Want to Win a DVD of THE DATING PROJECT?

Boston College singles Matt and Shanzi, “The Dating Project”

We’ve got five DVDs of our groundbreaking documentary, “The Dating Project,” and we’re looking for five lucky folks to take them home.

After our theatrical preview in April — with sold-out theaters in Los Angeles, New York and other major cities — the film is now available on DVD at Target and Walmart (and at their online stores), and for digital streaming or purchase at Amazon.com (which also sells the DVD), Vudu, Google Play and iTunes (actually, we sold out at Amazon and just restocked).

Or, you can just go to the official Website. There’s also a curriculum for friends or small groups.

Here’s what a professional matchmaker in L.A. recently had to say:

As soon as I watched The Dating Project, I started recommending it to our Bachelors and Bachelorettes. With beautiful cinematography and honest, touching testimonials, this film challenges the hook-up culture with grace and dignity. It begins a dialogue for all singles to look beyond superficial encounters to unearth true, joyful love in their own lives.

– Cristina (Conti) Pineda, Celebrity Matchmaker at Matchmakers In The City

“The Dating Project” was also mentioned in a video from social-media influencer, speaker and college chaplain Father Mike Schmitz:

Here’s how the Quad City Times described it:

“The Dating Project,” whose subtitle is ”A movie for every single person,” is a documentary. Don’t think that means it isn’t interesting or full of fascinating characters, because it is. It’s every bit as engaging, compelling and thought-provoking as a feature film.

The movie’s demographic is the 50 percent of people in the United States who are single. Of those, it’s especially aimed at people in their early 20s to 40s who seek a partner they can love and with whom they can form a relationship. The script follows in particular five different people who consider why they are alone, what their romantic history is like and what they think about the concept of dating.

 At the center of the movie is Kerry Cronin, known as “the dating doctor,” a professor at Boston College who teaches her students about dating (check out some of her wonderful lectures on YouTube if you’d like to do a little research before you go.)
And, Catholic relationship experts Jason and Crystalina Evert, sponsored by Ascension, are sponsoring a Catholic Dating Facebook Live at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday, July 2. Click here for the event page.

Now that I’ve got you all interested, click HERE to enter to win (starting Saturday, June 23). We’ll randomly choose five winners from among the entrants and notify them in early July. Note: To deliver your DVD, winners must supply a full name and mailing address (NOT a P.O. Box).

The giveaway starts Saturday, June 23 and ends one week later.

Images: Courtesy Family Theater Productions, Paulist Productions, MPower Pictures, PureFlix

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.

‘Tag’: The Real ‘Tag Bro’ Priest on Family, Friendship and Sacrifice

Tag premiere — Father Sean Raftis (6th from the left)

Father Sean Raftis is an ordinary parish priest in Columbia Falls, Montana, but an extraordinary group of friends he’s maintained since grade school — and their decades-long game of tag — recently inspired a Hollywood movie.

Released on June 15, “Tag” is very loosely based on the real-life story, outlined in a 2013 Wall Street Journal article (which, to this day, is behind the WSJ’s paywall). What stays the same between reality and fiction is men well into midlife who still designate a period of time during each year, as outlined in a Tag Participation Agreement, to see who’s It.

What’s changed is that the 10 Tag Brothers are now five, and the tag time is in May instead of February. Also, while the Tag Brothers did do some wacky things to tag each other (as you can see in clips at the end of the film), the movie takes it to an extreme level, as four pals (Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Hannibal Buress, Jake Johnson) try to tag the one who’s never been It (Jeremy Renner).

“Tag: is “40 to 50 percent more profane than it needs to be…”

As to the movie, here’s what I said in my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos (which also includes an account of going to the premiere with Father Raftis):

Frankly, the movie is 40 to 50 percent more profane than it needs to be; there’s a miscarriage gag that’s in seriously poor taste (not sure, though, how a miscarriage gag could ever be in anything but poor taste); and the breaking of a (not Catholic) church stained-glass window seemed both unnecessary and a lost opportunity for a laugh and a realization that maybe some things are still sacred. Oh, well.

But, it was funny (and I’m a hard sell on comedy), and the underlying sweetness of a story about male friendship enduring into adulthood somehow survived.

Needless to say, none of the pals in “Tag” is a priest or likely to become one, but Father Raftis was a bit of a hit at the premiere, especially with young viewers who wanted photos with him.

