Wrestling for Jesus
The world premiere of "Wrestling for Jesus," by Madison filmmaker Nate Clarke, takes place on Saturday at the Wisconsin Film Festival.

I've got a bone to pick with "Wrestling for Jesus."

When I see a movie about a Christian amateur wrestling league in the South, I expect to know what I'm getting into. I expect to see lots of broad caricatures and cheap laughs, along with a holier-than-thou message about how ironic it is for guys to be delivering flying suplexes in the name of Our Lord.

Instead, the documentary from Madison's Nate Clarke is thoughtful, compassionate and very moving, and completely avoids easy stereotypes. What gives?

"Wrestling For Jesus" has its world premiere on Saturday at 5:45 p.m. in the Bartell Theatre, and Clarke and director of photography Jeffrey Pohorski will be in attendance to introduce and take questions on the film.

The film looks at several figures in the WFJ league in rural South Carolina, but the most central is Timothy, a good-hearted family man who preaches the good news by creating the league, which sets up its ring in old meeting halls and gymnasiums in small towns. It's much like big-time wrestling, with heroes and villains, body slams, and real injuries. But after the match is over, the wrestlers come together to preach and ask members of the audience to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts.

Out of the ring, Timothy has his faith tested, with family troubles at home and injuries to his fellow wrestlers, including one of them suffering a broken neck. In some ways, Timothy's struggles are like anybody's, but that's what makes the movie so touching, and Clarke gets very intimate access into his life. Much like the actual WFJ matches, "Wrestling for Jesus" reels you in with the wrestling and then puts an unbreakable hold on your emotions.

 

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