- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

An Alexandria filmmaker's documentary on the German theologian and Hitler foe Dietrich Bonhoeffer crashed the Sundance Film Festival in Utah this week and made a splash with packed showings at three churches.
The feature-length film "Bonhoeffer," which details the title character's pietism and involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, is a spiritual alternative to the artsy Sundance fare in Park City, a Utah ski resort, organizers of the showings said yesterday.
"I don't think anyone's taken this approach before," said organizer Lindy Fessler, who attends Mountain Life Church, one of 15 congregations in the city of 8,000 residents.
"We've been inundated for the Bonhoeffer film," she said, adding that it's not an official Sundance event. "It's more the religious set than the secular set."
The 11-day Sundance festival, founded by actor Robert Redford, brings critical and financial success to many of its selections, but it also turns down thousands of films each year. This year the festival is showcasing about 130 titles, 16 of them documentaries, through Jan. 26.
Rejected filmmakers often show their works in rented space or coffee shops around the mountain town, which was once a mining outpost.
The Bonhoeffer film, which will be viewed by at least 1,000 people given the five showings at Park City churches was advertised by colorful posters and red handbills.
"We submitted the film to Sundance and, like 3,000 other filmmakers, received a form letter rejection," said Martin Doblmeier of Journey Films in Alexandria before leaving for Utah.
So he turned to the churches, which have never held a film screening.
"The response was terrific," he said.
Producers of the film, and its viewers so far, say that Bonhoeffer, who left behind many writings and journals, confronts Christians today with questions of how faith applies in secular times and how to love the world and yet deal with its greatest evils.
"To think that 600 people will turn out for our showings, and pay for it, is remarkable," said the Rev. Scott Schiesswohl, whose Park City Community Church, a United Methodist congregation, showed the film last night and will again tonight.
"I think Bonhoeffer went to a place most Christians won't go," he said of the German theologian's decision to help in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. "He saw the assassination as a last resort."
As war with Germany erupted, Bonhoeffer returned from New York on the last ship. From a well-known German family, he was commissioned in Nazi intelligence and from the outset helped Jews flee and finally corresponded with Britain in the assassination plot. In the end, he was hanged in Tegel prison.
The German Protestant clergy, many of whom formed the Reich Church, so disillusioned Bonhoeffer that he saw Christ not in the church but in the secular world of human community, describing Jesus as "the man for others."
Mr. Schiesswohl said that although many churches are leaning away from a war against Iraq, Bonhoeffer's life illustrates the Christian struggle between a desire for peace and the dictates of a "just war."
"The churches have historically come to see the Gospel's calling for peace, but people will bring their own conclusion to a life like Bonhoeffer's," he said.
The film visits historic locations in Germany, interviews Bonhoeffer intimates and re-enacts historic scenes with actors such as Austrian Klaus Maria Brandauer, who played in "Out of Africa."
Tomorrow night the film will be shown at Old St. Mary's Catholic Church downtown.


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