Story by Laura Scherb | Staff Writer
Filmmaker Abigail Disney didn’t always think art was the strongest form of activism. In fact, she prided herself on being passionately involved as a philanthropist and advocate — “concrete things,” she said.
But that was long before she blurred the line between art and politics by directing and producing “The Armor of Light.”
Disney’s film, which will screen at 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Chautauqua Cinema — followed by a Meet the Filmmaker event — is an attempt to make sense of gun laws, attitudes toward abortion, and where those two issues coincide.
“The thing that always gets me are the people who have such stirring language about the sanctity of human life in the pro-life debate, and yet all of whom seem supportive of expanding gun laws,” Disney said. “It struck me as strange, and I wanted to understand it, so I went looking for people in the pro-life world who would talk to me about it.”
She found that person in the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical whom the film follows as he navigates what it means to be an advocate for the pro-life movement as well as to be a part of such an intensely pro-gun community of evangelists.
Schenck is an anti-abortion advocate who is confronted with Lucy McBath, the mother of an unarmed, murdered teenager, Jordan Davis. What follows is an intense journey that brings to light the contradictions of being both anti-abortion and pro-gun, and Schenck’s exploration of that question for himself and the people with whom he traditionally aligned himself. Schenck’s soul-searching is presented in the documentary, including the moment in which he admits on camera that he has been “seduced by simple answers. And simple answers are addicting.”
Disney approached Schenck after being referred to him by a friend working in a seminary.
“From the beginning, he was very open to talking about it,” she said. “I told him ‘I understand we’re on the opposite side of things, and I understand that feelings run high, and I know that you believe what you believe in good faith, and you do what do becuase you believe it’s the right thing to do and you’re not a bad person.’ ”
Starting with a mutual agreement of trust was crucial to the story and to the openness that is presented within the film, she said, despite the very real danger in openly discussing the issue.
“He tiptoed with it, then walked with it, then ran with it,” she said.
According to Disney, the film goes beyond the abortion and gun control issues and examines what she believes is the larger problem with the political state of affairs.
“I definitely have a gun agenda, but I have a bigger agenda that I didn’t even know that I had until I was well into the film, which was that we all need to dial back our certainty a couple of notches,” Disney said.
The film is one of her attempts to get people to take a step back and examine issues from an alternate perspective to understand the shared values that humans uphold as a culture.
“Dialogue is always better than certainty, and it’s a much richer democracy for it,” she said.
In that vein, Disney is looking forward to the post-film discussion that will follow Sunday’s screening, especially given the audience that awaits the film in Chautauqua.
“[The conversations] change trajectories and that is the most powerful thing,” Disney said. “I want people to figure out ‘where can I take this conversation that will change people’s trajectory?’ ” At the end of a week themed around the intersection of art and politics, “The Armor of Light” is an example of a work of art that has the potential to spark a politically charged conversation.
After her first film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” spurred women’s political movements, Disney knows filmmaking has potential to make a real difference.
“Art transforms. Art at its best is not pedantic. It invites you in and opens you wide and offers you the opportunity to entertain ideas that you haven’t entertained before,” Disney said. “As a political form, I increasingly think that there’s nothing quite so powerful as art. Without art, any political movement is dying of thirst.”