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

‘Queen of Katwe’: Father David Guffey Looks at the Film — and the Children of Uganda

queen-of-katweDisney’s new film “Queen of Katwe,” in theaters now, shows the gritty reality of life in a Ugandan slum, but does not ask for your pity. Instead, it invites you to be inspired.

“Queen of Katwe” offers an entertaining sports movie (albeit about chess tournaments) that hits all the right story beats about a gifted young woman who, against all odds, rises to greatness. It’s entertaining just on that level.

The film is based on the true story of Phiona Mutesi (played by Medina Malwanga), who grew up in a slum with siblings and her widowed mother, played by Lupita N’yong’o. Like her siblings, Phiona passes her days hawking roasted corn on the streets of Kampala, till one day she discovers a Christian center for kids run by Robert Katende, played by David Oyelowo.

Katende is a mentor who is concerned for the kids in his sports and chess program. Phiona rises among his other students and then beyond, to regional tournaments. The film shows that Katende has a supportive wife and a strong faith, but does so in an organic way that fits within the story as context and background, rather than as a message or a promotion.

On a personal note, two years ago I visited poor neighborhoods outside of Nairobi, Kenya, and I spent some time around Kampala, Uganda. In that time, I met people who worked hard every day to make a living, who had close bonds with family and a deep faith. I met people who, in spite of poverty, lack of civic resources and miserable living conditions, nevertheless had a capacity for hope, joy and generosity. Faith was part of what made this be so.






Some of the people I met on my trip became my heroes: students hungry for education, mentors gracious in guiding youth, parents sacrificing for their children and communities that celebrate life. “Queen of Katwe” exemplifies the spirit I saw there. Not only that, but the film made me want to be a better person in the world I inhabit.

Note from Social Media Manager Kate O’Hare:

In case you didn’t know, chess players have their own patron, Saint Teresa of Avila!


Image: Courtesy Walt Disney 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.

In Depth: The Prayer and Sacramental Lives of America’s Young Catholic Families

CARA-HCFM-BannerAs Family Theater Productions’ founder, Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, famously said, “The family that prays together stays together.”

But exactly what’s happening out there with Catholic families? On Saturday, Feb. 27, at the recent Los Angeles Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, FTP’s current Head of Production, Father David Guffey, CSC, presented a talk on how Catholic families can use existing media for evangelization and catechesis.

Included in that were the results of a 2014 study from Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), commissioned by our parent organization, Holy Cross Family Ministries.

It surveyed Catholic parents between the ages of 25 and 45, with a minor child in the home. One takeaway is that much of religious education for children is now centered in the home, with resources available there, and with parents as primary catechists, rather than in school or parish-based programs.

And sadly, only a small percentage of young parents attend Mass regularly with their children. As the former head of FTP, Father Willy Raymond, observed:

“Sine Dominico, non possumus.” When the Roman judge in 304 AD asked the martyrs of Abitene (present day Tunisia) why they risked death to celebrate the Eucharist, their response was we cannot be our true selves without Mass, without keeping the Lord’s Day. We cannot be followers of Christ, we cannot live, we are empty without this central prayer of our faith.

Unfortunately, too many of these parents aren’t aware of the resources available to them, through media and the Internet, that transmit Catholic information and values.

Rectifying that is central to the mission of Holy Cross Family Ministries, and to Family Theater Productions.

As Father Guffey promised to his listeners, here are some infographics that summarize the CARA reports:


The Young Catholic Parent


Participation in Formal Catholic Practices


Perceptions on Prayer


Click here for the full text of the reports (which are available for online reading and as downloadable PDFs), along with larger versions of the infographics.

Image: Courtesy Holy Cross Family Ministries

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.





Faith-Based Film “War Room” Opens at Number Two

In Theaters Now.

In Theaters Now.

Once again faith based films proved their audience potential. War Room, the latest film by Alex Kendrick (Courageous and Fireproof) earned the first place box office spot on Friday night and came in second, just behind Straight Outta Compton in the overall weekend draw.

