More than 70 people gathered April 17 for the reveal of new campus royalty at the live finale of “Hebrew Idol.”
“Hebrew Idol” is an annual video competition where groups of students in Associate Professor of Religion Antonios Finitsis’ fall semester religion 211 class produce short film adaptations of Biblical stories. The finale event overfilled the Studio Theater for the Karen Hille Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
“We’re not worshipping idols,” emcee Tommy Flanagan, a senior, said to the audience about the event’s purpose. “We’re just idly sitting by.”
That idle wait for the announcement of the winner ended after the crowd heard from the producers of the top three entries and viewed their submissions.
This year’s overall contest featured four student-produced videos. Earlier this month, the Pacific Lutheran University community had the opportunity to vote online for its favorite short film, which narrowed the contestants to a final three.
The nominees first met Flanagan on the “red carpet” — a backstage area where the students stood in front of a red curtain — and answered questions about their projects. Their interviews were live-streamed onto a screen in the main studio.
The same screen was used to introduce the celebrity judges of the evening, which included four people dressed in character.
Brenda Llewellyn Ihssen, visiting assistant professor of religion, played the ‘Scapegoat.’
“I carry the sins of everyone,” she said.
Assistant Professor of English Adela Ramos personified ‘Noah’s Ark.’ Tyler Travillian, visiting assistant professor of classics, was the ‘Storm Cloud’ who was there to “wash away the sins of the world and rain on your parade.” Tim Chalberg, ‘09 PLU alum, embodied ‘The Wall of Jericho.’
The judges asked the nominees various follow-up questions about the meaning behind their pieces, the process of working within their groups and their editorial choices.
In the end, “Rise to Power” was the grand winner. The dramatic film was based off of Judges 9, a story that included graphic themes — murders, a rape victim and profanity — which sophomore Samuel Collier said were meant to show the relationship between leaders and followers and “the sins of the father.”
Senior Shaquille Townsend, who also worked on the piece, said none of their group members had prior video-making experience. “Filming was a lot harder than expected,” he said.
Collier said the project gives students not only insight into how movies are made, but a way to read and interpret the Bible in a different light.
“It still applies to today,” Collier said. “Yeah, it’s a story of warriors and swords, but it still applies.”
Sophomore Maddie Bernard said her group’s piece, the second-place winning “Evasion,” was about the balance between work and family and that the sentiment of the film was to “always tell the truth and not give into peer pressure.”
The plot of third-place winning submission, “Envious Girls,” utilized a Biblical retelling of the popular comedy “Mean Girls.” The parody of Genesis 16: 4-6, in which Sarai gives her slave Hagar to her husband, Abram, so that he can have a child, featured characters of the same names transported into the complications of friendships and relationships within an academic setting.
Finitsis said he began “Hebrew Idol” as a way to showcase his students’ work. Among other facets, the event also relies on multimedia services’ technology know-how, conferences and events’ resources and student and faculty participation.
“It’s an effort that requires a lot of people to work together,” Finitsis said.
“Hebrew Idol” has occurred annually since 2007 with the exception of last year when Finitsis was on sabbatical. This was the show’s first year in the Studio Theater. ◼︎