Category: Laura Billeci

‘The Face of Mercy’: New Film, Narrated by Jim Caviezel, Explores the Divine Mercy

divine-mercy-trailerWhat does Mercy look like?

In the new film “Face of Mercy,” narrated by Jim Caviezel (“The Passion of the Christ”), the Knights of Columbus present us with several stories of what mercy looks like. As the Year of Mercy comes to a close, we are left with looking back over the last year and thinking how we have or have not shown mercy to the world.

We often look for answers in the face of injustices — big and small. What does justice look like for a widow whose husband was murdered? Or for a young woman whose family was killed in the Rwandan genocide? What about injustices done to others when we feel powerless to help? If we look at our own lives, there are injustices big and small that seem as if there is no easy answer. This new film dives into the personal stories behind difficult moments such as these.

Divine Mercy is the mysterious answer to this daily experience of disillusionment, fear and injustice. Divine Mercy is a reminder of the reality of the person of Jesus Christ, of the gift of His love and mercy freely given to us. Mercy makes our love capable of forgiving. And only with forgiveness can we live justly with one another in our families, workplaces and towns.

“I often tell people that I am the poster child for Divine Mercy. I’ve hurt so many people and yet there is mercy for someone like me,” Fr. Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, says in the film’s trailer.

We have all had this feeling of hopelessness and shame about our mistakes. Pope Francis often embodies this face of Divine Mercy that reminds the world that there is more than just our mistakes and injustice, there is a tender and loving Father who seeks to love and bring healing to the brokenness of the world. Like Pope Francis, Saint John Paul II urged for the world to be renewed by God’s mercy. he said, “You are not the sum of your fears and failures, you are the sum of the Father’s love for you.”

The idea of Divine Mercy comes from the prayer life of Saint Faustina Kowalska of Poland. In the early 20th century, Christ revealed the importance of a devotion to Divine Mercy to this cloistered nun, just before many of the atrocities of the last century.

As this Year of Mercy draws to a close, take some time to contemplate where you see mercy in your daily life and especially in art. The great films are full of examples of this mysterious gift of mercy. “Les Miserables,” for example, looks at the interplay between light and dark, justice and mercy, death and life. For more movie suggestions about Divine Mercy, click here.

We here at Family Theater Productions are excited to watch this film and thankful to our colleagues at the Knights of Columbus for making use of media for evangelization.

The film is available at, the Ignatius Press website, and the Knights of Columbus site Knights Gear. Broadcast dates and more information are available at

Since Oct. 16th, it’s also been airing on selected ABC affiliates around the country — and a few haven’t aired it yet. Those airing it between now and the end of the broadcast window on Dec. 16 are (here’s the full broadcast schedule):

  • KOCT/KOAT (Albuquerque-Santa Fe) — 10 a.m., MT, Dec. 10
  • WICS/WICD (Champaign & Springfield-Decatur): 4 p.m. CT, Dec. 4
  • WCHS (Charleston-Huntington): 1 p.m. ET, Dec. 11
  • WOLO (Columbia, South Carolina): 1 a.m., ET Nov. 27
  • WXYZ (Detroit) 2 p.m, ET Dec. 4
  • KVIA (El Paso), 10 a.m. MT, Dec. 4
  • WJET (Erie), 12 p.m. ET, Dec. 16
  • WZVN (Fort Meyers-Naples) 1 p.m. ET, Dec. 4
  • KHOG/KCBS (Fort Smith) 11 a.m. CT, Dec. 10
  • WCTI (Greenville-North Bern-Washington) 5 p.m. ET, Dec. 3
  • KRGV (Rio Grande Valley), 1 p.m. ET, Dec. 4
  • KATC (Lafayette) 11:30 a.m. CT, Dec. 11
  • KOMO (Seattle-Tacoma) 11 a.m. PT, Dec. 11

Image: Courtesy Knights of Columbus

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.

Hey Father, “Wake up. You’re on Candid Camera.”


