Category: Fr. David Guffey, C.S.C.

‘Romero’: Re-Released Film About a Bishop Who Becomes a Martyr and Saint

Raul Julia as Archbishop Oscar Romero

Transformation is possible. People can learn to see the world and the issues of their times in new ways. This is one of the great insights of the recently re-released Collector’s Edition of Romero from Paulist Productions. This was just in time for the October 14, 2018, canonization of Archbishop Romero.

Oscar Romero (played by Raul Julia) had been a middle-of-the-road, make-no-waves priest and bishop in the hot political environment of El Salvador. For this reason, he was a “safe choice” when they needed someone to be the Archbishop of San Salvador. A few ruling families tightly controlled the land and economy of the country. There was a communist guerilla movement, the FMLN, but there was also a growing protest movement from within the Church. Poor people were being kidnapped and killed or conscripted into militia groups. Many priests and religious called attention to these disappearances. One of them was Father Rutilio Grande, S.J (played by Richard Jordan). Grande’s protests lead to his assassination by a government death squad.

It was his death and the torture of several other priests that was a turning point for Archbishop Romero. He began to listen carefully and observe the plight of the people, especially the poor.This changed him. He began to see how the poor were caught between the rebels and the government militias. He saw the damage violence was doing to the people (everyone), the country and even the Church.

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., attends a screening of “Romero”

Romero started preaching boldly for an end to violence, for peaceful resolutions to address injustices and conflicts. As his public words grew more direct, he became a target. They accused him of being a communist (he was not). Eventually, in March of 1980, he was shot while saying Mass. Romero is revered as a beloved martyr. This prayerful, quiet, bookish man was transformed into a voice for peace, for respect for life and for justice.

At the time of his Beatification, Pope Francis wrote about Archbishop Romero:

In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church. His ministry was distinguished by particular attention to the most poor and marginalized. And at the moment of his death, while he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of love and reconciliation, he received the grace to identify himself fully with the One who gave his life for his sheep.

Last week, Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P., of Paulist Productions, presented a copy of the film to Pope Francis in Rome.

Father Tom Gibbons, C.S.P. (left) and Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., give Pope Francis a copy of “Romero.”

The newly released film, Romero: Collector’s Edition, is available on DVD and download. It’s entertaining and, though it is 30 years old, seems relevant given the news from around the world today. It stands as one of the great saint movies of all time.

Images: Courtesy Paulist Productions, Family Theater Productions

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions.

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‘God Friended Me’: Our Screening Verdict Is in on the New CBS Faith Drama

The verdict is in on God Friended Me, premiering Sunday, Sept. 30 on CBS. Was it thumbs up or down?

On Monday, Sept. 24, invited guests (including our Head of Production, Father David Guffey, C.S.C.) came to a screening of the pilot for the latest offering from uber-producer Greg Berlanti at the Family Theater Productions offices in Hollywood.

UPDATE: God Friended Me premiered to solid ratings, with a 1.4 rating, a 5 share, which translates in English to 10.45 million viewers.

The one-hour comedy/drama, created by “Alcatraz” co-creators Steven Lilien and Bryan Wynbrandt, stars Brandon Micheal Hall as Miles Finer, a Millennial who, despite being the son of a reverend (Joe Morton), hosts an atheist podcast. One day, he gets a Facebook friend request from “God.” He tries to ignore it, but a cascade of strangeness results — from a literal burning bush to electronics mayhem to more friend requests that lead to incredible coincidences — which, if not exactly torpedoing Miles’ lack of belief, begins to open him up to questions.

The cast also includes Violett Beane as Cara Bloom, a reporter the “God account” connects with Miles; Suraj Sharma as Rakesh, Miles’s day-job co-worker and secret hacker (his faith and ethnicity aren’t specified in the pilot, but he appears to come from a traditional South Asian family); and Javicia Leslie as Ali, Miles’ still-believing sister.

