60th College POY: Casey Templeton

January 2006

For News Photographer magazine

By Jenn Fields

In 2004, Casey Templeton took a week off from the fall semester of his junior year at James Madison University to observe the judging of College Photographer of the Year. Templeton’s school in Harrisonburg, Va., doesn’t have a journalism program. CPOY judging was to be his photojournalism education for the year.
Templeton sat in the front row and hung over the railing so he could hear every word that came out of the judges’ mouths. He watched pictures flash across a screen for hours in a dark room. He learned what the judges looked for in a photograph, in a picture story, in a portfolio. Perhaps most importantly, he learned to self-edit.
One year later, four CPOY judges hovered over five portfolios in the same dark room at the Missouri School of Journalism. The judges weren’t talking about Templeton’s portfolio, but the rest of the room was buzzing about it. His tightly edited portfolio was the clear winner.
Rita Reed, the director of CPOY, called Templeton immediately after the judging to let him know he had won the competition.
“Is this Casey Templeton?” Reed asked into the speakerphone.
“Yes, this is Casey,” Templeton said.
Reed asked him to guess who had won the 60th CPOY. Templeton couldn’t believe it – it was a dream.
“I think I’m going to wake up and be pissed,” he said.

Templeton, 22, immediately ran to his girlfriend’s house. He could have jumped in his car or hopped on his bike, but that didn’t occur to him. So he ran the three-quarters of a mile flat-out to tell her he’d won and started calling family and friends to spread the good news.
Then he remembered a previous obligation for that evening – his bible study group. Templeton stopped the celebratory phone calls and went to bible study. After all, he wanted to keep his priorities straight. Ironically, when Casey arrived he found the planned topic for study that night was humility.
“If I’m not humble, I’m going to start feeling like I don’t have to work as hard,” Templeton says. “I don’t want to lose my motivation. It’s encouraged me to work even harder.”
Following the competition, Templeton contacted all four of the other finalists in the portfolio category to complement them on their work and tell them how much he respected them.
“The other photographers are such great photojournalists that I was just blown away when I won,” Templeton says. “By no means am I the best photographer in that competition.”
Tommy Thompson, a commercial photographer in Virginia who teaches JMU’s only photojournalism course, was Templeton’s teacher and now serves as his mentor.
“Every photographer has an ego, and every photographer has an attitude,” Thompson says. “And Casey, despite not having an abundance of attitude, always backs up his work.”

Diverse experience
Templeton occasionally works for Thompson as an assistant. At a wedding Thompson was shooting, Templeton was working with motion blur on the dance floor. Thompson asked him to stop and said “I don’t have time to edit that stuff, Casey.”
Not long after, Thompson unabashedly showed his assistant an article he’d just found on using that very technique to bring a more photojournalistic style to wedding photography. “Well, you were right,” Thompson told him.
Josh Meltzer, the Roanoke Times photojournalist Templeton job-shadowed in high school, says Templeton’s wedding photography is good for more than paying for college.
“That’s been a great way for him to practice, because every weekend he’s shooting a little picture story about these two people getting married,” Meltzer says.
Meltzer first met Templeton on an assignment for the Times. Templeton was one of a group of high schoolers raising money for charity by doing a polar bear swim in the ocean in the winter. Meltzer rode the bus to the beach with the kids, and Templeton peppered him with questions for much of the ride. Templeton, who followed the photojournalists in his hometown paper like some kids follow professional athletes, described the experience as like meeting your sports hero. When he introduced himself on the bus, Templeton replied: “Josh? Josh Meltzer?” Templeton went on to shadow Meltzer and interned for the Roanoke Times last summer.
Like Templeton, Meltzer didn’t study in a photojournalism program, but he believes Templeton has opened doors for himself by shooting every chance he gets.
“He is really going to have a lot of options, partly because of the way he educated himself,” Meltzer says. “He didn’t go to a traditional photojournalism program. He doesn’t have a portfolio with house fires and people catching footballs.”
One of those open doors is National Geographic. As the College Photographer of the Year, Templeton has earned an internship with the magazine.
“Frankly, it’s a selfish internship,” says Susan Smith, deputy director of photography for National Geographic magazine. “It gives us the opportunity to scrutinize the work of young people who we want to work for us.”
“Our photographers are very independent,” she added. “They come up with their own story ideas, and we look for that in an intern as well.”
Templeton believes that going to a school without a photo program has given him more incentive to be a self-starter and work hard to seek out his own stories. Winning CPOY has not reduced his tenacity, either.
“The last thing I want to do is become unmotivated,” he says. “I’ve got everything to prove now.”
Templeton hasn’t lost his modesty, either.
“I’ve got so much to learn. I can’t stress that enough. When I get to the point where I feel like I’ve got nothing left to learn, that’s when I need to hang up my camera.”