With more and more Masses being televised and live streamed, some priests and bishops may need reminding that we, the faithful, are watching from the pews if not from our screens.  Bored looks and distracting behaviors may seem invisible in big events, but cameras highlight them.

Last week, I was reminded of this when I tuned in to the live webcast of the ordination of the three new bishops in Los Angeles.   I did not get a ticket to the event so I watched from my computer at Family Theater Productions.  I was struck by the facial expressions and the body language of some of the clergy.

If you have been to an ordination (whether it is a deacon, priest or bishop) you may recall the beautiful part in the middle of the ceremony called the Litany of the Saints. The soon-to-be ordained lay prostrate on the ground facing the altar and the people all kneel. It is powerful to watch fully grown men laying face down in the Church at the foot of the altar.  During this time, the choir chants a series of saints’ name:  e.g. “St. Joseph” and the people respond “Pray for us”.  The community in heaven and on earth together give their prayers together for the soon-to-be ordained and all the people their ministry will affect.

As I looked at the bishops and priests, in the live stream broadcast last week, I was saddened to see how many of the bishops and priests looked bored, uncomfortable, tired and distracted. Now, I am not saying that they were, but just how they looked.

With the new technology of broadcasting Mass on the internet, we get to see everything more closely than even in person. I have a feeling that these priests and bishops would have sat up a little straighter and been much more cognizant of their posture and body language if they could see what I was seeing on camera.   For many people watching on-line, this might be their first experience of Mass this is and we ought to take advantage of the evangelical moment.

I admire the priests in my life and encourage them all to be aware of what their non-verbal language in the sanctuary communicates.  After all, the presider at Mass acts as a model for the laity. Whether it be singing, praying, or listening, the presider is your first cue at how to reverently and joyfully celebrate the Mass-our greatest prayer to God and God’s greatest gift to us.

Thank you to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles for live webcasting the ordination of our 3 new bishops.  Please Fathers, mind the camera and the people, who with the saints in heaven, the congregation in the pews and the people on-line who will be watching.

The Wall Street Journal’s Article about Hollywood and What Makes Us Cry at the Movies

a walk to remember “Hollywood is Working Hard to Make You Cry” explains Don Steinberg’s in his recent article in the Wall Street Journal. He looks at the neuroscience, the art of storytelling, the filmmaker’s intention behind making a scene tear jerking, the actors themselves, and the differences between men and women’s reactions to film.

Click here to read the whole article

Here are some excerpts:

Audiences love tearjerkers, but why? How do they work? Horror movies have their clichéd “jump scares” that can get us every time—the demonic face in the bathroom mirror, the knife-wielding maniac suddenly in the doorway. Tearjerkers have triggers, too, but they are more complex, wrapped up in how characters make us feel, with their awkward attempts to connect with each other, their bravery and fears, regrets and unspoken burdens. Other hot-button themes are faith redeemed, struggles rewarded and love requited.

Researchers are applying science to answer questions about movie-induced weeping. Princeton University psychologist Uri Hasson, who coined the term “neurocinematics,” led a 2008 study that used a type of magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity while watching a film. The researchers used “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”—hardly a tearjerker—in their project. Mr. Hasson and his colleagues identified similar brain activity among people watching the same film, and suggested such research might be useful for the movie industry.

love storyWhen asked which films choke them up, many men cite depictions of against-the-odds valor or understated affection, like “Rudy,” “Brian’s Song” and “Saving Private Ryan.” Women name relationship dramas like Steel Magnolias” or “Beaches” or “When a Man Loves a Woman,” in which Andy Garcia tries to preserve his marriage to an alcoholic Meg Ryan.

Men and women may sob at different parts of the same film. In “Gravity,” some women react when Ms. Bullock, while stranded in space, talks about her daughter who died in childhood (“Can you please tell her that Mama found her red shoe?”). Men may be more stirred by the dénouement, when the astronaut, having survived her journey, walks triumphantly ashore.

The “completely vulnerable human moment” is the key to great cinema.  It is then that the viewer connects with their own personal  trials with those of the character on screen.   In that experience we connect with the greater story of the human condition.  Exploring the meaning of human existence—to love, to suffer, to be vulnerable, to overcome—is the vocation of the artist and is what makes a film great.