The priest as “every man,” and a nod to Father Peyton …

But, he hasn’t gotten a big head.

“I like the idea of the priest being every man,” he says. “I grew up on the north side of Spokane, as a regular kid, an ordinary kid, wasn’t that great in athletics. I had health issues, but I was still able to make great friends through grade school.”

Father Raftis also gives credit to the love and self-sacrifice of his parents, who sent him to Catholic school and to Gonzaga University (named after Jesuit St. Aloysius Gonzaga, whose feast day is today, June 21).

He even tosses in a reference to Family Theater Productions’ founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., noting that his siblings also serve others: his brother, as a police officer, and his sister, as a caregiver.

“Therein lies the domestic church of Father Peyton,” he says. “The family that prays together, stays together.

“Having that domestic church and living that out made all the difference in my life, and I’m so grateful to God for everything. I wrote to [my friend, screenwriter Karen Hall], before I went to the premiere, and I said, ‘Any counseling you can give?’ Her counsel was exactly right. She said, ‘Soak it in and give all the glory to God, from whom all good things come.’

“That was an opportunity to try, as an ordinary guy. It’s kind of funny, because the monks saved Western civilization by preserving the great works of philosophy and Scripture. Here I am — I played a game of tag.

“Christ blesses that ordinary aspect, and that’s something that’s necessary for us priests. It was a great privilege and a blessing and a humbling lesson to be there as a priest. I’m not Cardinal Avery Dulles; I’m not Father Richard John Neuhaus; and I’m certainly not Karol Wojtyla, but being a Tag Brother, or a Tag Priest, is pretty cool.

“I’m trying to reach out to people who might not otherwise have had contact with a priest, because a lot of people don’t.”

Finding God in everything …

I watched Father Raftis take pictures with the young people, greet the actors, greet a couple of young police officers outside the premiere, shake hands with any number of folks who probably never see a priest except on TV.

The movie wasn’t especially holy, and certainly not for the whole family, but it did introduce a lot of people to Father Raftis and his friends.

“We’re to find God in everything,” he says, “especially in the small things. It’s like that tiny, whispering sound. I didn’t find God in the earthquake; I didn’t find God in the great noises; it was in that tiny, whispering sound.

“That’s something we need to reconnect with, and part of that is our association with our friends in Christ, our friends at the work place, where we’re called to witness to Christ.”

But don’t fear, Father Raftis has not gone Hollywood.

“I’m not a star, and that and two bucks will get you a cup of coffee. Fame is fleeting; time is fleeting. What matters is how we follow Christ. That’s the one thing I have to be very cautious about and very cognizant of, is my calling to be a priest. I’m not called to be a Hollywood star.

“That comes with its own set of talents, and its own set of disciplines. I have enough of a challenge being a priest and trying to be a good one.”

After his Hollywood adventure, Father Raftis returned to St. Richard Church in Columbia Falls.

“I had Mass on Sunday [after the premiere]. I did the Extraordinary Form only, and I did a homily, and I did an apologia [about the movie], saying, ‘Look, it’s R-rated.’ One of the guys came up — he’s a highly decorated retired Marine — and he said, ‘Father, look, the movie is going to do what it does. We know who you are. There are going to be good things happening because of this.’

“That’s my only hope, that something good happens for God out of it. … People yearn, they starve for brotherly or sisterly affection. When we yearn for friendship, we yearn for the Divine.”

Does the game go on?

“Yeah,” he says, “it goes on indefinitely, until one of us is standing.”

Images: Courtesy Kate O’Hare, Warner Bros., Father Sean Raftis

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.

‘The Dating Project’ on Digital and DVD: Can a Documentary Help You Find Love?

Dr. Kerry Cronin, “The Dating Project”

Think of all the great marriages you know. Each started with a moment of meeting. Maybe it went well; maybe it went badly. But there can be no potential of a happy ending without a beginning. That’s the message of the new documentary “The Dating Project,” which had a theatrical preview in April and is out now in digital HD and on DV

The feature-length film profiles five singles — between college-age and 40s — trying to find love in a culture where the entire social script of dating and mating has been deconstructed.

If you wonder why 50 percent of America is single, and why so many young people aren’t getting married, it may be because many don’t even know where to start, in terms of building a healthy relationship from the ground up.

“The Dating Project” is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, funny and forlorn. It doesn’t sugarcoat the difficulty of finding love in modern America, but it does offer some practical suggestions.