Working with Templeton recently, Thompson cautioned him about shooting from the hip too often. Thompson worried that he would eventually miss a shot that way. Sure enough, another magazine article popped up, this time in support of that kind of shooting, and Thompson passed it on to his protégé again.
“He has a lot of feeling in his style,” Thompson says. “He puts himself with the person he’s photographing, watches their characteristics and mannerisms so he can capture it. I think the reason he shoots from the hip is that he’s watching their mannerisms and doesn’t want to interrupt the moment. His style is a latent creativity.”
Templeton says his eye comes from his faith.
“When I shoot, I shoot for my own personal vision,” Templeton says. “I shoot for God, you know, and that’s how I can explain what I do.”
Others have recognized Templeton’s eye.
“His style is pretty well-defined; when I’m looking through his pictures, I can tell they’re his,” Meltzer says.
Scott Strazzante, one of the CPOY judges and photojournalist for the Chicago Tribune, said when choosing the College Photographer of the Year, the judges were looking for a photographer with a strong vision who is comfortable with documentary style and lighter photo essays. He cited the versatility of Templeton’s portfolio.
“It comes down to style, very strong style,” Strazzante said. “They definitely have something to say about the world.”
“I had a good feel for the first place entry for the quality of seeing,” said Manny Crisostomo, a senior photojournalist at the Sacramento Bee and CPOY judge.
“I’m very blessed by God to have this opportunity and have the eye that I do,” Templeton says.

The future
Templeton isn’t sure where he’ll end up after he graduates with a bachelor’s degree from JMU in May. It’s not up to him, he says, it’s up to God.
Before winning his internship at National Geographic, Templeton applied for internships with U.S. News and World Report and The Washington Post. He has not heard from either yet.
Down the road, Meltzer doesn’t necessarily see Templeton at a newspaper. He could fund photojournalism projects through his wedding photography, or possibly work as a photographer for a nonprofit agency.
“Throughout his internship he really thrived – like everyone does – when he’s shooting something he’s interested in,” Meltzer says.
Templeton is looking forward to one big change in his future. On Dec. 8, before a small crowd (including musicians) on JMU’s campus, he proposed to his girlfriend, Ashley Perry. They plan to marry after she graduates from JMU in May 2007.

In the 60th year of the competition, Nikon and National Geographic returned as sponsors of College Photographer of the Year. Nikon provided an educational grant that paid entrance fees for participants. The top three winners in the portfolio category will receive a Nikon digital SLR, and Templeton, the gold medal winner, received an internship at National Geographic magazine and a $1,000 scholarship from the NPPA. But more the contest is about more than prizes – it’s about educating young photographers.
“Just entering the contest is good for students in that it gives them the chance to look back over their work for the year,” says Rita Reed, director of CPOY and assistant professor at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. She added that this is excellent training for what they will do as they look for jobs and work as professional photojournalists.
“When you look at your work from the last year, you notice where your weaknesses are, and it helps you set goals for next year,” she says.
In 2006, the CPOY awards will be presented at the same time as Pictures of the Year International (POYi), April 20 and 21 in Columbia, Mo. The winners of COPY will have the chance to get portfolio reviews from the POYi winners.
“It’s a great opportunity for college students to come pick up their awards and rub elbows with the POY winners,” Reed says. “It’s also a chance for the top newspapers and photographers in the professional realm to see the crème de la crème of college photographers.”
Judging at a photo competition can be instructive as well. The judges are accomplished photographers and leaders in the field, and they like talking about – sometimes arguing over – pictures. This year’s CPOY judges good-naturedly gave their battles over photos a nickname: Fight Club.
“I hope the students nationwide know that the judging is open, and if they can get away for that weekend, they can come over and watch, just like Casey did,” Reed says. “Casey’s portfolio was tightly edited, and I think he saw that last year.”

17-year-old whiz kid takes a stab at the national fencing scene

March 24, 2005

Two faceless opponents stare each other down from behind dark masks. Swords are poised gracefully yet powerfully in their hands; they are ready to strike at a whisper of motion. Andrew Gardner is the shorter of the two. He calms his breathing. Sweat pours beneath the layers of gear he wears.

“Ready? Fence.”

Foils flash, and loud beeps indicating hits fill the air over the sound of metal on metal and stomping feet. The bout is over in seconds — they usually are. Andrew scored the points his team needed for this tournament, but it was frustrating work. His opponent was a beginning fencer twice his age, and he was wearing a chest-protector beneath his gear, which, although legal, made it difficult for Andrew to score a point. His foil was bouncing off the plastic underneath his opponent’s jacket too fast to register a hit.

“Men don’t usually wear chest protectors,” Andrew says off the strip, a long, narrow area where fencers must remain during a bout.

It’s a Sunday afternoon in St. Louis. Andrew usually fences with his club in Kansas City on Sundays, but this week he’s competing in a small team tournament as a favor to another fencer. Besides, it’s good practice. He’s heading to a national tournament in Denver later this week.

