Built tall and broad, with blond hair hanging down to shoulders and a full beard, Georgia-born film director Scott Teems, a professing Christian, looks as if he'd be more comfortable with an axe handle than a camera-but it's with a camera that he confronts the South, Christianity, and manhood.
When I asked him about That Evening Sun, his debut feature film (and an award winner at five major film festivals this year), Teems spoke of the South, which he calls a "quote unquote Christian culture which is 10 times less Christian than a lot of non-Christian cultures. . . . There's a respect for the tradition of the Christian faith but very little understanding of what it actually means. . . . No one ever pushes us into understanding of what we are really called to be."
That Evening Sun (rated PG-13) pushes hard. The film begins when Abner Meecham (Hal Holbrook) skips out of his nursing home and returns to his Tennessee farm only to find that his lawyer son has turned the place over to a violent alcoholic. Meecham moves into a tenant shack on the property and tries both to reclaim the land and make amends for his past actions as husband and father.
The film refuses to settle for easy redemption that may satiate the audience's needs, yet doesn't challenge us to consider the daily cost: Teems says he made the film with an "eye toward reconciling what it means to be a man and what it means to be a Christian." Like Flannery O'Connor, Teems places characters in extreme situations in order for them to experience what she called moments of grace. In the end Meecham does have his moment of grace. Just don't expect it to come cheap.
-Bearden Coleman is a professor in Manhattan