Shifting focus in reviewing films on faith, CFA’s film seminar this year centered on the various stages in the life of the Virgin Mary as presented on screen. In the Film and Mary seminar held on 26-28 January 2012, Fr. Peter Malone, MSC directed the sixty educators and film enthusiasts to view Mary from a different perspective as a woman in early Jewish society.
“There is a long history of the depiction of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the visual arts,” observed Fr. Malone at the start of the seminar, which has the support of the global Catholic association Signis. “This overview of Mary on the screen indicates that there has been a considerable amount of biblical material in cinema features and telemovies, much of it quite reverent, but often marred by a sentimental artistic piety and some over-literal interpretations of the biblical texts. Mary’s experience as the virgin mother of Jesus has also been used as a metaphor in western culture and the arts to interpret contemporary questions.”
In the sixth seminar in CFA’s Film and Faith series facilitated by international film reviewer and author Fr. Peter Malone, he explained how various films from Europe, the Americas and even the Middle East have depicted Mary through the years, based on their own religious and cultural traditions. A refreshing image that many films tried to present is that of an ordinary Jewish girl who worked in the fields, delivered cheese and helped people, and later responded to a call of God to be the mother of the Savior. Participants appreciated this portrayal especially in the light of the Annunciation. Fr. Malone pointed out that Mary did not wait idly for Angel Gabriel to come to her but did what an ordinary Jewish girl would. The movie clips presented also strongly hinted of the deep and close relationship between Jesus and Mary, as shown in the Cana scenes in the films Jesus, The Gospel of John and in Mary, Mother of Jesus. Films on Marian apparitions and metaphors were also reviewed.
Special screenings were also offered to the participants during the first two days. The African film Son of Man (2005, Mark Donford-May) was an interesting and thought-provoking interpretation of the life of Jesus in the context of modern realities in Africa. During the discussion the next morning, the participants were challenged to use the film not only in teaching the Gospel but also in analyzing social justice and peace. Ikaw ang Pag-ibig (2011, Marilou Diaz-Abaya) was shown on the second day to present the devotion of a Filipino family to Our Lady of Peñafrancia of the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres.
The third day focused on the teaching of the four Marian dogmas through Filipino films, facilitated by Fr. Stephen Cuyos, MSC, CFA Production and Media Specialist. He presented the Divine Motherhood, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception and The Assumption of Mary in three perspectives: their definitions, scriptural foundations and relevance to current social realities. In presenting the social realities, he challenged the participants to reflect on the values of Mary presented in the Filipino films and independent short films.
The seminar also became the venue for two significant events. On the second day, CFA launched its fourth Film and Faith book, with the same title as the seminar — Film and Mary. The book by Peter Malone has been prepared for religion teachers and catechists, for students of theology and spirituality who focus on Mary, as well as for readers interested in this and other Christian themes on screen. It covers the key issues concerning the depiction of the Virgin Mary on screen and encourages readers to develop this significant topic for appreciating better religion and cinema.
The other significant event was the presentation of the Dhaka filmfest Spirituality award to CFA consultant Clodualdo “Doy” del Mundo Jr., for his feature film, Paglipad ng Anghel (Flight of an Angel), which he had written and directed (see related article).
Film and Mary will certainly not be the last of the Film and Faith seminar series, as CFA and Fr. Malone are now preparing for next year’s theme: Film for Peace Education. This seminar in 2013, also to be held in January, hopes to bring interfaith film students and Christian Living educators together to explore the power and educational potential of film to document and portray stories and images of conflict, peace, peace-making and reconciliation from various religious and cultural traditions.