Thursday, December 9, 2021

A Very Tubi Christmas

As streaming services continue to raise their fees, it’s good to know that a few streaming services offer free entertainment. Not always quality entertainment, but free. 

If you're looking for faith-based films, you could pay $5 a month for the Dove Channel (a mix of Christian films and family-friendly public domain products) -- but you can find a number of faith-based films for free on Tubi (along with Columbo reruns and really bad horror films). Sure, you’ll have to watch commercials, but the commercials are usually a technical upgrade from much of the programming.

When you're looking for new Christmas films and quality isn't a priority -- looking at you, Hallmark Channel fans -- you might want to consider these two films which feature faith-based organizations. Unfortunately, the backstories for both films are more interesting than the films themselves.

Let's consider them, shall we? 

I’ll Be Homeless for Christmas (2012)

First, let me acknowledge the very best thing about this film: it was used to raise money for Habitat for Humanity in Georgia. HfH is a great organization that helps families obtain housing, through gifts, volunteer labor, and the family’s own “sweat equity.” This film was made through crowdsourcing service Indiegogo, and then the film’s profits went to Habitat. Kudos to writer/director Bren Allison for raising money for this worthy organization.

But though I have great respect for Habitat for Humanity, I’m not impressed at all with how the ministry in I'll be Homeless for Christmas, The R. Norton Service Center and Mission, is run. Shall we start with a look at their meal hours? 

According to their signage, breakfast is served from 7 - 10 am, lunch is served from 12 - 2 pm, and dinner is served from 5 - 8 pm. We know of just two people who work on staff for the Mission: a director named Eve (Mandi Christine Kerr) and a pastor named Donovan (Ryan Norton). Both members of the staff seem to take serve the meals (which would, according to these hours, take eight hours every day, not including set-up and clean-up). Nothing in the sign on the Mission's door indicates that the Mission is closed on weekends or holidays, so that's quite a workload.

Though Eve has been working at the Mission for at least a year, she doesn’t seem very seasoned. She comes across a storekeeper, Gus (Walter Robert Duckworth), berating a bedraggled man, Conrad (Travis Breedlove), for stealing fruit from his store, even spitting upon him. Eve is irate and comes to the man’s aid. “You spit on him! That’s a human being!” (“That’s” is a rather strange word to use regarding a person.) She goes to comfort Conrad and gives him an envelope with cash. (As Conrad steals her wallet.)

There's a lot of controversy about giving cash to homeless people, with the particular concern that the money will be used for alcohol or drugs. In addition, it may well be detrimental for a person’s psychological and spiritual health to depend on handouts rather than having an opportunity to earn their support. (The Apostle Paul is firm in his statement, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”) Why doesn’t Eve first tell this man about the meals available at the mission? And if the money in the envelope is the Mission's money, she has a responsibility to see that it is used wisely.

I question other things about the giving policy of the Mission. Among the items donated is an expensive designer winter coat. Eve takes the coat to give to a young pregnant (and homeless) woman, Hannah (Kristin Melin Link), who has become her friend. Hannah tells Eve she plans to sell the coat to a fence (who turns out to be Conrad). Eve is greatly bothered by this, but Hannah would, of course, be making a wise choice. Rent and food money > than a designer jacket.

It turns out that the conflict between “shopkeeper” (Gus actually just stole a store apron and pretended to be a shopkeeper) and the “homeless man” (Conrad was just pretending to be homeless, posing with a fake beard and mustache) was all fake. Gus and Conrad were working a long con to pose as volunteers at the Mission and steal donations.

Set aside that the Mission doesn’t seem to have much in the way of security and a simple burglary would make much more sense for stealing from the Mission than a long con -- most disappointing is the volunteer hiring process at this mission. I work at a mission, and any volunteer given a position of real responsibility (as opposed to just, say, working the food line) must be interviewed, fill out paperwork, and give references. Eve’s supervision of volunteers is greatly lacking.

Another thing. The great emphasis of the Christmas season seems to be providing toys for kids. This is fine, and I’m glad organizations such as the Marine’s Toys for Tots and Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree are providing kids with toys at Christmas. But the Mission doesn’t seem to be putting much effort into sharing the Christmas message of the Gospel in the season or providing more basic needs such as food and money for energy bills.

I appreciate the intentions of Eve and Donovan, but they don’t seem very competent in their work.

One Stop Away (2017)

If director Steven LaMorte was trying to follow the injunction of the Beach Boys to “Be True to Your School,” he did well when he made the film One Stop Away. LaMorte, A Monsignor Farrell High School Class of 2007 alum, not only made a film about his high school but also brought in other alumni as the majority of the cast and crew.

Quite obviously this is a Catholic high school. There is a chapel on the campus and a number of scenes take place there. My favorite was when a high school wrestler, a bit of a bully, prayed, “Thank you God for helping me win four straight matches. If you let me win this one, I promise to try to do better on my midterms.”

The bulk of the plot is about a Monsignor Farrell alum who becomes an English teacher at the school. One of his students is a nephew of one of the teacher’s buddies from high school days. That old friend is dying of cancer. This raises questions of faith for the teacher and the nephew. They discuss these issues are discussed in the chapel as well. The friend/uncle dies leading to even more questions of God’s design. Spoilers - they make some peace with these profound questions of grief… At Christmas time.

I think past and present students of Monsignor Farrell High School in Staten Island, New York, probably greatly value this film  There is another appreciative audience: the residents of that particular borough. Director LaMorte says his film “captures the beauty of Staten Island.” That in itself may be a Christmas Miracle.

In the spirit of the season, we will give the Mission of I’ll Be Homeless for Christmas and the Catholic High School of Last Stop Away a generous Three Steeples.

No comments:

Post a Comment