Everybody agrees that the moral-quality state of movies and television is at an all-time low. If I listed all the objectionable shows and movie titles out there, this would be a very long post. Not all of Hollywood's product has that fetid character, of course. There are some outstanding dramas on television, and each year the occasional drop of golden sun hits the big screen; and, for a time, we sigh and are happy.
But most of the time we’re sick of the uncreative garbage that gets cranked out—year in and year out—by an industry that seems more interested in lauding its own “creative courage” (read: politically correct agenda) than in making money for its investors. It’s not called "show art"; it's show business.
Many Catholics think the answer is “more Catholic movies.” Well, this answer brings up a further question: what qualifies as a “Catholic movie?”
How about a movie made by devout Catholics that highlights the goodness of a kindly nun? There’s a Catholic movie for you, right?
How about a movie shot near a cathedral that’s always out of focus in the background? Or one with a priest protagonist? Or one that's set in a seminary or convent? Would these qualify? If the director (or screenwriter) is a serious Catholic, are all his movies, by definition, "Catholic"?
People often point to the Academy Award-winning Braveheart (1995) as Exhibit A of what this mythical Truly Catholic Movie [tm] should aim for. This is puzzling, since Mel Gibson, its star and director, is a confirmed sedevacantist, and its writer, Randall Wallace, is a Protestant. By tagging Braveheart as “Catholic,” most people mean that it showcases masculine virtues like courage and loyalty, self-sacrifice and chivalry, in a way that is as subtle as it is engrossing.
The movie also has a faith backdrop of sorts, and some of the characters are seen devoutly praying. But why does it not bear the slightest whiff of the “Jesus Messaging Service” that many lesser attempts do?
I say the answer has to do with dropping the adjective Catholic before the subject artist. Wherever religion is simply inserted into the artistic process, the art almost always suffers. Practicing Christian moviemakers, pound for pound, sure seem like a frightened lot. In wanting to avoid "offending God” by having their characters use “bad language,” they tend to overcook unreal piety and undercook real drama. Most out-of-the-closet Christians who make movies do so for fellow Christians. And that is a good thing. But these movies simply do not connect with moviegoers who, by and large, rarely darken the doors of a church or synagogue.
No, it’s the secular Jews, or lapsed Catholics such as Frank Capra, Francis Ford Coppola, or Martin Scorcese, who more often succeed at lending their art a deep spiritual longing that stems from not having quite come home. To borrow from rock singer Bono’s power ballad, “They still haven’t found what they’re looking for.”
Then there are the Japanese.
For representatives of a nation with an eclectic (and eccentrically non-Christian) religious heritage, Japanese writers and directors have an impressive track record of creating films with the kind of quiet emotional power that brings to mind our phrase “Catholic movie.” From moving dramas such as Departures (2008) and Shall We Dance (1996), to the popular animated films from Tokyo’s Studio Ghibli, to the gritty novels like Silence by Shusaku Endo (soon to be adapted for the screen by Mr. Scorcese), Japan has produced an impressive canon of films that tap into universal human themes and situations involving familial and social conflict.
A New Catholic Film Venture
As someone fed up with the quality assurance problem in Hollywood, I, along with rising director Dustin Kahia, have co-founded an indie film company called Immaculata Pictures. We’re in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to fund our first film, a black-and-white homage to the film noir era titled Call of the Void. If you want to be part of this new movement towards quality Catholic film, check out our video and find out how.
Popes since the 1920s have been urging the faithful to get into the dream factory of moviemaking. Modern pontiffs have often recognized the magnificent power of the cinema. In fact, the first decree published at the Second Vatican Council, Inter Mirifica, was a call for laymen to get involved in creating meaningful media content. St. John Paul II wrote his Letter to Artists (1999) with the same exhortation. Immaculata Pictures is one small answer to that call. Join us, but above all, pray for us.
Because the American moviegoer has been abused for long enough.