In addition to being a competitive foil fencer, Andrew is a 17-year-old Hickman High School junior who plans to go to MIT, study architecture and live in Europe when he’s done. He’s nearly fluent in French thanks to his time spent with a tutor every Saturday, and he’s taking more Advanced Placement (AP) courses at Hickman than any other kid he knows. He’s also into documentary films, nonfiction and international red wines. “I don’t like California reds,” he says. (His mother lived in France for a while and lets him have a glass of wine with dinner sometimes.)

His nonfencing uniform is jeans and a T-shirt. But even if you met him on a day when he’s wearing his Nike swoosh T-shirt that reads “Child Labor,” you might find him to be the most sophisticated teenager you’ve ever met.

His mother recently said to him: “Andrew,” — and she always starts with an AN-drew, emphasis on the first syllable — “you can’t take four AP courses, continue taking French lessons and train for fencing. You have to give something up.”

“Fine,” he said, teeth clenched, “I’ll give up dating.”

At least, that’s what he tells her. Besides, there’s no time to worry about girls right now. He has fencing to worry about.

Lessons from afar

Five years ago Andrew started playing around with his mother’s fencing gear. She had fenced in college and had recently taken up the foil again. His interest piqued, Andrew decided to take a fencing class through the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department. Andrew’s first instructor was a blind woman from Bahrain named Day Al-Mohamed. Thanks to his brutal bouts with Day and fencing without glasses (his did not fit under his fencing mask), Andrew learned a lesson that’s tough to grasp for many beginning fencers — you can’t always watch the foil.

Before long, Andrew was fencing with the local club at Dexter’s Gym. He learned quickly and outgrew Columbia’s fencing scene within a year. He needed a new coach, and at his first tournament, he found one. After a bout with a fencer from the Kansas City Fencing Center, Andrew’s parents spoke with his opponent’s coach, Emilia Ivanova, a seven-time Bulgarian national champion in women’s foil and former coach of their national team. That was three years ago. Emi has been Andrew’s coach ever since.

Under Emi’s tutelage, Andrew has become more competitive. He travels to tournaments all over the country several times a year. At the North American Cup in Denver, he might have the opportunity to move up in the ranks of fencing. He occasionally fumes over missed opportunities earlier this year to move up from being a D fencer to a C. (A is the highest.) Perhaps this tournament will be different.

The first day started off cold in Denver, but as the weather warmed up outside the huge downtown convention center, so did Andrew. He stabbed his way through a pool of six other foil fencers and remained undefeated. Next, the competing fencers were ranked and assigned opponents for the direct elimination round.

For a sport that still seems exclusive in the Midwest, there’s a surprising diversity represented at the tournament. Forget your image of fencing as an elitist sport for James Bond types. An Indian expatriate-Brit-slash-Ph.D. student and the epee fencer from Toronto whom he coaches fit in as well as anyone else. There’s just no such thing as a typical fencer. Even the elite fencers come in all shapes and sizes. Aside from fitness, the only advantageous attribute is height. (Long arms equal a long reach.)

“I’m 5’ 9”-ish,” Andrew says. The “ish” stands for not quite.

Despite the diverse crowd, Andrew will face a familiar fencer in his first direct elimination bout that afternoon. The opponent is Daniel Bass, a fellow Missourian from St. Louis, and Andrew is not happy about the matchup because they both know each other’s tricks.

All in the family

Andrew’s family has become a fencing family. Both parents usually travel with him to regional and national tournaments. Both drive him to Kansas City on Sundays for his training. Both like to talk fencing just as much as their son.

“It’s very psychological,” Andrew says on one of many Sunday sojourns to train with Emi.

“It’s like chess,” his mother, Noor Azizan-Gardner, says quickly. She is sitting in the passenger seat of her car next to Pete.

Peter Gardner is Andrew’s father. Andrew calls him Pete, never Dad, and has for as long as he can remember. But Mom is always Mom, never Noor. Every Sunday the three of them drive to the fencing club’s rented-out space in an Overland Park synagogue. Although he is 17, Gardner never drives on these trips. He hasn’t found time to get his driver’s license yet.

Pete, Noor and Andrew form an interesting family. Ashish Premkumar, Andrew’s oldest friend, calls them an intellectual family, even though his own parents are just as educated as Andrew’s. Pete is a professor emeritus of anthropology at MU and perhaps the closest thing Columbia has to a real-life Indiana Jones. He’s full of amazing tales involving polar bears, poisonous snakes and cholera. Noor directs MU’s diversity initiative and grew up on three different continents. “They’re really a multicultural family,” Ashish says.

The Gardners are like a second family to Ashish, and Andrew is like a brother. They got him into interesting books and films such as Dune and A Clockwork Orange at a fairly young age. Ashish and Andrew go to different high schools now, but they still get together to talk music and movies like most teenagers. The difference is that they’ll discuss a documentary they saw at Ragtag Cinemacafé instead of the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Ashish says they’ve been talking about existentialism lately.

High school juniors who gab about philosophy? Don’t these guys ever just talk about girls?