The film, released by Sony/Tri-Star, is unapologetically Christian.   They draw on the audiences established with the Kendrick brothers’ previous films such as, Fireproof and Courageous.   An African American family strives to rebuild their life together through prayer, supporting the famous Family Theater tag line, “The Family that prays together, stays together.”  The filmmakers delivered a film to feed an audience hungry for content that has meaning and hope. They wisely released the film in a down time when there are few other great films competing for attention.

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

Alex and Stephen Kemdrick

I have heard that a significant portion of the weekend’s take was from pre-sales, congregations ordering large blocks of tickets. The real test of the film’s strength will come in the stats for the second and third weeks of release.   Will more people go to see it or did the whole Christian audience go last weekend?

Still this film with no brand name actors and a three million dollar budget brought in $11 million.   It is hard to imagine that it will not do at least $15 million domestic.  Those results are encouraging for us and for other family and faith friendly filmmakers.

UnREAL: Behind the Scenes of Reality Television

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

UnREAL shows The Reality of Reality

The Lifetime Channel shows the reality of reality in a scripted series, UnREAL, airing new episodes on Monday nights with the entire season available at the Lifetime Channel website.

Ten years ago a guy walked into my office looking tired and heavy hearted and needing to talk.  He was in a process of discernment.  He loved making films but hated his current job, which he found soul-crushing on the on one hand, but too lucrative to leave on the other.   We talked for awhile before he would even admit that he worked on a reality television program.  He was tired of creating and exaggerating conflict, of manipulating people and making people who were basically good, look like buffoons or villains.

Monday night I felt like I got a glimpse into the world he had described when I watched latest episode of UnREAL on the Lifetime Channel.  This is not a family show, be warned.

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Shiri Appleby plays reality show producer Rachel Goldberg

Rachel (played by Shiri Appleby) produces a fictional reality show called “Everlasting.”  Think, “The Bachelor.”    She always appears weary, on the edge of a deep sadness as she skillfully, if not reluctantly, uses her intuition to get close to contestants, learn their vulnerabilities and then manipulate them to create conflict and further the storyline for the show.

She knows how to induce tears or a cat fight, a tender moment of personal revelation and romance, or a devastating scene of rejection.  All of this is part of her job and she is good at it and miserable for it.


At one point her executive producer Quinn,  played by Constance Zimmer, rallies the crew saying, “We want tears people, bonuses for nudity and for 911 calls.”   The producers want us to believe we are seeing a competition  for true romance.  In fact what the edited episodes of reality shows that end up on the air are contrived by cynical, calloused methods, with little regard to the human dignity of the people cast as contestants.

The show is probably exaggerated but not as much as fans of the genre might hope.   The conversation I had with that man ten years ago was not the last I have had with many other people working reality and discerning a new career path.

Let’s be Real

Here are five things reality show fans need to remember:

  1. Reality” on TV is highly manipulated.  The contestants are carefully cast, the situations contrived, viewers often do not see the context for the shots they see.
  2. If your life was filmed for a week, a skilled editor and producer could make you look however they wanted.  The programs reflect more the agenda of the producers than the reality of the lives of the contestants.
  3. Judging people is never good for the soul.   If I watch reality TV so that I can  let myself be drawn into indignation at their excesses it may seem harmless, but that feeds a dangerous tendency to condemn others and feel self-righteous.
  4. The joyful moments are easy to fake, the suffering is often real.   Try to have compassion for contestants.
  5. Think very, very hard before you would ever consider being part of a reality show.

Live in the fullness of your own reality, Family Theater You Tube and look for the ways that our loving God is always trying to send people and circumstances into your path to invite you to a deeper and fuller life, even if it is not one that would sell on television.





