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2013 Tacoma Film Festival: "Bible Quiz" by Director Nicole Teeny

Learn by heart

Mikayla (second from left) stands in front of her Bible Quiz teammate, JP, with director Nicole Teeny as the woman behind the camera. Photo courtesy of Nicole Teeny.

Hands clasped, heads bowed, clusters of the faithful have gathered in a small room to pray. Then comes the Scripture, torrents of it flying from the mouths of the young people present. They recite such long passages at such ludicrous speeds; it almost resembles speaking in tongues. I'd call this a deeply religious experience, except for all the quiz show buzzers.

This scene opens director Nicole Teeny's feature documentary Bible Quiz, which plays Friday, Oct. 4, as part of The Grand Cinema's Tacoma Film Festival. The film will screen at Tacoma Community College, minutes away from the genesis of Teeny's tale.

Her camera follows a team of gifted verse memorizers from Tacoma Life Center Church and their dreams of glory at the national Bible Quiz competition in Green Bay, Wis. We meet JP, the spirited leader and third at nationals the year before. He wants nothing more than to cap his senior year with an even higher victory. "It's do or die," he says early on in the film. "Not even joking."

But mostly we see this world through the eyes of 17-year-old Mikayla. With troubles at home, she joins the Quizzers and finds herself attracted to the team's dedication, acceptance and faith ... and to JP.

She could have told a more traditional story about BQ and its committed players, but instead Teeny teases the human from this divinely inspired doc and discovers sparks of romance and longing. In one of the film's longest uninterrupted shots, JP rests his head on Mikayla's desk after a tiring study session. The camera quietly zooms in on Mikayla's darting eyes, her nervous look. Will she do something? Will she say anything?

"Haven't I been saying it all along?" Mikayla asks her interviewer - or maybe us - in voiceover during another scene. The film cuts abruptly, surprisingly to a close up of her tear-streaked face, looking her viewers in the eye: "I love JP." It may be the most soul-baring moment you witness at this year's festival.

But she keeps her camera confession a secret from JP as their team advances from the district rounds, to regionals, all the way to the big show in Green Bay. The pace and editing snap along with the same Scripture-speaking energy of these teenagers, yet Teeny, a talented storyteller, takes time to explain what remains at stake for everyone involved. For Mikayla it means a shot at glory and affection from the boy she loves. For us viewers, it means the sober reminder that that same love running through the Bible is not merely a text to learn by heart, but to live.

BIBLE QUIZ, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, Tacoma Community College Auditorium, Building 2, 6501 S. 19th St., Tacoma, $6-$10,

Also See

2013 Tacoma Film Festival movies and showtimes

The Lord's word on the big screen

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