Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview With Nathan Clarke Director of 'Wrestling For Jesus'

Nathan Clarke of Fourth Line Films has opened up about his wrestling documentary to The Christian Post. "Wrestling For Jesus" follows an independent wrestling circuit, of the same name, as they fight to evangelize and bring others to Jesus – all while suffering from the struggles of their own lives.

"Wrestling for Jesus" follows league creator Timothy "T-Money" Blackmon as he goes through financial, marital, and spiritual struggles. The film sees him take a group of underdog wrestlers and create a successful evangelistic ministry until it all falls apart.

Initially Clarke wanted to make this film because he was really interested in faith and religion and the very beautiful and troubling things people do because of religion. He said, when people talk about religion, they never address both good and bad. "People tend to focus on one or the other. Part of what I try to do is look at that intersection of the absolute wonderful things that can happen and the scary things."

The director found out about WFJ through a chance news story, and became very interested but could not find any details on it. "Sort of a local news story with very few details," he said.

Clarke spoke about most people thinking the league was silly, but the goal was to prove them wrong. "One of the things documentaries do well is that they take issues that appear to be simple and make them complex," he said.

The first task at hand for the filmmaker was to visit South Carolina and find these wrestlers, to really see what they do. He first met with Timothy and Jessica, his wife, and got to know them. Through this time, Clarke also needed to see if he wanted to continue the story, so he shot test footage.

"They had a sense of how I was going to treat them. That I was going to treat their story with honesty and not going to make fun of them," Clarke said.

"We didn't know where the story was going when we were shooting," he added.

This was a huge factor in the movie because the story painted and advanced itself. One of the wrestlers, Gary, broke his neck. "I obviously didn't know it was going to happen," he said.

Then Timothy's marriage began to crumble, but he still agreed to show some of it and hoped something good would come of allowing the filming.

Clarke said the film was a long process with a few major gaps in between. He relayed that the group "started filming in Jan 2007 and filmed the last piece in Aug 2010, so about three and half years total.” However he added, “About a year and half went by where we didn't film."

He initially thought it would be a sub culture documentary and thought of it as a TV show. Things just did not pan out however. Then he learned of the accident and the failed marriage and "my heart began to break for these guys."

However, this bit of bad news created a much larger story and gave the film more emotional power.

Without giving away the film, Gary goes through a long recovery process while the league disbands due to Timothy's marital problems. His divorce causes him to realize something important in his life, his daughters.

Another message in the movie is that "Wrestling for Jesus" is about figuring out what it is like to be a father and learning to be truthful to yourself while getting a very troublesome story of a man pushing his family away because of the ministry.

Clarke said he wants the audience to take away two things from the movie. "I want people to have the experience that they spent some time getting to know someone they didn't know. And in a culture that currently is based on characterizing the other, an enemy, and throwing a 140 character slams at them," he said. "Actually getting to know someone who is a little bit different and explore a little bit about what motivates them in life and what causes them to make the decisions they make."

He also said there are different types of documentaries, "the issue based ones like Michael Moore where the viewer asks themselves, 'Do I agree with this film maker?' That's not what I'm trying to do," he said. "The film acts like a mirror so people respond to the film in many different ways."

Clarke wants people to see themselves reflected outward and wrestle with their own selves.
Another way people watch documentaries is with a closed mind. "People watch and say 'where are my stereotypes and dispositions, what does it say about me?'"

The director talked about how at first the audience may laugh at the subject and not feel any relation but the "connection became more surreal and valuable. Allows me to explore ways to tell stories, add to ideas that need to be furthered explored, more than people think."

He added, "So based on slamming the other person without understanding where they come from. I wanted to be able to model a different way of engaging viewer."

When asked about whether he thought WFC was an effective evangelistic tool he said, "yes and no."

"People who go to church need to ask themselves 'what's the difference between using wrestling for evangelism, using pizza party for evangelism, or using a Superbowl party for evangelism. In all of those things you are using a personal artifact that's valued by computer to bring those people into a place where you can present the gospel."

Depending on the activity, that is the people you are going to draw, stated Clarke.
There is a discussion to be had about violence as evangelism. "Is it worth risking your body for it?"

"Wrestling is the number one and two rated shows on cable television. It's an interesting perspective."

Clarke believes that many were not giving their life to God for the first time, but rather rededicating. "Is conversion a single moment or a journey," he asked.

Clarke would not reveal his actual religious beliefs in interviews because of any problems it may cause concerning taking a side. "I purposely avoid this question when it comes to this film. If I was to identify myself as a evangelical Christian and people knew that before they saw the film they would have assumptions about how I was approaching the films, like I was bias."

He said the story of WFJ had needed to be told because the film helps think through the importance of being a father. He explained he had two daughters and that filming this particular story was interesting because of that. It's an interesting way of what it's like to be a father, and see what it's like for fathers to fail and what it does to some of their children."

As far as the status of the league, Clarke said the league is not around, sometimes they get together for special occasions to wrestle, and said Timothy "by and large liked it [film]...some tough scenes to watch."

Timothy has learned from the experience, but wants other people to be encouraged and learn from it.

As for the athletes wrestling abilities, the filmmaker said, "They are better than most semi-pro wrestlers you'll see, but they are not WWE. Character development and build wise, they are not big enough," and acknowledges it's not as easy as it looks.

Currently Clarke is in the early stages of a local project about a woman and the topic is generational legacies. "Why is it that some people do not follow in the footsteps of their parents?" he asks.

He wants the movie to focus on how people overcome or take a 180 turn from their parent’s lives and become something they "like."

For more info on the film go to or Like it on Facebook -

Original article from the Christian Post

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