After viewing the pilot, everyone filled out a questionnaire. Of the 25 responses, the bulk were from Catholics, but there was also a Jewish attendee (and a Jewish convert to Catholicism). Many, if not most, of the group either work in the entertainment industry (including a handful of FTP staff) or are connected to it. Ages ranged from 20s to 50+; roughly split between men and women.

The questionnaire asked “Are you a religious believer?”, with the choices being “Yes,” “No” and “Still Thinking About It.” Of those who answered, a couple folks circled the last one, but no one said “No.”

So, in general, this was a faith-centric audience that historically has been very skeptical and mistrusting of any mainstream-entertainment treatment of religion, but a subset of that group that is familiar with how TV is made.

To begin with, from my vantage point in the back of the theater, I saw people paying close attention to the screen, not talking between themselves or on their phones. They laughed frequently, and there was applause at the end.

During the reception afterward (with themed name tags and snacks), there was much discussing of the pilot, and people applied themselves with care to answering the questions — with overwhelmingly positive results.

Here are some samples (questions in bold) …

What what your overall impression of the pilot?

(Several folks did note that they thought it was a bit slow and dragged in places.)

“It was warmhearted; opens the door for faith discussions…” “Everything was a little too neat and clean. “I liked the characters, especially the supporting cast. The lead was very good as well.” “Laid the groundwork efficiently and strongly.” “Lots of potential.” “Very well-done, modern approach. Grounded.” “Sweet. Very likable characters.” “Great storyline, thought-provoking and most important, family-friendly.” “Touching, emotional, but in a good way.” “Why didn’t he just block [God]”? “Well-done, surprisingly clever.” “It’s an expansion of the question, ‘Is it odd, or is it God?'”

What did you think of its treatment of faith?

“Pilot made it seem as if he is revolting against what he was brought up with.” “I appreciate how there were people with different perspectives on religion/faith.” “Good. Reminds me of my conversion.” “Fun but serious.”  “Realistic.” “Very non-committed — not subscribing to a specific morality in faith or lifestyle.” “It reminded me of a Christian rock song.” “There’s nothing like it on TV.” “As a person of faith, I liked it … I do wonder how a secular audience will receive it.” “I liked how God works in mysterious ways.” “God sneaks up on you when you least expect it.” “Handled with openness and sincerity.” “Gentle in its approach.” “Not too cloying. Believable.”

What was your favorite element?

“The supernatural element.” “How everything was connected” (Two folks referenced this.) “There were some very subtle religious elements throughout.” “Casting.” “The best friend and the networking element.” “The way Miles’ relationship with his father was dealt with.” (A few people referenced the father-son thing.) “The New Jersey reference.” (At one point, Miles thinks he’s found the “God account,” in New Jersey.) “People were doing real things — like hooking up.” “He asked for a burning bush, and God gave him one. He still didn’t believe.” “The possibility of fate.” “Nice to see something that approached faith in a positive light.” “Diverse characters and having forgiveness.”

What did you like the least?

(Not everybody answered this one.)

“How every storyline is neatly wrapped up.” “That we only screened one episode!” “Some of the dialogue felt a bit on the nose, a bit too scripted.” (A few people had this comment.) “Maybe not showing a lot of Catholic religion, but it’s only the first episode.” “The performances felt a bit stilted.” (Again, more than one person noted this.) “The hook-up (but I guess that’s realistic).” “Too many crying scenes back-to-back.” “Nothing, really.” “There was potential for it to all be a cyber-joke.”

Some final questions:

At the end, I asked for a star rating, from one to 5. For those who answered, there was one 3; two 3.5s; nine 4s; five 4.5s; and five 5s.

There were two questions that everyone answered. Almost all of the attendees would recommend God Friended Me to folks of faith (with one Undecided); there were two Nos and two Undecideds for recommending it to atheist/agnostic folks. As for watching more episodes, again overwhelmingly Yes, with three Undecideds.

Based on this, CBS appears to have a good chance of at least getting a look from the faith audience — whether it can keep them is yet to be determined.

God Friended Me hits the airwaves on Sunday, Sept. 30, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT. (the whole night is later because of an NFL doubleheader); as of Oct. 7, the show moves into its regular 8 p.m. ET/PT timeslot.

