In this day and age with the maze of dating do's and don'ts, Amy Kohn's documentary feature debut “A Courtship” offers an approach alien to most of us. The film follows Kelly, who after growing up happily in a secular family, chooses to move in with a Christian family as their adopted spiritual daughter. Heartbroken after previous dating experiences and deeply affected by her own parents divorce, she's now leaving it up to her spiritual parents, and God, to find her a husband. This growing practice of Christian courtship is aiming to protect from heartbreak by letting the family function as a shield of sorts, filtering out the prospects, and making the ultimate decision of whom is suitable to marry.
However, when the filming begins, Kelly has already been living with her new family for 7 years. Kelly's passive approach worries her biological mother, who advices her that “God can guide your steps, but you need to be stepping”. But Kelly remains convinced of her choice, even as her spiritual mother also make sure she understands she may never meet someone this way.
While the film portrays a loving home, watching it feels like stepping back into a different century. We learn that the man is the leader and all girls dream of marriage. Every single thing you do during your life matters to your future husband. The mother assures her younger daughter that “dad and I will be guarding your gate” and worries that Kelly having “given away her first kiss have impacted her”, as it's supposed to be saved for her husband at the altar.
During the course of the film a suitable prospect does appear, and charms the whole family. Kelly, despite guarding her heart, appears to be more and more taken in by him, and to the family's relief he's willing to accept that she's given away her first kiss already. Everything is going great until a theological argument unveil different stands between the family and the suitor.
“A Courtship” gives a rare glimpse into c´onservative Christian dating practices, but most of all seem to confirm that there are no shortcuts in love. In order to find the right one, you have to be willing to put your heart at risk. The film had it's world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, followed by a Q&A with director Amy Kohn.
Amy Kohn on how the film came about:
-I came across an article on Christian arranged marriage. I had no idea something like this existed in the United States. I thought it was fascinating, so I started calling around to different organizations that worked in the area of Christian courtship. I received a lot of resistence. They were really afraid that they were going to be exploited, because they had a lot of negative experiences with the media before. But I called Ron Wright because I found his website beforethekiss.com, and he was incredibly open. He told me they had a spiritual daughter named Kelly. I didn't know what a spiritual daughter was, but after he explained it to me I thought it was such an unusual story, such an interesting story, a story that had to be told.
Amy Kohn on the effect of the filmteam's presence:
-I'm not sure Kelly would have mentioned Ross (the suitor) to them had we not been there. I did feel sometimes that Ron really wanted to show that courtship worked well, so I think there was a certain eagerness to have suitors come into the film. I think that was important to them and obviously we wouldn't have a film if there had been no suitors, and there have been no suitors since. Other than that the style of filming was very observational, and I don't think that we had any impact on how the relationship didn't work out, but I do think we had impact over the fact that it played out at all. They are waiting for God to put the circumstances together, there is a certain passivity to what they are doing and there was a certain activeness to pursuing the situation with Ross.
Amy Kohn on any potential backlash for the family from the release of the film:
-Ron and Dawn (Wright) know what people think of their lifestyle. I said I'm not going to make fun of you, but I am going to show the other side of the story. They were fine with that because they have a lot of confidence in what they are doing. They said well, bring it on, because we still believe in what we are doing. I think Ron and Dawn are expecting backlash and I don't think they'll be hurt by it. They participated in the film because they believe in courtship, and they want more people to subscribe to it, people that could be potential spouses for their daughters. Even if there's people who are against this, there will be people that are for it. I do think Ron and Dawn are very prepared, but I'm not sure Kelly is. But she lives with them and they're obviously like parents, so I think they will help her through it if it's difficult.