Film Review: Martin Doblmeier's Documentary on Adventist Education


(system) #1

On Friday evening, attendees to the NAD year-end meetings were invited to preview the documentary The Blueprint by filmmaker Martin Doblmeier. The one-hour film is scheduled to air on PBS in 2014. David George, coordinator of the film program at Southern Adventist University, wrote this review of The Blueprint for Spectrum.

Filmmaker Martin Doblmeier of Journey Films has followed up his pair of films, The Adventists and The Adventists 2 with a new film The Blueprint. If you’ve seen his earlier films you probably remember that they focused on the Adventist health message and medicine. Doblmeier’s third journey into Adventism focuses on a topic near and dear to me: education.

Like many of you, I grew up in the Adventist system from 1st grade through college, but I also grew up with a parent who taught in an the Adventist system, and have spent the last 12 years teaching film production at a Southern Adventist University myself. So it was with significant curiosity that I sat down to screen The Blueprint.

If you’ve seen Doblmeier’s earlier work, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that The Blueprint portrays Adventist education in a positive light. His body of work as a filmmaker is focused on sharing how faith initiatives positively impact the world, and The Blueprint is certainly in keeping with that tradition. If you’re looking for an exposé, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

One of the perennial challenges that a documentary filmmaker faces is that of scope. Since documentary points the lens at the real world, it’s very easy to allow the scope to grow and become diffused. Doblemeier’s answer to this challenge is to focus this film quite narrowly, specifically on grades 1-12, and specifically on schools within the system that are unique in some way. The film features Bronx-Manhattan School, Holbrook Indian School, Fletcher Academy, Spencerville Academy, Columbine Christian, and Oakwood Academy.

If you’re familiar with these schools, you’ll probably quickly recognize that you could make a strong case that none of them is exactly typical of the Adventist system. From the standpoint of a filmmaker, I see the wisdom in intentionally avoiding the typical, since the typical tends to be less interesting – and on closer inspection you may realize that typical doesn’t actually exist in the real world. Even so, while I felt that the film did do a very good job of conveying the spirit of Adventist education, the schools that were featured felt different than the schools in which I remember growing up.

The film clearly credits Ellen White as being the visionary who created the titular “Blueprint” for Adventist education, which according to the film includes not only academics, but also physical, spiritual, and vocational instruction. Various examples of these aspects are illustrated with stories from each of the schools, giving the impression that while the approach is old-fashioned in some ways, it is a thoroughly modern breath of fresh air as compared to mainstream education.

One section of the film that may spur some discussion in the church has to do with the way evolution is portrayed as being taught. The message I took away is that evolution is thoroughly addressed and not ignored. Some may interpret this to mean that evolution is being endorsed by the school system, but I don’t think that’s the message that the film conveys. I think this is one area that perhaps Doblmeier’s perspective from outside Adventism is most evident. I can see that effort has been made to keep us from looking as if we have our heads in the sand on this topic, but some within the church may not agree with the approach that is depicted.

From an aesthetic standpoint the film is not groundbreaking, but it is very polished and professionally executed. The high definition video is clear and crisp. It’s more literal than poetic, but is efficient and informative. (In the spirit of full disclosure I should mention that the cinematographer and primary editor on the project is Nathan DeWild, a former student of mine who after graduation collaborated with me on a major film project before going to work for Doblmeier full time.)

At the end of the film I came away feeling that Adventist education ‘gets’ a lot of things that public education does not, and that Adventist schools consistently outperform public schools, despite the fact that budgets are lower and the teachers paid less. The film makes the point that, given these strengths, the fact that enrollment in Adventist schools is on the decline is disheartening.

Having grown up and worked in the system, I certainly have a perspective on some of the less awesome aspects of Adventist education. I think that within our communities we sometimes spend a great deal of time and energy focusing on the things that might divide us and pit us against one another, and it can be easy to lose sight of what we’re getting right. It’s nice to be reminded by someone outside of the church that we should be proud of our legacy and fight for the future of Adventist education.

The Blueprint DVD will be available to purchase by November 15, 2013, on Amazon.com, Journeyfilms.com and through Adventist Bookstores.

David George, film instructor, worked in the video production industry in the Chattanooga area until accepting an invitation to teach full time in Southern Adventist University’s School of Visual Art and Design in 2000. In 2003, George completed his master of fine arts in film/video from the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. He has been coordinator of the film program at Southern since 2001, and has produced several films, including the nationally distributed films “Angel in Chains" and "Secret of the Cave." He served as the cinematographer on the romantic comedy "Old Fashioned" which will be released in 2014.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5618