Alfonso Menano takes some direction from co-director Conrad Sibiga on the set of Joe. Photo by Victor Lemke

Film club creates movies with a Christian edge

By  Peter Wilson, Youth Speak News
  • April 28, 2021

Just days before Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland won Best Picture at the Oscars, student auteurs at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont., gathered virtually for the premiere of the John David Filmmaking Club’s new movie titled Joe.

It’s the latest film produced by the school’s film club, which was founded in 2017 by former student John David O’Neil. The club strives to “explore the art of filmmaking by creating films of various genres and styles, while also incorporating truly moral themes and ideas.”

The release of Joe was a milestone for the group. With a runtime of 58 minutes, it was the longest production in club history.

The picture chronicles Fr. Joseph, a fictional priest kidnapped by a gang and pressured to baptize an unbelieving crime lord. Co-directors Conrad Sibiga and Viktor Lemke toyed with this moral dilemma to explore themes such as Christian zeal, conversion and standing up for truth in the face of death.

When asked about his creative process and how he managed to incorporate Christian themes into the film, Sibiga said “a lot of it tied into what we were learning” in their classes.

“You get these big universal ideas of truth — like the virtues seen in the lives of the saints — and I don’t think themes like that are addressed enough in stories,” said Sibiga. “So, I thought, ‘what if there was a character, set in our modern day, who had to live out his faith despite being threatened with death? How should a Catholic act in a situation like that?’ Most of us aren’t called to be martyrs, but I think the resulting film still ended up providing a great example of how Catholics should react to the moral crises they face in our day and age.”

Various members of the audience also commented on the film’s production value. Abel Landry hailed Joe as “highly ambitious” and “a bold project.” Likewise, Makenna Constantin commented, “Since I’ve been at (Our Lady Seat of Wisdom), the club’s films have only gotten better. It’s awesome to see the club becoming more and more ambitious with its projects.”

Troupe members did not overlook the challenges of shooting a film amid a heavy university workload. Joseph Mendonca, the actor who portrayed Fr. Joseph, said, “It was a massive time commitment. At the time, I was unsure if I could manage it, but I’m very glad I did. Acting in the film is a memory I will never forget.”

Sibiga said that the practical aspects of making films have brought him much joy.

“The film club actualizes a lot of people’s talents, whether that be through cinematography, acting, directing or writing, and allows them to work together towards a common goal. I think that’s my favourite part about it,” he said.

Beyond its practical purpose, however, Mendonca thinks the club is having a great influence on others.

“The club has provided something that is out-of-the-ordinary and, essentially, something that stands out,” he said. “They create good, wholesome entertainment that mixes humour with some elements of mystery and provides overall enjoyment.”

Sibiga also thinks the club is serving a humble, yet grand, purpose in our society.

“There’s a big connection between art and culture,” he said. “You can see a lot of lifestyles being lived out in our culture, and you notice how they correlate with the messages that the mainstream movies and music are pushing for. I think that Catholic artists, whether they be filmmakers, musicians or anything else, have a responsibility to at least show some moral themes in their art.”

The club’s films can be watched on YouTube by searching for “John David Filmmaking Club.”

(Wilson, 20, is studying for his Bachelor of Catholic Studies degree at Seat of Wisdom College in Barry’s Bay, Ont.)

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