“The Giver” Raises Questions

In Theaters Now

In Theaters Now

Lois Lowry’s award winning book turned feature film, The Giver, hit theaters this month in the Weinstein Company release.

Memory plays a key role in how we see ourselves, our families, our culture, country, the world and faith. Memory helps us to discover our identity, purpose and meaning in life. The family is the primary place where memories get passed on, “Oh, when you were little…” “Hey, remember the time…” “I will never forget when…”  The Giver is a dystopian fable of a society that has purposely cut off its people from their collective memory and sense of history.

In The Giver, the families (which are not biologically connected: children come from a lab and are placed with parents who are not related to them) have no sense of shared memory and neither does the society at large. There is no opportunity for faith, as faith presupposes a cultural memory.

In the film, there is a graduation/rite of passage scene where each student receives a career assignment from the authorities. Jonas (played by Brenton Thwaites) is the last to hear of his placement, and finds out that he is to be the apprentice to the Receiver (played by Jeff Bridges).  The Receiver’s sole responsibility is to curate the memories of days past and, if called upon, to assist the elders in decision making with his extensive knowledge of the past. He alone bears the collective memory of the people, even of things omitted from the official history of the community.  When Jonas becomes the apprentice Receiver, he dubs his teacher, “The Giver.”Unknown

The fascinating thing about the role of the “Giver” is that he alone retains the culture’s memory.  He literally hands over the memories from the past. The gestures used Bridge’s character imitates the same gestures of a priest or bishop in the sacraments of confirmation or ordination.  He lays hands on Jonas and “hands over” the memory. Jonas can then see beyond. This gift of “sight” is connected to faith, as faith is a seeing beyond. “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11). Jonas embodies this sense of “sight”.

The word “tradition” comes from the Latin word “trahere” meaning “to hand over.” In the collective Christian memory, the apostles hand over the stories, images, memories of Jesus to the disciples, who then hand over these to future generations. Just as families are primary place that memories are passed along, so too families are where the faith is passed on.

The man who is the Giver is a symbol for those people in society and in our lives –most notably our families—who pass along our culture’s values, ideals and stories. Families will enjoy talking with their children after this movie especially about how movies, books, media all shape our collective memories and how the history of past cultures are relevant to our lives now. Learning that we are part of a greater story is an essential—and beautiful—part of being human.

The Giver shares thematic elements with other recent dystopian novels-made-movie franchises such as the Hunger Games and Divergent...The main character(s) in each of these tries to sort out who they are and how they fit into their particular societies. They don’t fit in, are seen as different and unique and are considered “special” by authorities and peers – much to their own dismay.

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

Jeff Bridges as the Mentor

The society in The Giver has been intentionally created and is highly regulated in response to unnamed, but easy to imagine global tragedy.   In the name of the common good, emotion and passion (including anger and envy but also the ability to notice and enjoy art and beauty) are numbed through daily injections.  Uniformity and usefulness are prized to the extent that those who do not fit are “released” from the community.

As he begins his training, Jonas discovers through his mentor, the world of color, love, family, music and emotions for the first time. One of the first memories that the Giver shows Jonas is a warm glowing sunset with vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. Jonas has never seen anything so beautiful. Overjoyed and inquisitive, he tries to reconcile why the elders would have constructed a society deprived of all of beauty, emotion and diversity. As the viewer, you find a new appreciation for all of these simple things that really do make life beautiful.

Jonas’ recognizes that his society is lukewarm: ordered, clean, tidy, dutiful and well-mannered, but empty.  They are all “yes-men” who don’t know how to think for themselves or sacrifice for another.  Everything has a utilitarian overtone—nothing is beautiful or is delighted in for its own sake: from clothes to people to nature.  His awakening sparks a rebellion which neither he nor the authorities are prepared to handle.

The film will lead to family discussions with older teens of perennial questions about the meaning of human life, the role of memory, free will, identity and our role in the greater human experience.

