Film director: Better stories are crucial to a better culture

Engaging how the big questions impact the world turned an aspiring politico into a passionate filmmaker.

 Laura Waters Hinson

Laura Waters Hinson

Documentary film director Laura Waters Hinson has always appreciated the power of a good story. While her decision to pursue filmmaking didn't come until after college, her fascination with the power of artful prose to inspire contemplation of life's big questions came much earlier. “Throughout high school,” she recalls, “I became obsessed with neo-folk musicians like David Wilcox, who were master storytellers in song. I also began to read C.S. Lewis, whose writings gave me hope that a skeptic like me could safely have doubts, that God was big enough for my questions.”

What followed shaped Laura into a storyteller driven to illuminate imaginations...through the silver screen. And her newest film, Many Beautiful Things, has just hit theaters.

 

The origins of a filmmaker

Laura spent most of her childhood in the Gulf Coast town of Destin, FL, where she enjoyed an idyllic childhood. Her mother was a ceramics artist and her father worked in the financial services industry, a blend of influences that she now recognizes prepared her for a career that requires not only artistic vision but a keen grasp of financial management. “I never imagined,” she laughs, “how much business there would be in making movies!” The constant encouragement and love of her parents paired with the support of a tight knit church community provided Laura with the freedom and confidence to explore her interests and pursue her passions, whatever they may be and wherever they might lead. Sometimes this meant locking herself in her bedroom for days on end, playing the guitar or redecorating her ceiling. It would only become evident years later that these early experiences laid the foundation of curiosity, creativity, and drive so essential to the craft of filmmaking.

The breakup of an engagement was what ultimately prompted Laura's entree in the world of filmmaking. Though she had no experience with making movies, something about it beckoned to her. Feeling like she had nothing to lose, she enrolled in American University's MFA program, where she discovered that her life long passions for photography, storytelling, music, and journalism had uniquely prepared her for a career in filmmaking.

Coincidentally, it was during this season of life that Laura enjoyed the opportunity to study under the tutelage of Alan Crippen during a year long fellowship program in Washington, D.C. It is this experience that she ultimately credits for enabling the seeds of curiosity about life's ultimate meaning and purpose to bloom. “I finally had a full semester to engage in nothing but the Big Questions of life, and to think critically about the impact of how one answers these ultimate questions on the world.” 

Under the life changing mentorship of Alan Crippen, Laura felt inspired to become a culture creator. She realized that rather than sit on the sidelines and fret over the state of contemporary culture and the dearth of good stories, she could become an initiator, and thus a part of the solution.

Laura's first foray into the world of filmmaking came about after a mission trip to Rwanda in 2005, where she was deeply moved by the sight of genocide perpetrators and survivors working together to rebuild their country after the horrors of an ethnic conflict that resulted in the death of 800,000. Sensing that there was a story there worth telling, she returned a year later with a film crew and has never looked back. In a 2012 interview with Marvin Olasky, Laura described the profound impact that her time in Rwanda had on her Christian faith.

“I thought I was a good Christian and understood God, but when I went to Rwanda, came back, and meditated on the idea of radical forgiveness, I realized my view of God was very small,” she recalled. “I had the basic idea of Jesus, the Son of God, dying for the sins of the world, atoning for them, and reconciling us to God through His death. I understood it on an intellectual level. I always cried out to God to reveal Himself to me more and more. I think He did that for me through this trip to Rwanda. Ever since then I have not doubted the reality of God and the gospel.”

For her film portraying the healing work of forgiveness in the lives of Rwandans, in 2008 Laura won an Oscar for Best Student Documentary.

 

"Many Beautiful Things"

Laura first became aware of Lilias Trotter when an arts patron asked her to consider taking on the artist's inspiring life story as a film project. Upon immersing herself in the details of Trotter's life, it occurred to Laura that here again was an opportunity to showcase exactly the kind of culture-challenging story she went into filmmaking to tell.

“There are very few movies made about women in general, and even fewer made about women of faith,” Laura says. “I was struck by this historic woman artist whose name was nearly lost to history because of a radical life decision to become a missionary to Algeria as a single woman in the late 1800s. She never measured her life by external outcomes but rather by who she was becoming on the inside by following her true calling.”

Many Beautiful Things plunges viewers into the complex age of Victorian England to meet Lilias Trotter, a daring young woman who defied all norms by winning the favor of England's top art critic, John Ruskin. In an era when women were thought incapable of producing high art, Ruskin promised that her work could be "immortal." Despite this, Lilias made a stunning decision that challenges all who hear her story to question the limits of sacrifice. "Could you abandon a dream,” the film asks, “to pursue your true calling?" 

In a way, Laura's story is not unlike that of Lilias Trotter. In choosing to dedicate her craft to telling stories that truly matter – rather than merely seeking to capitalize on the latest industry trends to make a quick dollar and a name for herself – Laura is living out her own example of sacrificial love. In telling Lilias Trotter's beautiful story, Laura is using her God-given talents to serve a higher purpose, challenging her viewers to consider life's big questions and inspiring them to embrace the really human things in their own lives.

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Many Beautiful Things, featuring the voice of Michelle Dockery from Downton Abbey, is available on iTunes, Amazon and on DVD. Learn more at www.ManyBeautifulThings.com

To learn more about all of Laura’s films, please visit www.ImageBearerPictures.com