What’s an Atheist Film Festival Like? August 17, 2012

What’s an Atheist Film Festival Like?

Kimberly Winston attended the Atheist Film Festival in San Francisco last weekend and writes about how this isn’t just some fringe event:

Jennifer Garner and Ricky Gervais in The Invention of Lying, one of the movies featured at the Atheist Film Festival

While the San Francisco festival is the only explicitly atheist festival in the U.S., it is part of a larger trend. Portland, Ore., hosts a Humanist Film Festival; Tampa, Fla., has an International Freethought Film Festival; and Ottawa, Canada, offers the Free Thinking Film Festival.

Jews and Christians have long hosted their own film festivals, and S. Brent Plate, a scholar of religion and film based at Hamilton College, said festivals have the potential to bolster a group’s members, reach out to potential followers and educate them about issues.

“An independent faith film festival will create film fests for similar reasons — to be with other, like-minded people, to laugh together and cry together and think together,” Plate said. “It creates a sense of community. And ultimately, it gives people ideas that might trickle back into everyday life. Which is exactly the reason the so-called nonreligious groups do such things.”

I love the part where festival organizer Dave Fitzgerald explains the biggest rule for a film’s selection into the festival:

His main criteria for including a film is that it shows at least one atheist figure in a positive light.

“My motto is: Are they heretic friendly?” Fitzgerald said. “We are in a position where we can actually turn away movies because their hearts might be in the right place but they may be stilted and preachy.”

I like that! It’s like an atheist version of the Bechdel Test.

That shouldn’t be tough to find… and yet, I’m hard-pressed to think of more than a couple of positive atheist figures in movies, at least outside of documentaries. One reason festivals like this exist is to showcase those few examples and hope they inspire writers and directors to feature and develop atheist characters even further.

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  • Guest

    Wait a minute.  Every time anyone who is an atheist does anything bad, we’re told you can’t blame atheism.  If atheists in general do or advocate bad things, we’re told you can’t blame atheism since atheism is the great un-, a void of belief, it literally doesn’t exist as a positive, so you can’t blame or hold it accountable as a thing in any way.  It is a no-thing.  So how do you have anything based on a no-thing?  That seems about as strange as anything, which could be something.  And if it is, and folks want to gather based on atheism and their atheism and atheism, does that mean we can start treating it like a thing once again, and holding its feet to the fire just the same?  I’m fine with that.

  • SwedishSJ

    Given that the most atheists seem to be represented in movies is as the cynical skeptic who in some way has a “change of heart” (or, if they’re in a horror film, suffers a terrible death due partly to their skepticism), this is a welcome step forward indeed.

  • Brian Westley

    Holding its feet to the fire by burning straw men?  Sounds like a waste of time.

  • 3lemenope

    For a(n unfortunately unflattering) metaphor, imagine nearly everyone around you had a disease. You only know a few people who don’t have the disease, and you don’t really want to get it. So, you preferentially hang out with the people who don’t have the disease.

    Now, religion may not be perfectly analogous to a disease (except, perhaps, in a memetic epidemiological sense), but the thinking is the same. Everyone around you has caught this [religious idea], and you don’t want to deal with the symptoms that having that idea generally causes (thought, behavior, etc.) and so you might preferentially hang out with people who haven’t caught that religious thought yet.

    Being healthy is a “no-thing” a thing defined as literally not being sick. Likewise, being an atheist can be a “no-thing” and like healthy people in the midst of an epidemic, it still can be useful to think of them as a group for some purposes.

  • Guest

    No, fair question.  If you are going to identify so strongly by this great un-thing, then perhaps it’s a think you can actually identify with, and therefore subject to the considerations as any other thing.

  • That shouldn’t be tough to find… and yet, I’m hard-pressed to think of more than a couple of positive atheist figures in movies, at least outside of documentaries.

    I think there are actually quite a few, it’s just that reviews usually don’t mention a character’s atheism unless it’s somehow important to the plot. You’ll have to sift through the positive and negative, but there are several listed here:


  • The Ledge has a pretty awesome atheist protagonist.

  • David Starner

    The Day After Tomorrow  is  a horribly cliche disaster movie; possibly objectively towards the upper end of that range, but nothing that should break it out of the pack.

    The fact that we have an atheist librarian portrayed well in that movie is one of the reasons I frustratingly love it.

  • Hayden

    “Contact” comes to mind.

  • Matt

    They showed “The Ledge” last year and it was amazing. This is one of my favorite events to go to in SF.

  • Taylor

    So, you’re not going to reply to 
    ?  Just skip that one and move on to one that you think you can handle?  Fine, proceed then.  Tell me how atheism is free from criticism and persecution.  Tell me about your arguments against the idea of “one who is without a belief in any god.”  Tell me how NO atheist is willing to respond to an argument.  Tell me how your strawman cannot be returned with it’s Christian equivalent that responds with, “Well, that’s no MY faith.”  Go ahead, you got us.  Give us your worst.  You finally found your chance to debate the elusive atheist.

  • Taylor

    When you find someone that does something bad, that a believer would never do, in the name of atheism, have at it.  Until then, reality thinks you are embarrassingly obnoxious.

  • OregoniAn


    Out of all the belief options in the world, of which Christianity is but one of so many – the only thing we atheists have in common is that when confronted with all these options we were the ones who simply checked the box “none of the above” – unless and until tangible evidence leads us to another conclusion., as unlikely as that may be.

    We do enjoy each others camaraderie, talents, efforts – even films. But no amount of word twisting can ever place us in a grouping as a “thing” like Christianity, or Buddhism etc. This is because our only common denominator is based on something we lack – a belief in something that is unproven.

    By identifying myself as atheist I’m not aligning myself with any strict ideology – or anything else you could quantify as a “thing”. Instead I’m hanging out with the most diverse, skeptical, questioning – and wonderfully warm “human” people I’ve had the pleasure to meet. They are liberal, conservative, old, young, gay, straight and all points in between. It’s quite the colorful cast.

    I know it would be more convenient mentally for you to be able to nail us down and box us in – as if we were simply some sort of “alternative religion” – but you can’t. You see.. We checked that “none of the above” box..

  • Someguy

    I don’t like the fight fire with fire approach that the movement is having nowadays. I hate how this is becoming a tribe.

  • stop2wonder

    “The Man From Earth” is awesome. The main character seems to be more of an agnostic, but several of the supporting characters seem to lean toward atheism. Check it out if you get the chance. FYI though, its all dialogue, but very well done and thought provoking.

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