23rd March 2001 at 00:00
THE MIRACLE MAKER. Video of the film by Ffilmiau S4C Films with British Screen and Icon International in association with BBC CymruWales a Cartwyn Cymru and Christmas FilmsBible Society via Warner Home Video pound;12.99. THE COMPLETE STORY KEEPERS RESOURCE PACK. By Diana Lazenby. Four video cassettes and teacher's guide. Paternoster Publishing, Culham College and COADMedia Ltd pound;75. STORY KEEPERS ACTIVITY RESOURCE BOOK. By John Stephenson. Scripture Union pound;8.

I first saw The Miracle Maker at a small town cinema where Jesus was competing with Pokemon on Screen 2. I tried to guess which film the long queue of children was waiting for. Pokemon won the day, but I suspect that even without cards to collect and swap, Jesus will survive for longer.

Soon after, I had Jesus in my office in the form of one of the 30cm figures used in the animation for this 91-minute film. It was shot on six sets, and involved 250 animators and about 260 bottle-tall figures.

It is a remarkable film. It has a higher degree of authenticity to first-century IsraelPalestine than any other cinema life of Jesus I have seen, although the centurion would not have been Pilate's right-hand soldier.

The animated figures are better than actors or cartoons, but cartoons are used for flashback in the film. There is an all-star cast of American voices bhind the animation. It was a pity to emphasise Jesus's "miracles", not a popular New Testament word or an easy one for 21st-century people. And the music might have been more memorable. But overall this is an excellent resource for RE.

Story Keepers is a well-established series of 13 episodes screened on ITV, now with support material for key stages 1 and 2 RE and for key stage 3 church youth group use.

An early Christian family's adventures during Nero's persecution in Rome illustrate their role as the keepers of the Jesus story at a time when Christianity was a minority religion, as in the present.

Flashback stories from the keepers offer windows into the life of Jesus and parallels in the life of Ben and Helena's family and friends, without preaching.

The great merit of this series is its fast-paced, wacky action and suspense. The downside is that some of the Roman action is fantasy, for instance an exciting escape of Christians from inside the Rome arena, witnessed by a raging Nero. That might cast a shadow of incredibility over the whole Christian record without allowing proper debate. But in RE, using the teacher's guide and the video pause button, good teachers will discuss these issues with their classes.

Terence Copley is professor of religious education at the University of Exeter

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