Yes. Andrew might have a bourgeois air about him, but not all the time. His room is a mess. He eats Twizzlers and McDonald’s. He smarts off to his mom. He complains about homework.

He’s a normal high school kid, and some things go in and out of his head pretty quickly. Andrew lost his elimination match to the St. Louis fencer his first day at the tournament, which ended his fencing for the day. He said he was disappointed, but after the match he sat down to chat with the man he’d just spent the last 10 minutes trying to skewer. Despite elimination, Andrew still finished 19th for the day. He usually fences better on the second day, anyway.

Andrew used to try to squeeze in some homework between matches, but Emi doesn’t allow it anymore. On the second day of the North American Cup, Andrew is doing homework at 6:30 a.m., but he leaves it behind at the hotel half an hour later. Fencing is a sport that requires athletes to keep their heads in the game.

If skill is the yin of fencing, strategy is the yang. This cerebral aspect of the sport appeals to Andrew’s intellectual side. He loves to talk about following opponents’ moves and how inexperienced fencers are difficult to face in a bout because their lack of strategy makes them completely unpredictable.

Directing, or refereeing, at his own club and local events has further informed Andrew’s strategy. Even though fencers are wired to an electronic scoring system, foil fencing is not as simple as hitting your opponent. Foil fencers can only score a point when they have right of way. Directors must learn all of the subtleties and vagaries of the rules that govern fencing.

“The director is God,” Andrew says. He is articulate and confident when he directs and seems to enjoy being in charge.

That second morning of the tournament, Andrew seems to be in charge of every bout on the strip — this time as a fencer. He’s in a new pool of seven fencers and doing well so far.

In his fourth match, Andrew faces a C fencer several inches shorter than him. What this fencer lacks in reach he makes up for in skill and strategy, and Andrew loses by three points. He’s exasperated, but it’s temporary. He cordially shakes hands with his opponent at the end of the bout, per fencing etiquette.

Andrew comes out of the pools with only one loss and is subsequently ranked in the top 20 for the elimination rounds. Through a twist of fate, he’ll face a fencer from his own club if he makes it to the second round.

First, he has to beat a fencer from Texas who didn’t do very well in the pools that morning. Peter and Noor think it will be an easy win, and all three of them seem more worried about Andrew facing his club-mate, Gene Shmurak, in the next match. Like the bout with the St. Louis fencer the day before, Andrew and Gene know each other’s strategies very well and regard the pairing as a disaster.

But the low-ranked Texan who Andrew should have easily picked off turns out to be a tough opponent. On the sidelines, Pete and Noor wonder how he managed to do so poorly in the morning pools. Andrew loses the match, and this year’s North American Cup is over for him. It’s the earliest he’s ever been eliminated from a national tournament, but he’s in good spirits and even forgoes an early lunch to stick around and support Gene.

“C’est la vie,” Noor says.

On the way out of the venue, the Gardners run into Mr. Wade, the father of a fellow fencer Andrew made friends with the day before. Mr. Wade is a kindly gentleman from northern California who wears a driving cap all the time. His son is still in the tournament, so the Gardners wish him luck. He wishes them safe travels in return. It’s a typically warm exchange of pleasantries in a sport that has its roots in killing people with a sword.

“See you at summer nationals!” the Gardners say as they smile and wave goodbye.


Slices of scripture

Family-owned pizza joint open about Christian faith

LONGMONT — When they opened Luc’s Pizza in Longmont eight years ago, Jim and Marie Lucarelli hoped to serve plenty of pizza. They also wanted to serve the community and God.

The walls and menus at Luc’s serve as a constant reminder of that. A plaque near some old family photos, to the side of the cash register, bears Luc’s Pizza’s unofficial motto, from 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” The front of their menu carries the same scripture quote, and each section leads with scripture and the ichthys symbol — Lunch, Matthew 4:4; Pizzas, John 7:37.

The Lucarellis agree that the ubiquitous scripture, which even graces their company van, keeps them accountable to God and the life-long process of learning and being a Christian.

“We view it as a ministry,” Marie Lucarelli said.

Sometimes the scripture will lead a customer to start a conversation about faith, but Marie said that as a business, they never bring it up first or proselytize to customers or employees. She also doesn’t think Luc’s success is a result of being Christian.

“I think our customers like our pizza, and that’s why they come back,” she said. “I don’t think God is like a good luck charm I can pull out of my pocket, rub and be successful.”

The idea for the pizzeria started when the couple noticed the unoccupied store front at Hover and 17th Streets in Longmont that would become Luc’s.

“So we’re having breakfast, and start making notes on a napkin, ‘What about a mom-and-pop pizza place?'” Jim Lucarelli said.

At the time, finances were already tight. The family had been living on Jim’s teaching salary alone for a few years so Marie, who also had been a teacher in the St. Vrain School District, could stay home to care for their four children. But they worked together well for church and school projects, and they enjoyed making pizzas from scratch with family recipes and an old church cookbook. The kids were getting older, and a family business seemed like a good idea.

