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'God enters our suffering with us'


Interview with Stuart Hazeldine, director of The Shack, which opens in UK cinemas 9 June


The Shack2

As a director and screenwriter with a strong Christian faith, Stuart Hazeldine jumped at the chance of being involved with The Shack. Stuart, who grew up in a Baptist church (and whose brother is a Baptist minister), directed the film adaptation of William P Young’s surprise bestseller. Already a hit in the US, The Shack reaches British cinemas this Friday.

The film tells the story of a father’s spiritual journey after suffering a family tragedy – a journey involving him encountering a mysterious trio, who gradually reveal themselves to be God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  

Stuart, whose debut feature film Exam received a Bafta nomination and whose other credits include Moses and Agincourt, explains that The Shack’s concept was exciting for several reasons.  

As a filmmaker it’s a problem portraying God, because you can’t see Him. So a story that’s more than a theoretical concept, where there’s a physical God you can actually talk to, was attractive.

It’s also an attractive idea for anyone with a faith – being able to talk with God and ask those difficult, deeper questions. A story that allowed both of those things was very appealing.

But there was something deeper too, in the actual portrayal of God. You very rarely see God like this on screen. It’s normally irreverent, played for comedic effect. You don’t see God in any therapeutic sense. This is an opportunity to see God heal, heal someone through love. 

It’s a deeply loving, affirming God, with a really strong emphasis on the suffering God walking with us through suffering. Being able to portray that was exciting. 

Stuart (pictured below) speaks warmly of his upbringing and its impact on his faith. He grew up in Walton-on-Thames Baptist Church in Surrey. His parents modelled faith to him in a very positive way. ‘It was a relationship with Jesus first and foremost,’ he explains. ‘There was nothing hypocritical, they lived it as they believed it. I was very positively impacted by that.’

Stuart Hazeldine500

Brother David is now a Baptist minister (he pastors Belvedere Baptist Church, South East London) and Stuart says that his faith has influenced the projects he has been involved with during his career as a screenwriter and director. 'I wouldn’t be making these kind of films if it wasn’t for my faith,' he says. 'I don’t believe that political solutions are ultimately solutions to the world’s problems. The solutions need to address our selfish nature, and I always look for that in scripts: films and scripts that point to us being the best people we can be.' 
The Shack was a book not without criticism from Christians, due to its unorthodox portrayal of the Holy Trinity. However, Stuart said the biggest challenge was deciding what to leave out – using the whole book would have taken more than 10 hours. 

As long as we stayed with the family, relational metaphor of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, focusing on what unites them, we felt on safer ground. They say the success in any film is 80 per cent casting. For instance Avraham (Aviv Alush), the actor who played Jesus, he had a smile and personality that just made you want to hang out with him. When we found the right actors, we felt that would take care of itself.

The biggest challenge was what to cut. We just wanted to be true to Mack’s (the father) emotional arc. So much happens to him, and we wanted to capture that. Generally people who know the book seem happy with the movie. The vast majority of responses have been “good job”.

WP Young was pretty happy. We made the movie they had envisaged.

The Shack1

Stuart recognises that the film isn’t for everyone. Atheists are likely to be put off, while some Christians will struggle with its unorthodoxy. However, he believes there will be a vast number who’ll appreciate its thought provoking nature. While he warns against viewing the film in purely evangelistic terms, Stuart invites Christians to engage with it, recognising those for whom The Shack may be helpful.  

I don’t ever see movies as an evangelistic tool. For me evangelism is personal. Having said that, this film works on a number of levels. It’s a multi-application film tool. 

It’s a good pre-evangelism. It asks deeper questions, and gets people thinking about some of life’s bigger questions. 

It’s good for people who are spiritual but not religious. It would be good for nominal Christians on the edge of church, or for those who have withdrawn from church because they have had a difficult time, the movie can speak quite powerfully.

And it can certainly be helpful for people who have gone through a lot of pain and loss. I know some who have found it difficult to sit through, but when they have, it’s been helpful. 

It’s certainly not for the militant atheist!

In essence, it’s the story of mankind. God is there, but we decide not to relate to him. When we do, there is healing. The main message is how God enters our suffering with us. He does so relationally.

It’s the whole theme through the movie. We can’t do it alone.


theshackquad600The Shack will be released in UK cinemas on 9 June. Damaris has created resources to help church groups make the most of this powerful film, including a church study booklet.


'A rare chance to see pain explored' - a review of The Shack
Baptist churches team up to screen The Shack - 'Idea to get Christians and those with no church background to watch the film and discuss the issues it raises'

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