Guardians of the Galaxy

gaurdiansposterwebGuardians of the Galaxy opened as the highest- ever grossing film in August, and has continued to top the charts at the box office.  It is a thrill ride that families, particularly those with teens and young adults, are sure to enjoy.

The 10th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Guardians of the Galaxy features a team of superheroes with Chris Pratt (LEGO Movie and Parks and Recreation) as Peter Quinn/StarLord, Zoe Saldana as an alien assassin, Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket, a fast talking raccoon, and Groot, his talking-tree side kick. This band of multicolored misfits haphazardly teams up to save a distant planet from Ronan the Accuser, who plans to destroy planets and control the galaxy with the coveted Infinity Stone.  Peter Quinn, a rogue space pirate, steals the orb which secretly contains the Infinity Stone.

Photo credit: Marvel

Photo credit:

All the action is set to a soundtrack of classic 70s music.  Peter Quinn holds preciously onto a cassette of 70s music that his mother made for him before he was abducted from Earth in 1988.  The music adds a note of goofy nostalgia, keeping the film fresh and grounded.

Starting out as independent and selfish individuals, Peter Quinn and the other Guardians, learn to sacrifice themselves for the others.  In the course of the story, each character pursues the Infinity Stone for his own  selfish reasons.  By teaming up, the Guardians, not only discover there is more to life than self-interest,  but that they are not alone in their problems,  a valuable message for any teen and adult alike.  Using the uniqueness of each, they overcome Ronan and save the galaxy.  The film’s eclectic visuals and sound blend to serve the film and reflect the misfits coming together.

Photo credit: Marvel

Photo credit:

This is a fun action film grounded in a strong story and characters with visual effects that are just icing on the cake.

Families who enjoy comic books, 70’s music, and an unconventional hero will surely enjoy this film.

Heads up to families with young children:  the movie contains comic book violence and some crude and sexually themed language and humor. This film would be best for teens and up.

For more Catholic/Christian reviews:

This post is co-authored with James Zambrana.



The New Evangelization and Hollywood

July Prayer and Pasta  Fr  Ed Benioff Elizabeth Salazar PilarwebLast week at Family Theater’s Prayer and Pasta gathering, Fr. Ed Benioff, the new Director of New Evangelization in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, spoke to the crowd of about 50 young professionals about the New Evangelization and Hollywood.

Fr. Ed, born in Hollywood, grew up with a passion for art and beauty.  Fr. Ed’s perspective is that the New Evangelization is not just more programs or something extra to be done.  It is not primarily a set of books or lectures.  Rather it is simply opening ourselves and others to grace working through us and to deepen our relationship with God.

Fernando Duran Mary Colette MastellerwebGod wants to become a part of our lives, to love us and then use us to radiate that love out to others.  When we pray, we don’t pray for God’s sake, but for our sake.  Prayer reminds us to slow down and be mindful that we are loved infinitely and personally. God adores us:  praying reminds us of this.

Fr. Ed quoted Mother Teresa, “Do something beautiful with your life.”  He continued, “The most important thing that you can create in this world is you. Your soul is the most significant thing that you can cultivate.”  When the world sees and appreciates the beauty of a person, a rite, a piece of music or a work of art, they will be also drawn to the deeper implications to ideas of truth and goodness.

July Prayer and Pasta  Fr  David Guffey CSC MichaelwebAs young people in the entertainment industry, it may sometimes seem impossible to both create beautiful things and pay rent; to both pray and maintain an expected level of professionalism. Christ’s call to “pick up your cross and follow me” is an invitation to take on this challenge, most especially for those in the entertainment industry. Fr. Ed said, “You in the entertainment industry have a special call to make beautiful art and allure people into the true and the good through the beautiful.”

Radiate LA is a great resource for young Catholics in Los Angeles. Check out and their events pages for more information.

He showed us this clip from Fr. Barron on evangelizing through beauty.


Each month, young Catholics in the entertainment industry gather for prayer, music, and dinner at Family Theater Productions on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood. If you or someone you know would be interested in joining our mailing list, please send an email to