At the core of “The Dating Project” is the work of Boston College philosophy professor Dr. Kerry Cronin. About 12 years ago, responding to something she noticed about her students’ difficulty with forming relationships, she decided to challenge them to ask someone out on a date — no alcohol, no physical contact other than a hug, during the day, no more than 90 mins in length, etc.

To her amazement, this apparently simple task hit many of her students as an entirely novel idea, as opposed to just “hanging out” or “hooking up” with someone, which can mean anything from a drunken make-out session to sex.

Here’s Cronin’s assignment to her students (also available at the Website for the film, DatingProjectMovie.com):

Over the years, Cronin has seen the hookup culture only expand on campus, and the social script for dating steadily erode — not only in college, but in the adult working world as well. At the same time, the entertainment industry isn’t helping people form a realistic notion of romance.

“My students are convinced,” she says, “by some sort of formula of romantic comedies, maybe, that you’re going to hate somebody until you love that person, suddenly. The formula of seeing somebody across a room, or the bookstore, and then 10 years later you find that person.

“I like the idea of a soulmate, but guess what? We’re all souls, and we’re all searching for love and relationships and connection. The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of great possibilities out there. Attraction can grow; crushes can grow; feelings can change.

“But we’re mesmerized by the, ‘Oh, it was an instantaneous thing, and that’s it, the chemistry.’ A lot of college students especially will say to me, “I just figured, sometime in my 20s, it will just happen’ — as though, there’s nothing I have to do myself.

“It’s a version of, ‘God will drop someone in my lap, whom God picked for me from time immemorial.'”

Among many Christians, there’s the idea that dating is solely a precursor to marriage, and that you should not go on dates with anyone unless that person is a likely marriage prospect. Cronin disagrees with this all-or-nothing approach (with the understanding that, despite lax modern mores, dating someone isn’t necessarily synonymous with having sex).

“I like to advocate for low-stakes dating,” she says. “We learn a lot about ourselves in dating, and it’s not just simply utilitarian in that way. We learn about other people in the world, and God, in dating people outside our usual type.

“We learn how to put another person first, put another person’s cares and concerns maybe before our own. We learn how to navigate emotional landscapes that are different from the landscapes we’re dealing with in friendships and family relationships.

“You learn how to open your heart, and you learn about some things that you shouldn’t open your heart to, and things that don’t work with you and your values.”

While a first date that reveals seriously unpleasant or dangerous things about the other person should send you in the opposite direction, Cronin urges that a merely shaky first round might deserve a do-over.

She says, “There’s a lot that goes on in a first date about nerves, and we’re all awkward. We’re trying to make our way through the first-date conversation. It’s almost always worthwhile to go on a second and even a third date, just to really see if you can uncover in yourself, and another person, what’s really up with that person.”

Chris Meehan, “The Dating Project”

Asked what she’s like single people to take away from “The Dating Project,” Cronin says, “Just try. Just try. A lot of people are paralyzed by their fears and their past, and what went wrong in the past and could go wrong in the future. Sometimes you just have to try.”

If it doesn’t work out?

“You can try again,” Cronin says. “When you try, people around you find out that you’re trying, and so then they might be willing to ask you out. Dating begets dating. If you try, then other people might try with you.”

Not specifically a Christian film, “The Dating Project” counts many faithful Catholics among the filmmakers, and it’s suffused with Catholic values. There is a brief (but not explicit) discussion among friends about pornography. With that proviso in mind, it’s suitable for mature middle-schoolers and up, for youth groups, young-adult ministries, and anyone who’s free and willing to date or knows someone who is.

“The Dating Project” — from Paulist Productions, MPower Pictures and Family Theater Productions, and distributed by PureFlix — is currently available on DVD (including in Target and Walmart), and for digital rental or purchase from several platforms, including Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu and Google Play. Click here to learn more.

There’s even a discussion guide created by Focus on the Family’s Boundless young-adult ministry — click here to sign up.

Image: Courtesy PureFlix/Paulist Productions/MPower/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.

Twin Friars, Now Priests, Take Over EWTN’s ‘Sunday Night Prime’

Scott and Rusty Montgomery — identical twin brothers, two-thirds of triplets, with sister Katie — grew up Catholic in Lincoln, Nebraska. They had a passion for their faith, and for spreading the Good News of the Gospel. Now, as Fathers Innocent and Angelus, they’re doing just that.

