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Fathom's The Heart of Man Explores Healing from Hopelessness

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

Serving as a clarion call to anyone who believes they have fallen short in the eyes of God, a new documentary film The Heart of Man, delivers a powerful statement for all those who have battled through any addiction, temptation, or shame in their lives.

Rooted in the parable of the prodigal son, The Heart of Man comes to cinemas nationwide on Thursday, September 14th as a special one-night Fathom event.  Uniquely produced in a blend of narrative and documentary style, the film features a wealth of compelling commentary from nationally known faith leaders including mega-church pastor Chad Veach, educator Dr. Dan Allender, and author William Paul Young.

I recently spoke with The Heart of Man executive producer Jason Pamer about how our brokenness is often seen as a barrier in finding personal freedom, why the parable of the prodigal son relates so well to contemporary culture, and how our heavenly Father is present even in the darkest of moments.

Simply put, The Heart of Man is a new documentary film that will be featured as a live Fathom event on September 14th.  In your words, what is it all about?

It is a fun, unique experience. It’s a dual-genre film; it’s part narrative; it’s a deconstructive look at the prodigal son story shot in paradise, Hawaii; and now to look at this ancient father-and-son relationship. We interviewed real people with real stories of brokenness, addiction, and vices from all over the country for the last two and a half years. We combined these two elements together to ultimately show people what the face of the Father is for them in the midst of their darkest moments. Is He faced toward you, and what is He thinking about you, and what is the most authentic thing about you as a believer. He’s kind of calling you into the better yes. It’s not as much about “stop this,” “don’t do this,” as it is about “what are you made for?” and how do you get access to that. So, we juxtaposed this kind of beautiful setting of the prodigal son story with these stories of pain, but with a lot of hope.

What I really liked about this documentary is that the cinematography was outstanding.  The film really ups its game over many of the others that have been done in the past on the same topic.  Was it your intention to create a film with such high production values?

I think one of the inspirations for the look of the film was The Tree of Life, and it was one of the things that really inspired the director and then the producing team on this. For us it wasn’t contrasted against other films when in the same genre, it was just like, what compels me, and it’s excellent craftsmanship. I love this quote. There was this German cobbler that went to this theologian in the time of Martin Luther and asked him, “How do I be a good Christian cobbler?” and Martin Luther’s response was, “You don’t need to put crosses on the shoes; just make excellent shoes.” So for us, it was all about making a great story. Don’t try to jam an agenda in it, just tell a great story and do it in a really compelling way. We decided that we’re going to portray what mankind has access to in relationship with the Father. That’s the tall order. So the location as what it is and that’s why we shot it the way we did, to try to give a sense of grandeur and allure.

One of the central themes of the film is “brokenness.” Why do you think that is so often is seen as a barrier or a detriment in the life of a person?

That’s such a good question and that is absolutely one of the core themes. Without pointing the finger, I think it is ingrained in North American evangelicals. I think if there can be a barrier then that means there can be a set of things that need to be done to get around the barrier, and so it creates some structures and some things to do. But the irony is that brokenness is the very bridge with what Jesus is coming back. There’s this Latin phrase, “felix culpa,” which is on the cross, the zenith of man’s sin is the zenith of God’s grace. It is, in fact, both the same thing at the same time, and it’s not to say like Paul says, that we should “sin that grace may abound,” but I think there are these moments where through our brokenness, we’re able to see this deficiency that we have and the need that we have, and it’s only in those moments we can see that.

Earlier, you mentioned that this film is a deconstructive look at the Prodigal Son. Why is this parable so important for people here in the 21st Century?  Why does it relate so well to contemporary culture?

That’s the beauty of Scripture. It’s got the ancient context and yet it’s got this transcendent reality. Every one of our lives can reflect that to some degree or the other to the prodigal son story. It’s this pursuit of something else, away from the heart of the Father, and we just find that His scandalous grace and invitation is ever-present. For us, The Prodigal God by Tim Keller was a big inspiration. Henri Nouwen’s book The Prodigal was a big inspiration in the writing and the script. When we were writing it, we were looking at the prodigal, but there was an older brother in the story as well. Usually the focus is always on the prodigal, it’s not the older brother. So in our film, it’s actually the absence of the older brother, and not many people pick up on it, but we kind of left some Easter eggs for people to discover. For example, in the boat in the opening scene where the father and son are playing together and fishing together, there’s a third pole in the boat for the older brother to take part in, but he’s busy doing the work of the father on behalf of the father, thinking that’s what the father wants. When really what the father wants is to play and to be present and near to his sons. There’s a third place setting at the table, the feast table that’s left open. There’s a third log around the fire when they’re playing, and they’re playing the violin.

As you have mentioned, The Heart of Man is documentary style.  Paired with the story of the prodigal son is the juxtaposition of many interviews with people who comment and lend their perspective to the story.  People like William Paul Young (The Shack), Dan Allender (The Wounded Heart), and spoken word artist Jackie Hill Perry.  Why were these people so vital in lending their perspective?

Their level of transparency was so profound, and I think it invited people into their own stories. It gave them sort of permission to be a little bit more open. The hope is that it gave them more permission to then share in the right context, in the right relationships, their own pieces of their own story, and I think we were really blown away in the interviews, just about the depth of sort of access to their story and heart. To me, it’s obviously one of two core elements, but it’s equally as important and powerful as the narrative, and they really need each other.

Ultimately, this is a film about finding personal freedom … freedom from managing our behavior so we will be seen as acceptable, freedom from addictions, compulsive behaviors, and living a double life.  How do you feel you accomplished or will accomplish that through The Heart of Man?

What we found out is it cannot be done.  The job is not complete in the 72 minutes of the film, which is why we have crafted a seven-scene guide as well as a book that dives deeper.  In the guide we’re able to get deeper into the theology of the prodigal son story, and we’re able to reveal more of the heart behind it.  We’re working on these resources that will come around the film, knowing that the film is kind of the first thing, but on the totality of impact, it’s not the biggest piece, and we’ve come to realize that.

After people have seen The Heart of Man what is the one thing you would like your audience to take away from their viewing experience?

I just hope that people get a clearer glimpse of the face of the Father, and that they understand a little bit more that He loves them, He wants to be with them, participate in their lives, and play with them.  I think a lot of people think, I know I have, that God is this distant being and He cannot look at me, Jesus is between us, and if Jesus wasn’t there I’d be lost because God the Father just detests everything about me, because at the core I’m evil. And I think this is what we’re hoping to change a little bit for people is to go, know His face is toward you and loving for you, and He’s calling you into something so much more rich and textured than the things you find yourself groveling in.  He’s got this feast spread before you.

Find a Theater Near You

Watch the Trailer for The Heart of Man: 

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