dad take his two daughters on the bus in Greece. These glimpses came alongside powerful interviews with the refugees that brought tears to my eyes. I particularly liked the story of the men in Finland, doing their best to settle into a country they never planned to go to.
This series was refreshing as it was about showing the real lives of British Muslims in Birmingham. This programme was great for showing both how British these people are and how their faith is a central part of their life. It also showed the variety of expressions of Islam, from the more nominal to the very conservative. It challenged stereotypes and helpfully showed young Muslim men denouncing terrorism. And it was funny!
I think, after Broken, this was my next contender for a winner. Another programme about refugees this one was about a luxury hotel in a small town in Ireland that had closed down and so was being used as a place to house a number of refugees before they got more permanent accommodation. It showed the reactions of the townspeople which ranged from suspicion and fear to warm welcome. The most moving thing for me was when a Muslim Syrian family wanted to attend the Easter mass (as it was something they had done to support Christian friends when they lived in Syria) and they missed the time of the service. The priest opened the church up especially for them and you saw the family lighting candles and praying for their loved ones. It brought tears to my eyes.
This is a superb feature length documentary exploring the origins of ISIS through history. A fascinating exploration of where the concept of Jihadism comes from and why young men are joining up around the world.
I have to confess that this was my least favourite of the final 6 programmes chosen. A very well made documentary that really gave you a close up view of what the journey of many migrants is like across Libya. What I didn’t like so much was the focus on Ross Kemp himself. He travelled in an open top jeep across the desert with these poor people and then I just couldn’t help but really feel for them when he got back into the back up car and probably went to a clean dry hotel leaving them to the mercy of the smugglers they were travelling with. I know this is how this kind of documentary is made but the clash jarred somewhat for me. (I’m also not a big fan of Ross Kemp which didn’t help). I did come away with a better idea of how dreadful the situation is in Libya, however. I’m glad I’ve seen it.
And those that got away!
There are 2 more programmes that were in my top 10 that I was hoping would make the final 6 which I commend to you:
Bad Habits, Holy Orders (Channel 5)
On the surface of it this looked like a terrible reality TV show but it turned out to have flashes of God’s grace all the way through, much to my delight. The premise is that there is a group of partying girls who are told they are going on a detox programme that will change their life – what they don’t realise is that they are going to live in a convent for a month! Slowly but surely, the nuns gently teach the girls about self-worth, about the importance of giving over receiving, and their lives (if not entirely converted from their partying lifestyles) are transformed. One girl discovers a vocation to be a carer, another is reconciled with her father, another discovers that she was looking for validation from Instagram. It was a wonderful programme – I wished it had made the final shortlist!
Retreat: Meditations from a monastery is a 3 part film series, each following the life of a different monastery. This style of filming is sometimes called ‘slow television’. There is almost no dialogue and everything moves at a slow pace. Watching one of these hour long programmes is like going on retreat. You’re forced to slow right down and hear the bird song and the clock ticking and the chanting of the monks in chapel. It’s a wonderful antidote to almost everything else that is shown on television these days. The great thing is that all 3 programmes are available in their entirety on Vimeo. Here’s my favourite:
Once again I really enjoyed helping to shortlist these awards this year, it’s good to know that there are people out there making programmes that will help to educate, inform and entertain people on the theme of religion and ethics. This is more essential now than ever. Here are the rest of the shortlists (there are other categories such as radio and children’s) – look out on the Sandford Awards website for the winners in June!