Images: CBS/Kate O’Hare for Family Theater Productions

Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

‘The Nun’: FTP’s Father Guffey Reviews the Horror Hit and Shares Memories From the Set

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the National Director of Family Theater Productions and our Head of Production — and he also writes movie reviews! Here he examines “The Nun,” the latest film in “The Conjuring” universe, which is proving a hit with audiences.

The Nun was the box-office favorite of last week ($54 million domestic). Starting with The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2 and the Anabelle films, this is the sixth film in The Conjuring series from producer James Wan, which feature demonic possession and the people brought in to expel it. As with other films in this series, there is a willingness to admit that evil exists in the world and that it looks for opportunities to insert itself into the life of unsuspecting, usually vulnerable people.

The Nun is rated R, mainly for gore, so it is not a kids’ film. The posters and trailers make it look as though it will be a hit job on the Church. If you see the film, reserve judgement to the end. You may be surprised, as you find that people of faith are the protagonists in the struggle to contain evil.

The Nun begins as Father Burke (Demian Bichir) is summoned to the Vatican and assigned to investigate a recent suicide death in a remote Romanian convent. From the look on the cardinals’ faces, there is more to it, but you knew that from the posters. Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga), a novice who has yet to take final vows, accompanies him.  They travel to a mountainous area in Romania, guided by Frenchie (Jonas Bloquet), a local character who discovered a nun hanging from a ledge outside the convent walls.

Inside the walls, awaits a Gothic scare fest. The order of nuns holds evil at bay by their “Perpetual Adoration” (though there is no sign of a monstrance or a clear understanding of the Eucharist). Father Burke and Sister Irene work to solve the mystery of the convent, as they avoid the Demon Nun, which we first saw in a painting in the home of Catholic exorcists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Taissa’s sister, Vera Farmiga) in the first film in The Conjuring series. Then the Demon Nun itself showed up in The Conjuring 2.

Thanks to Warner Brothers, I was invited to tour part of the set in Romania as the film was being shot. The sets were nearly as eerie on the tour we received as they were in the final cut of the film. Another priest had been called to set earlier to bless them. Director Corin Hardy comes from an artistic family and he was trained in art, sculpture and design. He told us, “In painting, I learned to begin with a dark page and then bring the light out of that.”

This vision clearly influences the design of the sets and lighting throughout the whole film. Shadows are thick with bits of light as the only guide and hope. There is, however, light. Light shines through the faith and courage of the good guys (and nuns). Bichir portrays Father Burke as a humbled man with a centeredness and sense of resolve. Farmiga’s Sister Irene brings light to the film with a sense of innocence and confidence that evil can be overcome.

As a Catholic priest and a member of a religious order, the film’s lack of Catholic cultural authenticity was striking, probably more so to me that the average church-going viewer. As a filmmaker, I would argue that more attention to the some of the customs, practices and objects of priests and sisters might have added texture to the beautiful production design, helped give more depth to the characters and accentuated the ultimate conflicts of the film.

The Nun would be a better horror film if it had been written with more Catholic details to add to the contrasts of darkness and light.

Nevertheless, it a watchable and exciting film. Horror fans proved their interest in this series of films, believers will find comfort in the power of faith and I hope there are more films like this coming.  There is evil in the world and it does prey on the most vulnerable.

Faith and the courage are the greatest weapons against such dark forces. Light shines forth in the darkness.

Images: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Venerable Father Patrick Peyton — A Newly Ordained Priest

A newly ordained priest, recovering from near-fatal illness, looked at the world and prayed. He saw a world filled with violence, families torn apart, a pace of life that made it increasingly difficult for individuals to find time to be with people they love the most.

Authentic prayer would lead to peace. He believed in the presence of God, the compassion of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the goodness of people. He did not despair. He turned to prayer, and there he found hope and began a project that would consume his whole life.

That young priest was Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., who this week was declared Venerable by Pope Francis.

Previously he was named Servant of God, and being declared Venerable moves Father Peyton one more step up the rung toward possible sainthood. Learn more about him here.