Oscar 2015 Observations from Father David



Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Outside the Dolby Theater just before the 87th Oscars

Our Family Theater office is only about 6 blocks from the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards take place.   About 25 film enthusiasts gathered in our screening room to watch the ceremony.  Here are my 8 Award Observations about the 87th Academy Awards:

  • More than beautiful dresses.  On the Red Carpet it seemed that reporters were going deeper than “What are  you wearing?”  asking questions about the films the actors played in, causes that they are passionate about and family.
  • Hollywood gives love to Family.  Perhaps inspired by the speech given by Best Supporting Actor winner JK Simmons, almost every Oscar winner mentioned and thanked their family as important to their creative process and career success.  It seems that being a good parent is something people consider important and a sign of success and status.
  • Bigger than Me.  Many stars used their moment in the spotlight to point to issues bigger than themselves.   Best Supporting Actress Patricia Arquette  (Boyhood) talked about her developing-world, water project and about equal pay for women.  Eddie Redmayne who won Best Actor for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in Theory of Everything paid homage to those with ALS and those working to find treatments and a cure.  Jullianne Moore who won Best Actress for Still Alice, also acknowledged those with Alzheimer’s disease.

  • I didn’t see it yet.   This year there were only 8 movies nominated for best picture (out of a potential of 10) and still I found very few people, even among my Hollywood film-buff friends who bothered to see all the films.  I did not find many people rooting for films for Best Picture in part because they did not think their favorite would win even if it had been nominated.   Birdman may have been the darling of the ball (Best Picture, Director and Screenplay), but it was not a great box office draw (only $38 million domestic).
  • What are we going to about the Animation Category?  I have a theory:  I do not think Academy voters really watch the Animated Films either in the nomination process or in the final balloting.  How did The Lego Movie not get nominated and not win best animated picture?  It was a more entertaining film with sophisticated humor that could reach children and adults.   If you did not enjoy The Lego Movie, chances are you did not see it.  Big Hero 6 was fun and touching but it had huge marketing that drove the voting.
  • Hollywood Remembers their Dead.    In the Catholic Tradition we remember the dead in the month of November.   Every year the Oscars have an In Memoriam Segment.  As the month of November falls in the year, so the segment falls near the end of the program.  It was touch to see people and remember the work they had done.

  • A great film released early can still get attention.  Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy Grand Budapest Hotel was released in late March 2014 and yet still was a contender for many awards and took home two statuettes on Sunday.   For marketing reasons, distribut0rs load up the end of the year with their most award worthy films which crowds up the month of November, December and to some extent January.  All of these are holiday times, busy for most people.   People pick and choose the films they can afford to fit in.  Some great films go unseen, even though they generate considerable buzz. Please give some great films in April and May this year.
  • Richard Linklater made film history with Boyhood.  We not only watched a boy grow up over the course of 12 years, but also his parents.  I am often saddened and disturbed by some of the aspects of relationships, marriage and family that Linklater portrays in his films (Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Sunrise) but he really captures a sense of our culture in the times we live.  They are very real.  He points out the struggles but also the joy, wonder and power of love, of reconciliation and of communication.

Hollywood Boulevard is open again the red carpet is rolled up and on its way to storage.  Got any predictions for Oscar 2016 yet?


You Tube to Launch a Kids App: Fun for kids, a relief to Parents

imagesWe at Family Theater Productions have  watched the growing demand for family content across almost every media platform.  You Tube is the latest media company to recognize the need  for family content and so the potential for wider audiences.  USA Today reports that You Tube is prepared to launch a kid friendly App on February 23, 2015.

USA Today quoted the project’s group product manager, Shimrit Ben-Yair: “Parents were constantly asking us, can you make YouTube a better place for our kids,”  He further noted that family-friendly fare is a booming business on YouTube. “(Year over year) we’ve seen 50% growth in viewing time on YouTube, but for our family entertainment channels, it’s more like 200%.”YouTube_Kids_Screenshot.0

The App will feature curated content just for small children with filters to keep them from seeing scary or more adult material.  The Wall Street Journal reports that the App will have content from favorites like Thomas the Train and Sesame Street  It reportedly will also allow parents to follow what their children watch and to set timers on the use of the App.  You Tube opens up for itself a new market to the youngest  audience members, getting them while their young to be lifelong users of the site.

Initially the App will only be available  for Android devices, but it is expected that there will be an Apple friendly version available sometime in future.