“I wanted to be able to contribute something to my family, the community, society in general more than just…” Jim said, pausing to find the right word.

“Getting a paycheck,” Marie offered.

Jim nodded. “Or achieving some of those ideologies in what the world might perceive success is,” he said.

The children also encouraged them to open Luc’s, and the oldest three, who were in junior high and high school at the time, helped open and run the pizzeria. Rachael, the youngest, made dolls out of paper plates and coffee filters from a blanket near the phone. Now 13, she trains high schoolers who work at Luc’s.

Luc’s could not have opened without the right help at the right time, say the Lucarellis. Their church family from Rocky Mountain Christian Church blessed their opening — “I think they kept us in business for our first month and a half, honestly,” Jim said — and a random act of kindness from a stranger saved them trouble over the enormous hood for their ovens.

Long before they opened, a health inspector stopped by to see if they needed anything. The Lucarellis didn’t yet know much about health codes or regulations for the hood, but the stranger gladly helped them out. They weren’t expecting him, they hadn’t called or submitted paperwork, and they’re still not sure why he dropped in that day.

“To me, that was a God thing,” Marie said. “We needed him, and somebody knew that.”

When the Lucarellis had to figure out how to make many pizza crusts at once, their friends Mark and Dorothy D’Agostino, who run D’Agostino Mugg-n-Pye in Frederick, let them use their mixer.

Dorothy D’Agostino said they used to try to discourage Jim from getting into the restaurant business.

“We knew it was hard, but also because we knew him and his personality, we knew he would be successful,” she said.

Now, Jim encourages them to close Mugg-n-Pye on Sundays — like Luc’s — so they’ll have more family time, but that’s not easy, she said.

Later, Jimmy Welzig, a friend from church who runs a heating and cooling service, — and who also bears witness to his faith with the ichthys symbol on his fleet of vans — quickly took care of a broken compressor for their refrigerator just days before they opened.

Welzig said the Lucarellis demonstrate their faith in many ways.

“You wear it on your sleeve,” he said. “That’s what we’re called to do.”

“I truly believe it’s about people recognizing sincerity and who you are,” Jim said. “It’s about how you treat people, and how you’re supposed to treat people.”

Marie agrees. “Our pastor likes to say, the good you do will come back to you,” she said.

At a recent gathering of other local Christian business owners — a word-of-mouth gathering Jim learned about when he made a delivery to another business and suggested saying grace — Jim and others discussed the more than 700 references to the heart and love in the Bible. You can do a lot of outwardly kind things, but it’s about where your heart is, he said.

Story online at www.dailycamera.com

Holy Spirits

Church groups hit pubs to broaden appeal

On a recent Thursday night, after the children had been put to bed, five men were engaged in a deep discussion around a table. They mulled over suffering and the meaning of an old hymn with the lyrics: “God moves in a mysterious way.”

“Like, it sucks that you’re hurting, but it’s part of life,” said one, who had “Ezekiel” emblazoned across his T-shirt.

The conversation had turned to providence when a server interrupted to tell the men not to let the next table over hog all of the fries. The fries were for everyone.

A swig of microbrew, dollar tacos and heady talk of faith and God add up to Doctrine on Draught, Cornerstone Church of Boulder Valley’s weekly gathering at Southern Sun Pub & Brewery. But one drink only, please.

Scott Kelly, Cornerstone’s associate pastor, was inspired to start the program by the priest that hung out at his fraternity parties back at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Not many other people were talking to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon people about Jesus,” Kelly said. “But this father was there.”

The priest also bought a keg and invited people over to the Catholic student center for something he called Theology-on-Tap, Kelly said.

“I got to thinking, that was really cool that this guy would just show up and live the life of Jesus among us,” Kelly said.

But according to Kelly, sometimes the priest would get drunk, so he instituted a one-drink limit when he started his own Theology-on-Tap for Cornerstone, which is a cooperating church in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Why not just abstain?

“Martin Luther was asked that same question,” Kelly said. “He said, ‘do not suppose the abuses are eliminated by destroying the object of abuse.'”

The twentysomething demographic is a notoriously difficult draw for many churches. A September study by the Barna Group reports that 61 percent of young adults “had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged.”

“The old methods don’t work like they used to,” said Chris Steele, young adults minister at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont. “You don’t argue them into their faith. You do life with them, and they discover it.”

Steele helped LifeBridge develop The Bridge, a group for young adults in college and beyond.

“Part of it is frustrating at times, because you want to say, just do it and trust me,” Steele said. But this generation questions authority, he said.

“People aren’t going to come to your safe buildings anymore,” he said. “You have to earn the right to say, ‘Let’s talk about this.'”

The beginning

Theology-on-Tap began in the Archdiocese of Chicago in 1981 when a college student asked his priest for help with the “why” questions in life. By the time that student came home for the summer, the priest, Father Jack Wall, and youth minister Tom James had set up a six-week speaker and discussion series.

