2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmaker Interview: Amy Kohn, Director – ‘A Courtship’

A Courtship is a documentary about the unique and as yet largely unseen world of Christian Courtship where parents choose spouses for their children in conjunction with God. First kisses are saved for the altar and the bride and groom will never be left alone with each other until after they marry.

The filmmakers, who are not religious, accidentally came across the concept of courtship while doing research for a project about arranged marriage.  In a world where Internet dating and premarital sex are the norm, courtship seemed an unusual way to pursue a romantic relationship. Still, looking for a life partner and love is something everyone can relate too and so we went looking for a courtship story to tell…this film presents one woman’s journey.

Following a successful 2015 Tribeca Film Festival premiere we spoke with the film’s Emmy Award winning Director Amy Kohn on her approach to her first feature film, whether or not there are audience expectations, religion based faith, and more.

Find More Information on ‘A Courtship’ at the 2015 Tribeca Film FestivalHERE

Kelly’s Views on Marriage from Amy Kohn on Vimeo.

What drew you to the topic of Christian courtship?
I’m a reality TV producer by day, and I was doing research for another project. I came across an article on Christian arranged marriage, and I didn’t know something like that existed in the United States. I have always been interested in religion. And religion is very divisive. In this country, people of different faiths sometimes don’t even speak to each other. It’s just so difficult to get people to come across the table. And I thought that looking through the lens of romance was a great way to make everyone pay attention to religion in a way that wouldn’t be as divisive, because we all look for love.

And how widespread is the phenomenon of Christian courtship?
Most people who practice courtship don’t even belong to centralized churches, but to home churches. And it’s not easy to find other families that are doing this. So it was very hard to get exact numbers.

Ron, Kelly's spiritual father, meets with a potential suitor (Ross). Photographer: Evan Eames

Ron, Kelly’s spiritual father, meets with a potential suitor (Ross).
Photographer: Evan Eames

How did you find your subjects?
I called around to different churches and organizations, and I wasn’t having much luck. The conservative Christian community was very wary of speaking to the media. But I found Ron Wright’s website BeforetheKiss.com, and Ron called me back. He was open from the beginning. He really wants to educate people about courtship. And he told me that he had a spiritual daughter named Kelly, and I didn’t know what a “spiritual daughter” was. (Laughs.) Anyway, he explained it to me and I started speaking with her. I had started out thinking I was going to make something about the broader phenomenon of courtship. But I became so fascinated by [Kelly and the Wrights’] story that the film evolved into something more personal. And the more I delved into Kelly’s story, the more I became convinced that it was a really relatable story.

In what ways did you personally relate to her story?
I’m married now, but at the time I was filming, I was Internet dating, and I just thought it was such a slog. I thought, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if someone would screen people for me?” I was kidding to myself of course.

And yet that is kind of what dating websites too—they screen people for you.
(Laughs.) Yeah, it is kind of what they do. And I think it’s everybody’s fantasy a little bit. We all do things and make choices to protect ourselves from rejection.

According to your subjects, women should be subservient to their husbands. How do you expect viewers to react to that idea?
I think a lot of people are shocked when they hear the idea that women in marriage should give up their right to have rights—that the man should be the leader and the woman should be the follower. Of course, now that I’m married, I feel like my husband and I have a completely equal relationship, and we share all our responsibilities. But when I was dating, I felt like it was really easy to fall into those kinds of stereotypes: The man being the leader and the woman being the follower. So I think it’s easy to watch this movie and think that it’s just foreign and different, but I do wonder—are we really as far away as we think from some of these ideas?

Courtship_Press_1Maybe it’s not even a male/female thing. Isn’t there something appealing about the idea of making fewer decisions?
Yeah. It’s hard to be an adult. It means that you have to make your own decisions, and it means that you might make the wrong choice. And sometimes we all do make the wrong choices. For me it was character building, but maybe for other people it’s too devastating. Still, there are times in my life when I’ll fantasize that somebody will just tell me what to do. It’s hard to make decisions, and it’s hard to accept that there are consequences to your actions.

In general, many viewers will be hostile to your subjects’ ideas. Do you think your subjects knew that going in?
First of all, they’ve seen the film and they really liked it. And they are incredibly self-aware. They know that some people are going to have a negative reaction, especially to the idea of women’s submission to their husbands. They said, “Wow, people are gonna judge us when they see this film.” But they really believe in what they’re doing…They have such a strong conviction that this is the right thing to do for their family and for their kids. And I think that’s why they agreed to do the film. They really want others to be doing this, and they want people to know about it.

In the film, Kelly is courted by a man named Ross. Initially, the two really hit it off. Were you rooting for them to make it, and were you disappointed when they didn’t?
I was rooting for them. First of all, it had been seven years for Kelly. And Ross was a sweet guy, and everyone seemed to really like him when he arrived on the scene. They were having fun. Some of the scenes between them were like a minute and a half long, but we were actually filming for like five hours—the conversation would never end. They just had so much in common, and they were getting along so great. So yeah, it was disappointing that it didn’t work out, because I want her to find happiness, and I want her to find love and partnership.

Another reason why it’s upsetting is that one can’t be sure when or if she’ll find another suitor. As her parents point out in the film, her chosen method of seeking a partner severely limits her pool of potential partners.
It’s interesting though—her perspective is, “I only need to find the one person. I don’t need to meet fifty.” I know when I was dating, I thought, “If I’m trying to find the one right person, then I’d better meet 86, because how am I going to find the one if I don’t meet that many?” But Kelly believes god will deliver that person to her. She doesn’t know how that will come to be, but she has such a deep faith in it.

Observing Kelly and Ross’s courtship, did you think it was in any way similar were similar to secular dating?
I do. For instance, think about that moment where they all go to the ballet together, and there’s this palpable energy between them. I mean, granted, her whole [spiritual] family’s there, but still, that’s what a first date feels like: Those flutters, that excitement. And then there’s the moment near the end, when she gets a text from him and gets this terrible feeling that things have gone awry. There were so many moments that felt like a secular dating experience.

Do you think people can be happy without romance?
Although our society is becoming more and more connected with through the Internet, through Facebook, through Twitter and whatever else, in some ways we’re more disconnected than ever. Kelly decides that maybe God can be a substitute for romance, but then we all decide things can be a substitute for romance. For a lot of us in secular society it’s our career. So I think it’s an interesting question: Without relationships, without love, can you be happy? Everyone’s going to have a different answer for that.

How will Kelly feel if she never meets the right person?
You hear it at the end of the film: She thinks that, in a way, her love for God is so deep that if His plan for her is not to find a husband, that’s okay.

– Interview conducted, edited & transcribed by David Teich

Facebook: /BetrothedALoveStory
Twitter: @ACourtship


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