By David Millikan

What is it that makes human beings different from animals? Are we simply smarter, or more adaptable or do we have some quality which fundamentally sets us apart? This question has exercised the minds of countless thinkers inside and outside theological halls. In Christianity, the early theological ‘heavy weights’ came up with with many possibilities. Some said the difference lay in our capacity for language. But animals have forms of language. Others talked about the capacity of humans to think in abstract ways. We ask questions: “Why is the world the way it is?”, “Why do people lie?”, “Why is justice in short supply in this world?” and so on. These are the big questions of philosophy and unique to human beings.

From what I know of my dog, who I regard as unusually smart, he has no idea about these things. Mind you, I see dog owners who chatter to their muts as if they understand their deepest thoughts, but I take this to be uncritical anthropromorphism. So this is the begnning of our answer: the difference between  human beings and the other creaatures is found in our minds. We can think deeply into questions of meaning and purpose, animals cannot.

I prefer another argument which sees art as the difference. What is it about human beings that we strive to create a class of things which exist only for beauty or elevation to the world of art? Of course not all art is beautiful, some of the best is deeply disturbing. At its best film making is the creation of another world; a world which strains against the laws of nature and society. The best films tell us about ourselves. They shine the light of intelligence on things which are wondrous, or which are horrible and demand that we watch. They are like parables; some aspect of the world which has escaped us is put on the screen and we watch. If the film is good we see things and understand in ways we had not before. The greater is the craftmanship the greater is the gift of a great film. It is in this territory I see the Religious Short Film Prize looking.

I believe the best journalism is campaigning journalism. Low purposes produce low films. I judge films as I do all art using three criteria; the first is craftsmanship. Is the film well made; is the script good? I want the same of the camera work, lighting the performances. Second, I want to know if the film has enriched my knowledge of the human condition. Great art tells us things which go beyond language and discersive thought. Films which have trivial purposes do not interest me. The final criteria is the most elusive and marks the difference between good and great art. I find it difficult to articulate, but when I see it, it is unequivocal. It is a shining even numinous quality which points to beyond this world and calls us to reach out and opens us to bigger possibilities about this world and what it means to be here.

This is the territory of the Religious Short Film Prize.