'The Armor of Light': Tribeca Review

The ARMOR OF LIGHT Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

The ARMOR OF LIGHT Still - H 2015

Its central figure makes for a compelling if unlikely advocate in this thoughtful documentary

Abigail Disney's documentary profiles Reverend Rob Schenck, a conservative evangelical minister who has made a public stance for gun control

Veteran documentary producer Abigail Disney (The Invisible War, Citizen Koch) makes an impressive directorial debut with her film centering on Reverend Rob Schenck, a minister and longtime anti-abortion activist who has dared to take on his fellow conservatives and evangelicals with his impassioned advocacy of gun control. Exploring the issue of whether being pro-life and pro-gun are mutually compatible, The Armor of Light puts a human face on the perpetually divisive topic. The film recently received its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Another person figuring prominently in the proceedings is Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, an unarmed teenager who was shot to death in a Florida parking lot by a man who maintained that he was following the principles of the state's highly controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.

Stating that his "natural constituency would be conservative, very conservative," Schenck would seem an unlikely spokesperson for anti-gun legislation. But as he puts it, "We must be very careful we don't put the Second Amendment over the Second Commandment."

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His position on the hot-button issue evolved gradually as he became increasingly disturbed by the epidemic of mass shootings in the country, especially the one at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard that occurred within a stone's throw of his home.

The son of a Jewish father, he was raised in a secular Jewish household before eventually converting to Christianity. He also admits to having voted for Jimmy Carter, saying that evangelicals were overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning before Ronald Reagan ran for president.

"I had my religious conversion, and then I had my political conversion," he explains.

Needless to say, his evolving stance on gun control didn't sit well with his fellow evangelicals. But he makes his case, based on his religious principles, with a thoughtful articulateness.

"I sometimes think that conviction can turn quickly into contempt…contempt for others," he asserts. Later, discussing the disquieting racially tinged aspects of the debate, he refers to "the giant elephant in the room."

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One of the film's most arresting scenes features Schenck in a meeting with his fellow pro-lifers that quickly turns contentious. "Is that a pro-life ethic?" he asks those defending the Second Amendment, only to be met with derision. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," says one man parroting the NRA slogan, later adding, "An armed society is a polite society."

The filmmaker stacks the deck a little by including footage from an NRA convention, including a clip of Sarah Palin, mocking a statement made by Joe Biden, telling the crowd, "Ammo is expensive…don't waste it on a warning shot."

Although The Armor of Light occasionally suffers from a lack of narrative momentum, it emerges as a thoughtful and moving portrait of a man who has risked his status and career to publicly fight for his convictions. Watching him agonize over his decision—at one point he admits to fearing for his life—makes for compelling real-life drama.

Productions: Fork Films
Director: Abigail Disney
Co-director: Kathleen Hughes
Producers: Kathleen Hughes, Eva Anisko
Executive producers: Gini Reticker, Abigail E. Disney
Director of photography: Jeff Hutchens
Editor: Andrew Fredericks
Composer: Paul Brill

Not rated, 90 min.