The program, which is now hosted in parishes or bars and restaurants, has spread to 46 states and six countries, according to their Web site, www.theologyontap.org.

Kelly changed the name of his new program to Doctrine on Draught after learning that Theology-on-Tap was so successful that the Chicago Archdiocese had trademarked the name.

The Archdiocese of Denver hosts a Theology-on-Tap series twice a year, timed with the college semesters, at Braun’s Bar and Grill near the Pepsi Center. Mercy Gutierrez, event coordinator for the Archdiocese, said the series typically pulls in 175 to 250 participants from up and down the Front Range, including University of Colorado students.

“The Archbishop is kicking off the spring series, and he’ll draw 300 people,” Gutierrez said.

Cornerstone’s crowd is around a dozen most weeks, Kelly said, and the format is different. Kelly usually shows up armed with blog entries, commentaries and tough questions to spark discussion in smaller groups throughout the evening.

Parker Eldredge, 25, is a member of Cornerstone and goes to Doctrine on Draught most weeks. He says that with his job, it’s much easier to get to than Kelly’s old 7 a.m. Dead Theologians Society. The society died, but the new pub gatherings already seem poised for success, he said.

Andrew Casey, 29, doesn’t go to Cornerstone Church, but he goes to Southern Sun on Thursdays because he misses the intellectual rigor of his religious studies classes at CU.

“It’s well worth it for me to go there,” Casey said. “Doctrine aside, the questions lead into bigger discussions.”

Sometimes those discussions can hit a personal note. When the discussion turned to the controversy of Universalism, Casey, who acknowledges that his beliefs are essentially Universalist, remained comfortable with the conversation.

“I think I could bring my Buddhist buddy,” he said, “and they could all sit down and talk just fine.”

Story online at www.dailycamera.com

Little support for ‘Nativity Story’

Congregations not expected to flock to film in ‘Passion’-like numbers

So far, “The Nativity Story” is not getting a passionate response in Boulder.

New Line Cinema’s film about the Immaculate Conception, Joseph and Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus premiered Sunday at the Vatican — the first film to debut there — and more than 100 churches across the country hosted screenings Monday, including one each in Denver and Colorado Springs.

The film opens nationwide, including at Boulder’s United Artists Village 4, today.

But despite the apparent hype elsewhere, and the way Boulder County congregations eagerly seized on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” in 2004, the local reception to “The Nativity Story” seems to match the weather — chilly.

Scott Kelly, associate pastor of Cornerstone Church of Boulder, said his church is recommending parishioners see the movie, and he’s encouraging the leaders of the church’s small groups to take friends and family. But Kelly hasn’t planned a big event around it. The church considered holding a private screening, but the logistics didn’t work out, and it would have been expensive.

Kelly saw the film a month ago at a pre-screening for pastors, and said he suspects “The Nativity Story” won’t make as much money as the much-hyped “The Passion of the Christ.” Churches in Boulder and across the country organized trips by the busload to the see that film, which also was the topic of Sunday sermons and study groups.

“Obviously, a bleeding man on a cross is more controversial than a baby taking its first breath,” Kelly said.

“The Passion” became a spectacle, Kelly said, a cultural phenomenon full of controversy and gore. The story of the Nativity is easier to deal with and less controversial.

Pastor Pete Terpenning, of Community United Christian Church of Boulder, hadn’t heard much about “The Nativity Story” on Thursday, but said unlike the Passion, the Nativity story is too nice to fight over.

“‘The Passion’ was controversial, probably because it was so clearly atonement theology,” Terpenning said. “But the Nativity — no one wants to mess with that, I suppose.”

“The Passion” was visceral, but “The Nativity Story” is benign, said Jeff Davenport, director of emergent worship at First Presbyterian Church in Boulder, adding that he hadn’t heard many people talking about the film.

Davenport, who earned an MFA in script and screenwriting at the University of Southern California, said he likes the idea of bringing creativity to worship, and noted that his church frequently uses movie clips during its Sunday evening services. However, Davenport said he believes many of First Presbyterian’s parishioners prefer their movies and books to be more subtle and symbolic.

“A lot of people are a little more savvy,” Davenport said. “They don’t need a story laid out for them in biblical terms.”

Since the huge box office success of “The Passion,” it’s become clear that evangelicals have a large share of the market, Davenport said, but many churches are tired of being targeted by promoters.

“A lot of people got slammed with ‘The Passion’ paraphernalia,” he said.

Cornerstone’s Kelly said he hasn’t sensed nearly as much buzz for “The Nativity” as has accompanied other “Christian” movies, despite its opening at the Vatican.

“We were getting ‘Narnia’ characters in our Happy Meals for a month before it came out,” Kelly said of last winter’s Christian-themed C.S. Lewis adaptation, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

“‘The Nativity’ doesn’t have the same marketing opportunities.”

