Above, a scene from Mary’s Way of the Cross, a film by Winnipeg’s Bisong Taiwo. (Photos courtesy Bison Taiwo)

Film relives Mary’s journey with the Cross

  • February 10, 2023

While attending Mass at St. Vital Catholic Church in Winnipeg in 2020, Bisong Taiwo’s cinematic eye was entranced by the lighting of the Stations of the Cross sculptures hanging on the walls. 

“I just thought, hey, it might be a nice idea to do a film about the Stations,” said the 33-year-old Nigerian-born filmmaker based in Winnipeg. “I’m not exactly sure how it would come about, but that is what I wanted to do.”

Three years later, Taiwo’s vision has become a reality with Mary’s Way of the Cross, but it wasn’t without its bumps along the cinematic trail.

The Nigerian-Canadian independent auteur has glorified his Catholic faith through multiple projects in his career. The Archdiocese of Winnipeg hired him to produce a video promoting the annual Sharing God’s Gifts charitable appeal in 2022. Taiwo also manifested a short film about Proverbs 31:10-31, an acrostic poem praising the traits marking a woman of valour. This piece appears on Formed, the online Catholic media marketplace operated by the St. Augustine Institute.

When Taiwo first had this inkling to create a Stations of the Cross production, he pitched his concept to parish pastor Fr. Mark Tarrant, who gave him many Stations books to read. Taiwo was particularly inspired by Mary’s Way of the Cross by Richard Furey, which depicts the Mother of God’s ruminative state of mind as Christ journeyed to Calvary for His crucifixion.

“I thought it was a fantastic, unique idea,” said Taiwo. “I read it and decided to rewrite it as poetry instead of prose. I like poetry because of the rhyming scheme — it makes for a simple and nice listening experience. I was planning to shoot this in 2020. It was a straightforward concept with a girl reading the Stations out loud with my camera pointed at her, and there would be some music in the background.”

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic materialized in March 2020, pausing Taiwo’s production. However, Taiwo turned this closed door into a window of opportunity to enhance the scope of his film.

“The idea to shoot the film in multiple parishes came to me. I figured that instead of shooting everything in one location, it would be cool to shoot each Station in its own location. To do that, I figured I should go to the archdiocese to see if I could go to the provinces’ different churches. It would be great to showcase the diversity of our parishes, and it helps to ensure the environment is not static for the whole movie.”

As summer 2021 approached, Taiwo said he felt the moment had arrived for his vision to come alive. However, in May of that year, 215 unmarked graves were discovered in Kamloops, B.C. Like all Catholic bishoprics across Canada, the Archdiocese of Winnipeg was very busy dealing with the fallout. There was little time for the pastoral staff to consider Taiwo’s creative pitch. 

“I decided to wait patiently,” said Taiwo, who was feted in 2020 with an Emerging Filmmaker Award by the Reelworld Screen Institute, an organization founded to advance opportunities for racialized Canadians in the screen industries. 

“I then felt inspired to make the film even more immersive. That is when I chose to shoot the film in black and white and in a 4:3 aspect ratio to give it a feeling that it was shot back in the day. The people watching this should be completely immersed with Our Lady as a Mother experiencing the crucifixion of her Son.”

When COVID-19 restrictions ended in 2022, Taiwo secured the permission of the Archdiocese of Winnipeg, the Archdiocese of Saint-Boniface and the Ukrainian Catholic Archeparchy of Winnipeg to film either inside or outside some of its member parishes. 

A few of the parishes featured in Taiwo’s imagining of Mary’s Way of the Cross includes Blessed Sacrament Parish in Winnipeg, Cooks Creek Grotto (Ukrainian) in Hazelridge, St. Thomas More Parish (Korean) in Winnipeg, Saint-Joachim in La Broquerie and St. Alexander Parish at Sagkeeng First Nation.

Visually, Taiwo said Mary’s Way of the Cross was inspired by the work of Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line) because of the lush, meditative quality of his imagery. The work of French painter Georges de La Tour (1593-1652) was also “huge” in helping inform the style of the film.

“His paintings used a technique called chiaroscuro. That is basically where your subject emits one source of light. Everywhere else is dark. I loved that. He has a painting of Mary Magdalene sitting at a table with a candle. The candle is the only source of light as she sits pondering. That was a huge inspiration for the film as we see Mary in all these spaces with one light on her while she is surrounded by darkness.”

Taiwo chuckled as he told The Catholic Register that he served as “director, producer, writer, cinematographer, editor, sound designer, financier and chauffer” for his 59-minute production. 

Gloria Thompson plays Mary with a silent, subtle performance. Taiwo wanted her to channel the haunted and reflective close-ups featured in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Costumed by Ori Ochoga, Thompson is depicted in a white gown ornamented with white flowers, pearls around her neck and a tiara on her head. 

Isimeme Efeduma narrates each of the 14 Stations, and the singing talents of Chinoso Nnadi Nnawuihe are featured, set to music by Dexter Artates. 

Taiwo has met with the archdioceses in Manitoba to discuss hosting screenings of  Mary’s Way of the Cross. More information is available at maryswayofthecross.com, where individuals can screen the film for $10.

He envisions this film as an “accompaniment for Catholic ministry, prayer groups, and individuals who wish to deepen their Stations of the Cross meditation with an audio-visual component.”

His film is set to begin streaming on Formed (formed.org) by Ash Wednesday on Feb. 22. 

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