The project idea that came to Peyton arose from his own experience growing up poor in Ireland and later emigrating to the United States. On the hardest days of work on the farm, the most discouraging days of poverty, Peyton’s family, (mother, father and nine siblings) gathered together each evening to pray the Rosary. The prayer gave them strength and consolation.

Later, as the siblings moved away to find work, many of them to United States, Peyton found that prayer sustained the unity of their family across great distances. He had a foundation of faith and love wherever he found himself. He knew he was not alone, and that he was loved. He wanted others to know that, too.

So, he started a national campaign to promote family prayer, especially the Rosary.

Not even five years ordained, and he had written every bishop in the country about his project. They responded enthusiastically. When offered radio time on a local station in Albany, New York, Peyton grabbed the chance. The response was overwhelming.

Peyton realized that the way to reach people was over the airwaves with mass media. In 1946, Father Peyton turned to Bishop Fulton Sheen, who advised the young priest on how to proceed. Within three years, Father Peyton had come to Hollywood and started a national radio program on the Mutual Broadcasting Network.

When searching for a tag line for his radio show, Peyton enlisted the help of ad writer Al Scapone. They came up with the slogan, “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together,” now known all over the world. Peyton and the staff at Family Theater Productions produced radio plays with stars like Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck.

Radio led to film and TV projects, books and massive public prayer rallies in cities around the world, on six of the seven continents. (Sorry Antarctica.)

Here is an excerpt from a TV special, in which he prays the Rosary with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta …

Father Peyton died in 1992 in San Pedro, California, cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor. He had remained in California, so that to his end here on earth, he could continue his work at Family Theater, inspiring and encouraging families through media. His last projects were TV specials and a series of stories for teens.

As I write this, I am sitting in the very office that Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., worked in for the last 32 years of his life. I am sure that if he were here today he would be working with our production team making videos, posting messages on Facebook and photos on Instagram.

He would be doing it for the same reason our team here does it today.  We see a world filled with violence, families torn apart, a pace of life that makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to find time to be with people they love the  most.

We believe in the presence of God, the compassion of Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the goodness of people. Authentic prayer will lead to peace.

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Image: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Amen! FTP’s ‘Down From the Mountaintop’ Wins Two 2017 Telly Awards

Since 1979, the Telly Awards have honored outstanding productions, whether they’re on broadcast TV, cable or, now, digital and streaming platforms. Family Theater Productions is honored to have taken home two Telly Awards for 2017, for our short film, “Down From the Mountaintop.”

More than 500 industry professionals judged from over 13,000 entries from all 50 U.S. states and other countries.

“Down from the Mountaintop” received two Bronze Awards, one for Religious/Spiritual TV Show, and the other for Charitable Non-Profit TV Show.

Based on scripture, “Down from the Mountaintop” tells the story of Adam, shy teen who hears God’s call but is disappointed when others don’t share his enthusiasm for his newfound spirituality. The faith film relates to The Transfiguration, when the Disciples witnessed Christ’s transformation into radiant glory and wanted to bask in that glow forever.

“Down from the Mountaintop” stars Alex Miller as Adam, and Paulina Cerrilla as Cristina, a recurring role in Family Theater Productions movies for the young actress. She also sings lead vocals in the Christian rock song “You’re the Author of My Life,” which is featured in the new film.

Available on DVD (click here), “Down from the Mountaintop” is produced in English, dubbed in Spanish, and subtitled in French and Portuguese on one DVD, and includes a multi-lingual study guide.

Asked for comment, writer/director Father David Guffey, C.S.C. — also Family Theater’s head of production, said:

I am so grateful for the Telly Award for the short film I wrote and directed, “Down from the Mountaintop.”

Over my years as a Holy Cross priest I have witnessed so many people return home after a powerful retreat experience only to find that their family and friends do not understand. This is the story we tell in the film. What do you do the Monday after a spiritual high?

It was a great pleasure to work with Alex Miller, a brilliant young actor who plays Adam the main character, along with the incredible Paulina Cerrilla, who acts and also sings an original song.

