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The Independent Critic

 An Interview With Joshua Lim, Writer/Director of "The Seminarian" 
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How can love be a gift from God if it causes so much suffering?

This is the central question behind "The Seminarian," a brand new home video release from QC Cinema, the LGBT distribution arm of Breaking Glass Pictures. Written and directed by Joshua Lim, "The Seminarian" is a story about Ryan. Ryan is a closeted, gay seminarian in his final semester of studies at a staunchly anti-homosexuality evangelical seminary with hopes of being accepted into a doctoral program at the university of his dreams. With his hopes riding on the success of his thesis, "The Divine Gift of Love," Ryan's semester becomes increasingly tumultuous as he begins a relationship with a man he's met on the internet and grows increasingly troubled by his inability to be honest about his sexual orientation with his deeply religious mother.

Writer/director Joshua Lim chatted recently with The Independent Critic about "The Seminarian."

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

"The Seminarian" is about a young, closeted gay man in his final semester of seminary. Can you talk about what inspired you to tackle "The Seminarian?"

JOSHUA LIM

The inspiration probably came from many directions, so it is hard to isolate what really inspired me to make this movie. I can tell you that when I wrote the script, many of my friends and myself had personal struggles with love and relationships.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Were you ever concerned about whether or not anyone would see this film? I mean, in one film, you manage to weave together a gay theme, a spirituality/religious theme and what is essentially a deeply introspective film. I know people who tend to run the other direction when they see any one of these things within a film. You've got it all.

JOSHUA LIM

Honestly, no. However, I am beginning to ponder that question nowadays as I get older.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Do you have a seminary background? I do think that one of the things most impressive about "The Seminarian" is that you took basic theological concepts and made them accessible. I'm also intrigued that you didn't really play it safe...You placed Ryan in an evangelical setting. You could have had him hanging out with Jesus MCC or some other more progressive denomination. Can you talk a bit about the decision-making process that went into this story?

JOSHUA LIM

I did go to an Evangelical seminary although the culture is different from what is portrayed in the movie. It was important for it to be evangelical in my opinion because that movement traditionally regards God as 'love' in the perfect manner and I was, in some ways, challenging that.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Ryan is writing his thesis on the "Divine Gift of Love." Yet, simultaneously, he's beginning to question that "gift." One of the things you capture that I think is really true of the seminary experience is that, if you surrender to it authentically, you find yourself having to confront your personal theology. My sense at the end of "The Seminarian" is that either Ryan is completely broken and will give up on "organized" religion OR he's at that perfect point of surrender where he may become an extraordinary minister (or theologian). How has the seminary experience been for you? What has been the response to this film among your seminary community or the faith community at large?

JOSHUA LIM

My seminary experience was amazing, I matured in so many ways I never imagined I could. The response from the seminary community was excellent. I've had many seminarians and ex-seminarians come up to me to tell me how they really resonated with the movie. That makes me happy. The faith community, I'm not so sure. Those whom I've encountered have been very positive but they were generally rather liberal. My guess is that those who fall on the conservative side of things probably would not watch the movie.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It seems like all of your characters in this film are human, some might say flawed, but you really avoid demonizing anyone. It seems like we live in this world, amplified by media, where pastors are often called out these days for their actions, behaviors, etc...On a certain level, it's much like we treat politicians. We want them to be perfect and to have lived in this vacuum. It's becoming increasingly difficult to impossible to measure up. It's even worse when God is placed squarely into the picture. Early in the film, I found myself quite concerned about Ryan...Here's a guy who has to deny who he is to become the minister/theologian he feels called to be...He makes challenging decisions along the way, but you get the sense towards the end that he's coming closer to living into his own relationship with God and the world around him. How did you approach your characters?

JOSHUA LIM

Haha. I really appreciate those thoughts. When I write scripts, I don't designate roles to characters like antagonist, ally or whatever else there is. I just try my best to make a story real and engaging.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

It's my understanding that there were seminarians involved with the film. How did you go about casting the film and how did you attract Mark Cirillo to the project?

JOSHUA LIM

Almost all the background performers in the movie were seminarians. And then there is the wonderful Jason Grasl, the actor playing Dat. I cast Mark Cirillo after a series of auditions and call-backs. We did not know each other before the movie.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Can you talk a bit about your own background? I've read through your filmography and you seem drawn to stories that really explore the human experience and our relationship with one another. When did you first realize you wanted to become a filmmaker? Did your family think you were nuts?

JOSHUA LIM

Haha! I have a really loving supportive family. When I was about to go to USC for film, my parents sat me down and told me that it was costly so they wanted to make sure I didn't change my mind after getting the degree. That would have been fine too, but it would have been a very expensive exploration was their point!

I realized I wanted to do something in film after watching my first movie in a movie theater - it was Beauty and the Beast. Which is so different from the movies I tend to make, I know. It's a running joke with some of my friends. I guess to me the most stirring events in life are relational and I am really drawn to that.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Another interesting choice you made was to include nudity in this film, yet it's one of the film's best scenes. What made you go there? You weren't challenging us enough?

JOSHUA LIM

The nudity just happened so to speak. The philosophy of the filmmaking in this movie is to be absolutely honest. The camera would be positioned and locked off in general - so whatever happens is frankly captured. In going with this idea, if someone was trying to seduce another person or simply changing clothes, it would be dishonest for us to either have them have underwear on or to block them for camera. This mode of filmmaking applied to the whole movie, not just nude scenes. We don't use marks and no actor was blocked for camera.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

How was the festival journey for this film? This strikes me as a film practically made for the festival crowd. Did you get the chance to show it at seminaries?

JOSHUA LIM

I did not get a chance to show it at seminaries but we've screened at some churches. I would love to get it out there to seminaries

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

You've ended up with Breaking Glass Pictures (QC Cinema) for distribution. Do you have a target audience for the film? Who should see it?

JOSHUA LIM

I'm not sure how to answer this question. Everyone?

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Fair enough! To borrow a phrase from an awareness campaign, does it get "better" for gay Christians/ministers?

JOSHUA LIM

I honestly don't know! I hope so.

THE INDEPENDENT CRITIC

Tell me about you. Where are you from? Who inspires you as a filmmaker and as a human being. Who inspires you as a filmmaker and as a human being? What do you do when you're not tackling major theological, life and universal issues? Any upcoming projects?

JOSHUA LIM

I was born in Malaysia, raised in Singapore. When I'm not tackling heavy stuff, I LOVE good food and good company! It's a Singaporean thing. I'm working on some upcoming projects that I'm not at liberty to disclose yet so i can't answer that question!


For more information on "The Seminarian," visit the film's website. Be sure to check out The Independent Critic's review of the film. "The Seminarian" is available on DVD through Breaking Glass Pictures.


© Interview by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic


 


 

 

 
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