Story online at www.dailycamera.com

Dalai Lama: War is wrong

Tibetan leader focuses on compassion, nonviolence in speech

Nearly 15,000 people gathered at the Pepsi Center on Sunday to see a man who calls himself a simple monk, nothing special. They waited in lines that stretched far from the main doors toward the CityLights Pavilion, and once inside, some paused to buy $20 T-shirts bearing his name.

When Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper introduced the simple monk, these 15,000 people all stood, nearly in unison. Gaining the stage, the simple monk, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, placed his hands together and bowed humbly to the crowd over and over.

“Hello everybody,” he said, and then laughed about the large images of himself plastered on the Pepsi Center’s screens.

His public talk, “The Science of a Compassionate Life,” focused on compassion, positive thoughts and nonviolence.

The 71-year-old political and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people said his compassion comes from his mother’s love and care for him when he was a small child in Tibet.

“This is the basis of the idea of compassion — a sense of concern, a sense of care,” he said. “Sometimes, I think we take for granted these things and don’t pay much attention. As a result, our emotions are closer to negative emotions.”

If you have compassion and respect for others, you will benefit, he said.

“This is an extreme, only to think of oneself,” he said. “Of course, by nature, we are selfish. But be a wise selfish, not a foolish selfish.”

Also, he said, using force creates more problems.

“Violence and war are, morally speaking, wrong,” he said. “That is the wrong method.”

The audience showed their approval with applause.

“He’s just, to me, the epitome of compassion,” said Kathy Emery, of Boulder. Emery’s daughter attended the weekend PeaceJam conference, which the Dalai Lama participated in on Friday and Saturday. Emery and her husband, Jamie, saw the Dalai Lama speak at PeaceJam, and on Sunday, they took three young friends of the family to the Pepsi Center talk.

Emery is Buddhist, but the Dalai Lama’s message is universal, she said.

Jody Stege would agree.

“I’m Taoist, but this transcends ‘isms,'” she said. Stege came from Las Vegas, New Mexico, to see the Dalai Lama and said she’d just met someone who arrived from Atlanta this morning to attend the talk.

“It’s great that people are making this a priority,” Stege said.

Following the talk, the Dalai Lama answered select questions sent in by e-mail ahead of time. One person asked the Dalai Lama how to change his impression of Islam.

“The whole world could learn the rules of religion,” the Dalai Lama said. “They all carry, basically, the same message, but from a different approach.”

He said he, as a Buddhist monk, is a defender of Islam.

The Dalai Lama’s public address was sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, which started in Boulder in 1987 as a collaboration of Western science and Eastern contemplative traditions. It was founded by the Dalai Lama and longtime Buddhist practitioners Fransisco Varela, a neuroscientist, and entrepreneur Adam Engle. Mind and Life has since grown from a dialogue into an organization that supports research, conferences and retreats.

Story online at www.dailycamera.com

Coming soon to a theater near you: God

A growing trend of people seeking out meaning in movies

It’s a Tuesday night in September, and more than 700 people are jamming the hallways of the Boulder Theater to see a limited release movie. Many are Buddhist, some monks in maroon robes. The show starts at 7, but at 6:35 only five tickets remain. When the director enters the theater, a thunderous applause greets him despite the fact that many have clasped their hands together in a silent bow to the lama/director, Neten Chokling Rinpoche.

Steve DeGennaro, of Boulder, is there to see the film, “Milarepa,” because it’s hard to find movies with meaning.

“A couple of hours,” he said, shrugging. “I feel like it’s a waste if it doesn’t have meaning.”

Two nights later, a similar crowd gathers at Unity of Boulder, where 650 seats sold out weeks prior for a sneak preview making the rounds at many other U.S. churches — “Conversations with God: the Movie.”

People squeeze into the pews, tighter and tighter. The aisles fill with folding chairs, then the back of the sanctuary until it’s standing room only, and people are still streaming through the doors.

Donna Sutton is in one of the pews with her niece.

“With more movies like this, we can see more similarities in religion rather than divisions,” she said. “Lord knows we need it!”

The 2004 film “What the Bleep Do We Know!?,” a part documentary, part fictional look at life’s big questions through a mix of science and religion, was not expected to be a box office smash.

But at the Denver Film Society’s Starz Filmcenter, moviegoers repeatedly filled the theaters to see it. The runaway success of “What the Bleep?” left many at the film society scratching their heads, said Keith Garcia, program coordinator.

“People seem hungry for these types of films,” he said.

For Stephen Simon, the director of “Conversations with God” and a founder of the Spiritual Cinema Circle, there is no doubt that many people are turned off by Hollywood.

“In the audiences we’ve shown the film to, the audience feels better about being human,” Simon said. “That sounds simplistic, and it is.”

Simon’s Spiritual Cinema Circle sends subscribers a DVD with four movies each month for $21 plus shipping. Members own the movies, so unlike Netflix, they keep the DVDs. The circle’s Web site calls its films “a mixture of shorts, features and documentaries, all hand-picked for their quality and content.” Although it is only two years old, the circle has members in every state and 70 countries.

