For a church so rooted in visions and imagery, and with such broad investment in mass media, Adventists have made curiously few forays into cinematic storytelling. In the tension between story and theology, telling and showing, Adventists have prioritized transmitting information over developing engaging content. They’ve used film and television to simply recreate a church experience rather than using audio-visual media to its full dramatic potential.
Perhaps that’s why a production like the children’s series Smoky Mountain Rescue still feels so noteworthy. No audience is more tuned into media of all kinds than children and young people, and no group needs greater investment in media to reach them.
A team-up between the North American Division Stewardship Department and Southern Adventist University’s School of Visual Arts and Design, Rescue subtly enfolds principles of stewardship into the story of kids and the collared dog they find wandering next to the scene of a car accident. Brought together for the summer at their grandfather’s country home, three young cousins put out fliers about the dog (the characters don’t attempt to contact authorities who might have information about the accident). Meanwhile, as the kids enjoy the canine’s easy-going yet courageous company, they find that life is full of surprises — and opportunities to take responsibility.
Available for free online at smokymountainrescue.org, the web series consists of eight episodes, each about 5-6 minutes long. Each chapter is titled with a principle like “A good steward is kind to animals” and “A good steward shares with others.” The segments touch on their themes in an understated fashion, complemented by Grandpa’s old-fashioned counsel.
There’s scarcely an older truism of film production than to beware of working with children and animals. Rescue soars on both counts. It’s blessed with a group of naturalistic child actors, charming without being cloying. And while the dialogue is occasionally predictable (“I’m not much for charity”), it’s a solid production on all counts, shot with a warm color palette and ably directed by SAU alum Theo Brown, now a filmmaker in Los Angeles.
Kids watching will love the animals involved in the production: chickens, a snake, a menacing bear, an orphaned fawn fed from a milk bottle. Best of all, our furry hero “Jack” is every bit the good boy the story calls for. Watching the series alongside me, my own kids, ages four and eight, giggled and gasped throughout the show. “I’m liking this,” the four-year-old announced halfway through. “I’m scared,” they called out in near-unison. And when it was over, my daughter declared, “We loved it! Can we see it again sometime?”
With the South Pacific Division’s recent launch of its top-notch children’s cartoon series The Tuis (available at thetuis.tv), one can begin to hope for many more such engaging productions. May their tribe increase.
Tompaul Wheeler, a writer and filmmaker in Nashville, Tennessee, has an MFA in Film from Lipscomb University.
Images courtesy of Theo Brown.
“The Director of a New Web Series for Kids Takes Us Behind the Scenes,” Spectrum interview with Director Theo Brown, by Alita Byrd, January 13, 2020
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