Are Scripture-based films cross-culturally translatable? Questions of cultural context and visual translation of the Jesus Film for West African audiences

Bible Translation Conference 08, Horsley's Green, UK, ETP/SIL, February 5-6, 2008
24 pages
Film is a modern and highly complex form of medium that is still insufficiently understood in Christian and missionary circles. In spite of this, it is widely used in cross-cultural mission. The Jesus film (1979, produced by John Heyman), which is celebrated as the most translated film in history, is a case in point. Film, however, communicates not only through the spoken language. It relies much more on the pictures, the visual language and its cinematography that are all culture specific and thus not easily translatable for different cultural contexts. The content of film, including the meaning it infers, is always highly dependent for its intended interpretation on the cultural context in and for which it has been made. Thus, the projection of a film cross-culturally can potentially lead to misunderstanding as audiences run the risk of accessing unintended contexts to infer meaning. This can be observed when the Jesus film is shown to West African audiences. To minimise the risk of miscommunication and to maximise their impact, Scripture-based films need to account for the target audience’s specific cultural context and visual language which goes far beyond the translation of the spoken language in film.
Publication Status:
Draft (posted 'as is' without peer review)
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Jesus Film
Cross-cultural communication through film
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