The circle has been a success, Simon said, because people wanted to see movies about love and compassion, not fear and violence.

Neale Donald Walsch, author of the “Conversations with God” books, also believes many people crave positive stories they’re not getting from Hollywood.

“Stop already with the exploding cars!” he said.

This is why Simon, a man who grew up in Hollywood, the son of a producer and director of Abbott and Costello movies, made “Conversations” independently.

“There is a real deep desire to see this kind of material, and fortunately, we had the creative means,” Simon said. “Subscribers to the Spiritual Cinema Circle are the financiers of the film.”

“Milarepa” was also independently made by people with positive intentions.

“It’s hard to change people,” said Chokling, the film’s director. “But at least we can try to influence them in a good way.”

The story of Milarepa has been told countless times over the centuries, but the story can reach new audiences through a movie, Chokling said.

“It’s difficult to make a movie, but if you can, it can be much more powerful than a book,” he said.

Simon and Walsch also expect their movie to reach a new audience and believe in the power of film.

“Spiritual Cinema is the 21st century version of shamanic storytelling,” Simon said.

In fact, the “Conversations with God” books don’t lend themselves to a movie, Simon said. But the story of Walsch’s life — a car accident plunged him from prosperity to the street before he began his now-famous conversation — is a great metaphor for anyone who has had what Walsch and Simon both call “a dark night of the soul.”

Ultimately, Simon wants these kinds of films to form more than a loose collection.

“It’s the passion of my professional life to have spiritual cinema defined as its own genre,” he said, and gain recognition for movies that ask the big questions: Who are we, and why are we here?


Movies sent out to Spiritual Cinema Circle members so far this year included:

“Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” a documentary about a homeless musician and his relationship with a flock of wild parrots in San Francisco.

“Dysenchanted,” a short that brings female fairy-tale characters to a therapist’s couch to share their neuroses.

“Travelers and Magicians,” a film by Tibetan Rinpoche Khyentse Norbu that pairs a modern journey with a monk’s storytelling to make a point about finding your way right where you started.

For more information, go to www.spiritualcinemacircle.com or call (888) 447-5494.

Story online at www.dailycamera.com

A traditional Tibetan tale on the big screen

Jenn Fields, For the Boulder Daily Camera

People are sometimes tempted by revenge. The temptation can be so great that it persuaded one mother to send her boy to sorcery school so he could punish his greedy aunt and uncle by conjuring an epic storm that flattened their village.

That’s how the title character in “Milarepa: Magician, Murderer, Saint” learns that revenge isn’t an answer and becomes one of the great sages of Tibetan Buddhism.

Although the film tells a story from 11th century Tibet, its director, Neten Chokling Rinpoche, said the tale of revenge is universal and timeless. Milarepa’s reversal from murderer to monk can give anyone hope.

“Milarepa is a really normal guy — nothing special,” Chokling said. “If he can do it, anybody can do it.”

Though born in Bhutan, Chokling, 33, grew up in a Buddhist monastery in the tiny village of Bir, India. There was one black-and-white television in Bir by the time he was a teenager. When the film “Little Buddha,” starring Keanu Reeves, was being filmed back in Bhutan, he went to see the shooting.

“I thought it was interesting, but I never thought I would do it,” he said.

Prior to “Milarepa,” Chokling had experience on two other movies. First, he played one of the main characters in “The Cup,” a film about a group of monks who go to great lengths to see the soccer World Cup. He also worked behind the scenes on “Travelers and Magicians.” Both films were directed by another Buddhist lama, Kyentse Norbu. “Milarepa” follows Norbu’s style of film making — many of the actors and crew are monks with little or no movie experience.

But Chokling had some help that many Westerners would consider unorthodox. Any time a tough decision or problem arose, he would call for a mo, a Tibetan form of divination. The mo said they should start filming in September, so they did, despite the fact that September was a few months away and Chokling didn’t have a screenplay. The mo also helped them decide what to do with sand-damaged cameras and when to end filming to avoid being stuck in the Himalayas through the spring thaw.Making and distributing a film independently are a community effort, said Gretchen Holland, of Boulder. As a member of Mangala Shri Bhuti, a Tibetan Buddhist organization with a center outside of Ward, Holland was one of many local volunteers who helped promote and organize the sold-out Boulder screening of “Milarepa” on Sept. 19.

Chokling has a close relationship with Mangala Shri’s director, so the movie has become a labor of love for many in the organization.

“It’s not just for yourself,” she said. “It’s for others.”

Some of the proceeds from the movie will go to Chokling’s monastery in India, which recently took in more than 40 orphans, said Sasha Meyerowitz, associate producer and a member of Mangala Shri Bhuti. In fact, he said, one of the benefits of self-distribution is that more of the money can go to charity.

Story online at www.dailycamera.com