This past Easter, the brothers joined fellow Franciscan Friar of the Renewal (CFR) Father Augustino Torres, as the new hosts of EWTN’s “Sunday Night Live,” which formerly featured CFR co-founder Father Benedict Groeschel. He still appears in clips from earlier shows, with the new trio adding its perspective.

As you can see from the thumbnail, Angelus was a brother at the time, not yet ordained a priest (as his brother Innocent was in 2016).

But last weekend, at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Brother Angelus joined other seminarians being ordained by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. Click here to see a story at Aleteia, featuring outstanding photographs from the day.

Here’s one:

Jeffrey Bruno | Aleteia … Father Angelus (left); Father Innocent (right)

Here are the new priests talking about how it feels to finally be Fathers …

Their new job on “Sunday Night Prime” isn’t the Montgomery brothers’ first foray into TV. Back in 2015, I wrote about their desire to create a show called “ICONS,” celebrating young Catholics.

And, in early 2016, they did it …

I’m proud to call these guys my pals (they even had me on the radio with them), and can’t wait to see what they do next. Hmmm, maybe they should drop by Family Theater Productions …

Images: YouTube screenshot; courtesy Aleteia

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.

The Bishop and the Poet: Robert Barron and Bob Dylan

YouTube screenshot

On May 24, 2018, Bob Dylan turns 77 years old, and he’s lost none of the respect, admiration or importance he gained since releasing his debut album in 1962. At that time, Bishop Robert Barron was two years old. I don’t know if the two have ever met, but Dylan has had a huge effect on the media evangelist and now-auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Barron has referenced Dylan in videos and articles, and even said that his discussion of the singer’s work drew the attention of a YouTube-surfing atheist who eventually found his way back to the Faith.

Born into a Jewish family in Minnesota, Dylan appeared to make a public conversion to evangelical Christianity in the late ’70s, with the release of his Christian-themed 19th album, “Slow Train Coming.”

The emphasis on Christian-themed lyrics waned in the mid-’80s, leading to speculation that Dylan had abandoned his newfound Christianity in favor of a return to Jewish practice. Since Dylan is famously private, opinions on his religiosity are largely speculation.

From a 2017 piece at Crux:

Scott M. Marshall, in his new book Bob Dylan: A Spiritual Life(BP Books, 2017), casts doubt on this hypothesis. Based on scores of interviews he conducted with many people who have been close to Dylan over the years, evaluations of public comments made by the singer since the late 1970s, and the songs penned and performed since his conversion, Marshall claims that it is wrong to confidently conclude that Dylan ever abandoned his Christian faith.

(Interestingly, he also claims that it is just as wrong to confidently conclude that Dylan ever abandoned his Jewish roots).

Part of Marshall’s thesis is that the Dylan who emerges from his 1983 Lubavitch studies, and subsequently releases Infidels, is not a restored Jew who has rejected Christ, but rather, a Hebrew Christian who has a better and deeper sense of his Judaism and the way it shapes his understanding of the biblical narrative and his relationship with God.

Because Dylan is a man who fiercely guards his privacy, nobody, not even Marshall, knows for sure.

In another Crux piece from about the same time, editor and  longtime Vaticanista John L. Allen Jr. offers a Barron quote from To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age, his interview/biography of the bishop. Barron says:

Do you remember at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Springsteen inducts Bob Dylan and says the snare drum that opens up “Like a Rolling Stone” is like kicking open the door to your mind, and this whole world opens up?

This is cliché to say, but the Old Testament prophet is the right rubric for Bob Dylan. He’s Biblical. He’s a lot of things, of course, but above all, from beginning to end, he’s Biblical. He’s the one, perhaps more than anyone else in pop music, who brings the Biblical worldview into our time.

Buddy Holly, Woody Guthrie, Elvis and others influenced him, but it’s the Biblical take which drives his interest in sin, judgment, eternal life and God.

One of his later songs, called “I’m trying to get to Heaven before they close the door,”has stayed with me. Often when I’m in prayer in my chapel, I’ll look up at the tabernacle and say, “I’m just trying to get to Heaven before they close the door.” When it gets down to it, that’s all I want. I’m just trying to get to Heaven before they close the door.

