As an artist, you can feel confident that Regent is a place where that gift can be cultivated.
One year into her MATS at Regent College, Jessica Van der Wyngaard teamed up with Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, for a documentary project. The idea was this: They would film a documentary chronicling Joshua Harris’s long wrestling match with the legacy left by the bestselling book he wrote when he was 19 years old. This would open into a larger exploration of responses to the purity movement and the world of Christian dating over the past 20 years.
The film had its preview screening at Regent on Jun 11, 2018, where it had a warm reception, and has been gaining momentum since then. This March, Director Jessica Van der Wyngaard was surprised to find out the film had received two nominations at the International Christian Film and Music Festival—Best Director and Best Documentary.
We asked Jessica a few questions over email. Read on to hear the story of her reaction on hearing the news, as well as her future plans as a filmmaker. The film is available for free online.
Congratulations on your nominations for Best Director and Best Documentary at the International Christian Film and Music Festival Awards!
Did you expect such a big response to this documentary?
Honestly, I had no idea how this film would be received by the public. In making a film about a highly polarising Christian dating book, and the author’s ultimate apology, I had no idea what to expect. That being said, I did anticipate it would get a highly varied response. This has proven to be true, from people wishing the film endorsed more progressive values to people who are critical of the film even opening the door to critical thinking on “purity culture.”
What was your reaction to getting these nominations?
Regarding film critic response to the film before the nomination, there hadn’t been much at all. I and the whole team worked hard on this project so that the nuts and bolts that make up the film would essentially “disappear” and not be a distraction from the story we were trying to tell. Many people have written about the documentary and the issues it brings up, rather than focus on the production itself. As a director, I have to take that as a compliment. The focus of the audience was on the story, not that they were watching a highly intentional and meticulous film production.
The film has been out for over 5 months now, so I didn’t expect to receive any industry response from it, and I had made my peace with that. It was my first film after all! So when I did find out about the nominations, it came as a total surprise to me! It’s been a wonderful recognition to receive.
Can you briefly tell the story of what circumstances and relationships led to this film getting made at Regent?
I was one year into my MA at Regent when I found out I could create a creative project as my thesis (IPIAT*). I decided I wanted to make a film about an issue that had been a topic of many conversations I had had at Regent with fellow students and before that in the Australian context: dating and relationships for adult Christians. It just so happened that in that same year Joshua Harris turned up at Regent to study, and I was asked to crew on a documentary for BBC production veteran and Regent Prof. Iwan Russell-Jones. It seemed to me like God had brought these three key ingredients together, at Regent, for something great: Joshua Harris, the retrospective author from Maryland; Prof. Russell-Jones, the documentary film producer from Wales; and myself, an aspiring filmmaker from Australia. I pitched the project to Harris and got the academics approved by the Arts Committee and then the hard work began. Another key ingredient in this film being made possible was the involvement of other Regent students. We had around ten Regent students working on the film, either as volunteers or as a Guided Study for academic credit. Without these students, the film would never have even begun.
What has the reception of the film been like among those who were influenced by Josh’s book?
From the feedback we’ve received, the reception has been largely positive. As I said earlier, there are those who criticise it for not addressing particular issues, but that’s to be expected with a contentious topic.
A frustration for me has been the cynicism and anger that some of Harris’s former readers now hold against him, the book, and by extension the documentary and me. The film is available entirely for free for anyone in the world to watch; but the film (as many do) ran over budget and so I was personally left considerably out of pocket. As a way to alleviate this, I thought I’d make additional content, related to the film, available for purchase through the film’s website. Seemed like clever thinking to me! Unfortunately, I’ve received nasty emails about that. The fact that anything related to the film isn’t entirely free has some people angry. As an artist who led a small army of volunteering artists to make this film, it’s hard to read these critical emails. The truth is, creating art costs money, and while many people are moved and blessed by it, very few people want to pay for it. And that’s the reality many artists experience.
That being said, it has been a blessing to hear from people who were positively impacted by the film. Some have said that the film has enabled them to heal and move on from trauma, others simply that the film helped them see a new perspective on Christian dating. And to hear those stories makes the whole project worthwhile!
What’s next for the film?
The film will be screened at the International Christian Film and Music Festival in Orlando May 1–4 and will also have a screening at Fuller Seminary on May 10.
The film continues to be available online
for anyone to watch, worldwide. Please go watch it and share it with your friends!
We also love it when people share the film with their church, school, small group, or community group. We just want to encourage people to resource themselves accordingly for that, so anyone can find the full details on the website.
What’s next for you? Do you see filmmaking as a big part of your life going forward?
I really hope so! I will be at the festival in Orlando this May and I’m praying for doors to open up for a new project or an industry job. My Regent experience has taught me many things, and one of them is to have confidence in my vocation as an artist equipped by God to do good work. I feel that artistic calling strongly and am doing all I can to pursue opportunities in that direction. It’s not easy, and there is no clear career trajectory laid out, but I’m putting my faith in God and just taking it step by step, just like when I was making the film.
What would you tell someone thinking of coming to Regent with an interest in the arts?
Regent is an academic community that has a unique way of honouring the arts and putting it in a place of significance. As an artist, you can feel confident that Regent is a place where that gift can be cultivated, and if you give it your all you can create art at Regent that will bless the church.
* Integrative Project in Arts & Theology. Learn more about Regent's concentration in Christianity and the Arts and IPIAT option here.