Ault, James M(ase), Jr. 1946-
Ault, James M(ase), Jr. 1946-
ADDRESSES: Home—Northampton, MA. Agent—James Ault Productions, P.O. Box 493, Northampton, MA 01061. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Producer and director of documentary films, including Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, 1987, Leading Out: A Profile of University Leadership, 1996, Parish Portraits, 1999, and Irwin Miller: Portrait of a Trustee. Has also taught at Harvard University, Smith College, and Calvin College.
AWARDS, HONORS: Blue ribbon, American Film Festival, for Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church.
Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church (based on Ault's film documentary), Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Documentary films about Christianity in Africa and community institutions in Northampton, Massachusetts.
SIDELIGHTS: James M. Ault, Jr., is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. A sociologist who has taught at Calvin College and Harvard University, he has produced documentary programming for such organizations as the Lilly Endowment and the Pew Charitable Trusts. His first film, Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, received a blue ribbon at the American Film Festival and was broadcast in the United States and Great Britain. In the related book, Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, published in 2004, Ault chronicles his experiences with that film project and offers an intimate look at a small congregation in Massachusetts. "I felt that I needed to write the book from the moment that I witnessed responses" to the film, he told Publishers Weekly interviewer Andy Crouch. Noting that "some of the playfulness and humor that was part of the life of that congregation didn't really shine through" in the film, Ault explained that "it was still possible for viewers to dismiss the people in the film for faulty reasons. And I felt that more interpretation was needed than you can possibly do in a ninety-minute documentary."
The groundwork for Spirit and Flesh was laid in the early 1980s when Ault, the son of a Methodist minister and a self-described atheist, began studying the influence of religious fundamentalism in America. He spent three years with the members of the pseudonymous Shawmut River Baptist Church in the working-class town of Worcester, attending services, participating in Bible studies, and sharing meals with parishioners. He also witnesses how the community, led by charismatic pastor Frank Valenti, handles such difficult issues as adultery, divorce, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and alcohol abuse. In Spirit and Flesh, the author "carefully portrays the fundamentalists he befriends with both honesty and sympathy—as people, rather than as caricatures," noted Cindy Crosby in Christianity Today. "As Ault is drawn into Shawmut River, first as an ethnographer and later as a filmmaker producing a documentary about the congregation,… a gradual but powerful transformation comes over him," according to New York Times Book Review critic Stephen Prospero. "He does not answer any altar call. But he begins to pray, and to wonder whether his prayers are being answered."
Spirit and Flesh received generally strong reviews. Library Journal contributor John-Leonard Berg called the work a "beautifully written and thoroughly researched study," and Eugene Winkler, reviewing Spirit and Flesh in the Christian Century, praised the author's "balanced narrative combined with ground-breaking analysis." "Bringing out the innate drama of everyday happenings at Shawmut River … Ault quietly counters headlines about megachurches and televangelists, trumps panicky accounts of Christian Coalition forces and radical-right conspiracies," observed Julie Byrne in Books & Culture. "He does so simply by showing fundamentalist Christianity's typical face."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Ault, James M., Jr., Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church, Knopf (New York, NY), 2004.
Booklist, September 1, 2004, Donna Chavez, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 62.
Books & Culture, November-December, 2004, Julie Byrne, "'Does Everyone in This Room Believe in Demons?,'" review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 9.
Christian Century, March 22, 2005, Eugene Winkler, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 36.
Christianity Today, October, 2004, Cindy Crosby, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 112.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2004, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 610.
Library Journal, September 15, 2004, John Leonard-Berg, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 62.
New York Times Book Review, December 5, 2004, Stephen Prothero, "Say Amen, Somebody," review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2004, review of Spirit and Flesh, p. 51, and Andy Crouch, "Among the Fundamentalists" (interview), p. 52.
James Ault Productions Web site, http://www.jamesault.com (April 5, 2005).