Carbon Arc Review: The Mission

I am the Artistic Director at Carbon Arc Cinema, part of a group of programmers who choose the films we screen. 

Written and Directed by Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss | 103 min | Carbon Arc Cinema 

Not to be confused with the Roland Roffé epic from 1986, this is a documentary centred on the story of John Chao. He was a 20-something American missionary, someone who felt emboldened by his faith to find a way to a remote island in the Indian Ocean, to bring the word of Christ to the isolated people who live there. Chao’s journey led to his death. The doc is told through archival footage and thoughtfully animated sequences, portions of Chao’s diaries voiced by an actor along with letters written by Chao’s father who tried to dissuade him from his mission.

Also present are friends of Chao’s, a former missionary, and other academics and experts who can speak to this evangelical Christian culture. The film proves to be the furthest thing from a narrow look at one man’s misadventure as it expands around his story to examine the colonial tradition that inspired him, something he may not have even been aware of.

That this film is produced by National Geographic is a surprise since the filmmakers remind us this organization has been complicit in generations of Western colonialism and the exoticism of indigenous people around the world. It’s a fascinating portrait of a lot more than one man’s faith, it’s about how many of us have grown up with an idea of the world, assumptions of what civilization means, that don’t give much consideration of the wishes of people we may think of as “other.”

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.