And, on video, from 2008, when he was merely Chicago’s Father Barron:

Click here for a 2016 Word on Fire podcast, in which Barron discusses the following Dylan-related topics:

  • 0:17  – Bishop Barron at the Bob Dylan concert last weekend
  • 2:40 – Can Bob Dylan serve as a gateway to God?
  • 4:45 – Who is Bob Dylan?
  • 8:32 – Why Bob Dylan is best read as a spiritual poet
  • 10:11 – Bob Dylan’s religious views
  • 12:17 – Biblical elements of Blowin’ in the Wind
  • 15:39 – Bishop Barron on Like a Rolling Stone
  • 21:41 – Bob Dylan and the Resurrection
  • 22:10 – All Along the Watchtower and the Book of Isaiah
  • 26:41 – Finding Jesus in Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love
  • 28:43 – Question from listener: How can we evangelize in a secular workspace?

Let’s finish off with the man himself, starting with “Blowin’ in the Wind,” performed live on TV in 1963:

And, “All Along the Watchtower,” live in Woodstock in 1994 …

Lastly, from 1979, the song called by Rolling Stone the “most religious” on “Slow Train Coming” — “When He Returns” (audio only):

The iron hand it ain’t no match for the iron rod
The strongest wall will crumble and fall to a mighty God
For all those who have eyes and all those who have ears
It is only He who can reduce me to tears
Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn
For like a thief in the night, He’ll replace wrong with right
When He returns
Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow that it passes through
He unleashed His power at an unknown hour that no one knew
How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice? How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?
Can I cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?
Will I ever learn that there’ll be no peace, that the war won’t cease
Until He returns?
Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
When He returns 

Image: Courtesy Word on Fire

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.

‘Clifford the Big Red Dog’ returning to PBS KIDS — and Amazon Prime Video

If you love big dogs and good children’s programming, you’re going to love what landed in my inbox. Scholastic Entertainment’s TV version of “Clifford the Big Red Dog” — based on Normal Bridwell’s classic children’s books — is returning to PBS Kids with new episodes, which will also stream on Amazon Prime Video.

From the inbox:

As beloved TV shows from the ’90s and ’00s find new life (and new audiences) in series revivals across platforms and networks, Scholastic Entertainment today announced the biggest reboot of all: the relaunch of its multiple Emmy-winning preschool series Clifford The Big Red Dog. Based on the best-selling Scholastic book series by Norman Bridwell featuring the larger-than-life dog and his best friend Emily Elizabeth, the reimagined animated series will launch on Amazon Prime Video and PBS KIDS in fall 2019. The series is currently in production for 39 episodes.

Scholastic Chief Strategy Officer and Executive Producer of the new series Iole Lucchese believes there is good reason Clifford has captured children’s imaginations for over 50 years. “There is something enduring in Clifford’s gentle, loyal spirit that touches fans even after they become adults,” she said. “We see it in tributes on social media and in fan art, and of course, in every parent who grew up with Clifford and now shares their love of him with their preschoolers. Clifford has always helped children understand their world and face challenges with kindness and understanding, life lessons he’ll continue to share in the new series.”

“Not only will the new Clifford The Big Red Dog series feature an expanded world and bigger adventures, it will introduce all-new designs for main characters Clifford and Emily Elizabeth, original songs and new friends,” said series producer Caitlin Friedman, the VP & General Manager of Scholastic Entertainment. “To accompany the launch of the new show, Scholastic Entertainment is developing a global publishing, broadcast, merchandise and licensing program to help further extend the positive messages of the brand to children and families around the globe.”

Although still set on Birdwell IslandClifford The Big Red Dog will offer fresh and colorful new locations. The rebooted show will also have a strong emphasis on social-emotional skills such as empathy, along with a solid curriculum designed to boost early literacy and encourage imaginative play – teaching as it entertains with Clifford-sized humor.

Clifford The Big Red Dog is produced by Scholastic Entertainment. 100 Chickens and 9 Story/Brown Bag Films are on board to help bring this great big series to life.

Here’s what Common Sense Media has to say about “Clifford”:

Parents need to know that Clifford the Big Red Dog is chock-full of positive lessons and likable characters — and may remind parents of their own childhood fascination with Clifford. Kids are often magnetically drawn to stories about Clifford because he’s the magical pet every child wishes for. The series is full of educational messages on social, emotional, and physical matters.

Common Sense Media recommends “Clifford” for ages three ad up, and gives it five out of five stars.

Good Dog!

Here’s an episode from the original series:

Image: Courtesy Scholastic Entertainment

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.