I’m just getting back from a bi-coastal vacation that included the San Francisco Bay Area (and Kolbe Academy), Massachusetts (and the Stockbridge Divine Mercy Shrine) and Connecticut, where we had the pleasure of visiting the set of the new Navis Pictures film.
Jim Morlino (you may have seen him on EWTN recently) is the mastermind behind Navis Pictures, creating high-quality movies using children. His St. Bernadette of Lourdes isbeautifully scripted, shot and directed, and has some great acting (especially my own children, but I’m biased). His newest is The War of the Vendee, about the uprising of a group of Catholics against their persecutors in the French revolution. A Faith & Family editor told me she wept just reading the script.
I personally consider Morlino’s work one of the key apostolates in our culture.
Look at the 100 highest grossing films of all time (adjusted for inflation). Three of the top 10 have Catholic themes: The Sound of Music, The Ten Commandments and The Exorcist. Half of the top 10 are family films. Ben Hur comes in ahead of blockbusters like Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park. The Bells of St. Mary’s beats Return of the King and Spider-Man 2. And the amount of money taken in by The Passion of the Christ beats the legendary success of Revenge of the Sith, Harry Potter and the first two Lord of the Rings movies.
With that kind of record, Catholics ask, why doesn’t Hollywood make more movies for us? But that’s like asking, “If books by saints sell so well, why don’t more authors become saints?” The better question is: Why don’t Catholics make more movies for Hollywood?
After all, communicating about God through art is a Catholic specialty. Even more than other Christians, Catholics appreciate the value of sounds, sights and smells to teach spiritual lessons. The Church uses images, stories and significant actions to convey spiritual realities. So do artists.
It should be no surprise that, in the golden years of Hollywood, filmmakers formed by Catholicism like Buster Keaton, John Ford, Frank Capra, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock and others dominated the new art form.
What happened after that? There have been plenty of bias in Hollywood. But sins of omission probably played as a big a role as sins of commission in leaving Hollywood bereft of Catholic influence (though it’s worth noting that two of the Best Director winners from the past five years spent time in Catholic seminaries early in their lives — Danny Boyle and Martin Scorcese).
It’s a new world now, though.
When I was growing up, our Catechists were embarrassed and reticent about the faith, and we associated religion with mediocrity — mediocre liturgies, felt cut-out art and either no video or bad video. Today, a growing group of young people are being enthusiastically catechized again, and are growing up in a new cultural environment. Our children met Eucharistic adoration proponent J.R.R. Tolkien through Peter Jackson’s movies. They associate Mel Gibson with Jesus Christ and the cross, not Mad Max or Lethal Weapon. Narnia is an exciting movie series as well as being fun apologetics novels.
Our kids have learned to love their faith and associate it with high quality, not cringe at it and give it short shrift. If you give them cinematic vision and skills on top of that, there’s no telling what they’ll create.
That’s what Jim Morlino is doing, God bless him, and I expect his impact on our culture will be enormous when all is said and done and his troupe of young movie-makers grows up. In the meanwhile, his films are impressive and enjoyable. Check them out.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications department and edits the college’s Catholic identity speech digest, The Gregorian.