May 19, 2020  (Web Review)

Gimme a Faith

(2019) 82 min., in English and some Chinese w/English subtitles. DVD: $89 ($395 w/PPR from Video Project.

Reviewer rating: 2.5/4

When Hao Zhang landed in North Carolina to study filmmaking at Wake Forest University, he observed an interesting phenomenon at the airport: Evangelical Christians waited to welcome Chinese students arriving to attend North Carolina State University. They greeted them, gave them a ride to college, and offered a home-cooked meal, fellowship, and a community. Zhang turned his camera on Steve Wong, the organizer, and father figure of the outreach group in Raleigh, and Ang Li, one of the students who joined the group, converted to Christianity and followed them for the better part of a year. Zhang’s camera is on during meals and bible study, following them as they go out into the community to spread the gospel. He studies the organization’s efforts to navigate friendship, schooling, shopping, and college demands in America. Gimme a Faith became a personal project for Zhang, who found comfort in his growing friendship with Li and his roommates, as he explored his own feelings of isolation as a Chinese student confronting language and cultural barriers in the American South.

On the one hand, he sees vulnerable young Chinese students who (like him) grew up surrounded by propaganda and were suddenly dropped into an alien culture and targeted for recruitment by an aggressive religious organization. On the other, he observes a warm family that he prefers to spend time with, traveling from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem to Raleigh for companionship as much as for his project, even though he himself resists converting. Although the documentary lacks polish, it confronts provocative issues with intelligence and complexity. While Hao is aware of the Chinese students’ vulnerability and wary of the Christian community’s intentions, he doesn’t pass judgment. Gimme a Faith is also an impressive debut from a college filmmaker who confronts his own conflicted issues over the course of the documentary through introspective narration. A strong optional purchase. Aud: H, C. P. (S. Axmaker)