The title of Matthew Modine’s new short film might not even be the most controversial part. What might really rile people about Jesus Was a Commie is Modine’s call to treat each other and the Earth with, well, wisdom and dignity.
Jesus was a Commie, an adaptation of an essay Modine penned for Finch’s Quarterly Review, consists of the actor, who says he is spiritual and non-denominational, narrating his thoughts on what Jesus and the Bible should really mean to people. Set to a medley of news footage and scenes of Modine rambling and lost in thought, the 15-minute film manages to be cohesive and contemplative, a call to arms for those who wish not to harm.
“Particularly, I love the parable that those among us that are without sin cast the first stone,” Modine says, repeating a thought he uses in the film, which screens on Friday night as part of the Spokane International Film Festival.
“If practiced, that sentence has the potential to change life on the planet,” he says. “That’s the genius of Jesus Christ, the simplicity of his thinking, the purity of his thoughts.”
But Jesus doesn’t get top billing. Modine — who starred in Full Metal Jacket and Vision Quest, the latter of which was filmed in Spokane in the 1980s — uses the son of God, along with communists, as fodder to fuel debate.
“The topic of the film is purposely provocative, because they are two words you wouldn’t necessarily see together, ‘Jesus’ and ‘communism,’” he says. “That’s the goal: to get people to sit up and be conscious and thinking about big ideas.” It’s a counterpoint that Modine hopes can contend with the barrage of ephemeral current-events coverage.
“I feel like our country is being kind of shredded politically because of religion, politics,” Modine says.
“There are much bigger, more important issues than fighting about some of the things we’re witnessing during the Republican caucuses.”
Jesus Was a Commie opens to grainy footage of the Berlin Wall coming down. Modine doesn’t appear in this footage, of course, but he’s there, in a sense.
Crossing a checkpoint between East and West Berlin during the Cold War was one of the events that spurred the actor and director to expand his worldview.
“I met some Russian soldiers and they were no different from my brother that had gone to Vietnam, and they were just kids,” Modine says. “That had a big impact on my life.”
Modine’s travel during his acting career has made him more attuned to the needs of others. Among other places, he’s spent time in India, Japan, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Mexico.
“All these places, they all have a transformational quality on your life,” he says. Travel like that “makes you become more liberal and more progressive” and “magnifies the similarities of human beings and helps you to understand we all desire the same things: peace and love.”
Modine will attend the screening at the Bing and is also involved in a fundraiser to help repair the fire-damaged Ferguson’s restaurant, which he remembers from days spent filming Vision Quest.
“The way that the town embraced the film,” he says. “The community was just so excited to have the film being made in the community. … It was a really important film in my career. It helped take me where I am today.”
Jesus Was a Commie • Fri, Jan. 27, at 7 pm • The Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague Ave. • $10 at spokanefilmfestival.org