My colleague Tony Sands [at right below] produced the film and Jeff Clark, our director of photography, captured some beautiful shots.

With this film, Family Theater proved ourselves as a team and helped us launch our new digital series, “Catholic Central,” and set in motion the development of feature films.

At Family Theater, we believe in story as entertainment but also as a way to look deeper into life.  To look deeper into life is eventually to find God.

Miller and Cerilla joined us at the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, earlier this year, and were a big hit with the parents and young people who’ve enjoyed the film.

As soon as news hit Twitter, FTP’s former head, Father Willy Raymond — promoted to president of Holy Cross Family Ministries, our parent organization — sent congratulations.

 

As Father Guffey mentioned, we have a Web series, “Catholic Central,” coming out this fall. Go to CatholicCentral.com to see a trailer and sign up for updates; click here to learn more about this fun, fast-paced series about the Faith.

Image: Courtesy Family Theater Productions/Kate O’Hare

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook. Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

 

Family Theater Priest: I Blessed the Set of ‘Annabelle Creation’

(Father David Guffey is Head of Production for Family Theater Productions, based in Hollywood.)

Several months ago, I picked up the phone in my office and heard a friend ask, “Father David, could you bless a set of a movie?”

He went on to explain that they were shooting a horror film on the Warner Brothers lot, and some of the cast were a little freaked out by the story. So, I trekked over to Warner Brothers in Burbank and found my way to the sound stage. I did not see the script, but the set itself was eerie. With stole and holy water in hand, and a small group of cast and crew present, I blessed the set, adapting prayers from the official Book of Blessings. The movie they were making is Anabelle Creation, and it opens nationally this weekend.

The film is the latest release in the Conjuring Series, from James Wann. The films feature stories of demonic possession and the people who fight it. Anabelle Creation is a prequel to the Anabelle film released in 2014. The film opening this weekend tells the story of the dollmaker (Anthony LaPaglia) who created Anabelle. He and his wife (Miranda Otto) suffered the loss of their young daughter, a beloved only child. In their grief, they become vulnerable to a seductive and sinister bargain.

Fans of the series will not be disappointed in this latest installment.

It is an R-rated (for frightening content) horror film. While most people will never experience the intensity of evil portrayed in the story, the methods the devil uses are all too familiar in everyday life. The devil is opportunistic, looking for any opening to insert himself into a person’s life. The devil is a deceiver who seduces people into thinking that something destructive is life-giving, and that life-giving things are destructive. Finally, the devil is a divider of peoples. You will find all these dynamics in Anabelle Creation.

Evil does influence life. What people of faith know is that God and the forces of love are more powerful than anything the devil can dish up. This truth was more completely realized in the original Conjuring films, which were based on the real life work of Catholic paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Anabelle Creation shows the patterns of evil with little of the hope in the forces of good. This makes for a great scary movie, but an incomplete one for people who believe and have confidence that ultimately, God wins. People of faith can resist evil and in fact do every day.

It was with this hope that I blessed the set of the film. Stephanie Sigman, one of the actresses present at the rite thanked me and said she felt more secure knowing the set had been blessed. Every little blessing helps defeat evil. You can see her this weekend playing Sister Charlotte in Annabelle Creation.

Father Guffey also participated in an Aug. 9 panel on the film, sponsored by New Line Cinema and Fuller Seminary’s Reel Spirituality, which preceded a screening at the ArcLight Theater in Pasadena, California. The panel topic was “In Defense of Evil,” and featured the film’s director, David F. Sandberg; Dr. Craig Detweiler, author and director of the Center for Entertainment Media & Culture at Pepperdine University; the moderator was Dr. Kutter Callaway, assistant professor of theology and culture, at Fuller Theological Seminary, an Evangelical institution in Pasadena.

(NOTE: According to Variety, Annabelle: Creation is on its way to a 36M+ opening weekend.)

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Visit the Family Theater Productions homepage and Facebook page to learn more about how FTP is reaching out to Hollywood and producing its own projects.