Documentary News

Just a quick note to say that production on the St. Elizabeth documentary does seem to be going forward, after a lull. At least I’m interviewing potential art directors and set designers, because those and the costumes for historical recreations, are the most expensive and time-consuming part of the show.

I will be going to Pittsburgh July 5 and 6 to attend the SFO Quinquennial Congress, or part of it at any rate. I can’t afford the whole 5 days. I will be giving people a chance to purchase advance copies of the book and will be showing the teaser trailer for the documentary as well. I’m hoping to attract donors, or even better, investors, for the video project.

I hope to have more news when I return.

Now I’m a publisher!

Saturday I took my frst real break since January — that is, doing something else with my Saturday besides work. I went to the movies with a friend and saw The Hoax with Richard Gere. It’s the story of Clifford Irving, the author who made headlines more than 30 years ago for his claim that he had been tapped by reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes to collaborate on writing his autobiography. The only problem was that Irving had never met the man. But his lie was so convincing that he got a million-dollar advance for his claim. When the truth came out, it caused a major scandal.

The early scenes were particularly amusing in their portrayal of the condescending and pretentious editors and publishers at McGraw Hill who disdain Irving’s work — until they see real dollar signs. Every author who has been frustrated in approaching a publisher can relate — especially those who are told, like I once was, that my book on John Paul I “wasn’t sensational enough.”

The film says a great deal about lying, conscience and desire for fame and power, and is well worth catching. But one other message I took away with me was “self-publish at all costs!”

Which was very fitting, because just the day before I had gone to the Bronx County Courthouse and filed papers to start my first business — and it is a publishing busines: Tau Cross Books and Media, which is where I am going to publish my Franciscan works, the frst one of which is a little book on St. Elizabeth for the Secular Franciscans. If things go well, I’l distribute the documentary through it as well.

You can visit the website for Tau Cross Books here and download a pre-order form for the book.

Take that, McGraw-Hill!

My First World Premiere!

Or at least that’s what it feels like. I returned Sunday night from the Franciscan Center in Andover, Mass., where on Saturday I played the first footage of my documentary — some edited footage from our interviews on St. Elizabeth — for an audience. It was not more than 40 people, all Secular Franciscans, but to me, it was as exciting as any Hollywood premiere. To my relief, it was a great success, though not without suspense.

Due to some unexpected delays, we weren’t able to start editing until 10 days before the event. The editing process itself was fascinating. My brother Nick sent me a DVD with the footage he’d shot, and I looked through it, selecting the clips I wanted, putting them in some sort of coherent order, and writing down time codes for them. For the interviews that weren’t in English, I wrote down a summary of each, then transcribed and translated the parts I wanted, and sent Nick the translation to be put as subtitles. We intended this to be temporary, since there was simply no time to get English voiceovers done. We also edited in some digital still images of artwork on Elizabeth that reflected the themes of her life the interviewees described. The last step was a temporary music track. Nick was able to upload the complete ten-minute “teaser” to his server, and I downloaded it on Wednesday night at the library where I work and we burned it to DVD. The latest digital technology is amazing – otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible.

I was very nervous when I got to the Center on Friday, so I asked to check out the TV-DVD player setup that night before my talk the next day. It was a good thing too, since the TV they had brought up did not have a DVD player, but a VHS one. We looked around the building and got a DVD player, plus a very fine large screen TV with built-in stereo speakers. So the performance itself went off without a hitch and looked and sounded beautiful. The stereo speakers make a great diference in the sound! Much better than on my old TV.

Everyone was very impressed, and they are starting to raise some money for me. They took up a collection on the spot and will combine it with what they will raise at home in their fraternities.

One thing rather surprised me: they all seemed to be strongly in favor of keeping the interviews in the original languages with subtitles – they said they loved having the original intonations and personalities of the interviewees come through. I don’t know if that’s true of everyone, but I will also play the footage for my fraternity in about two weeks and can judge the reaction there. If the majority feel that way, we will probably end up keeping the subtitles.

Carmel, who is minister of my fraternity, also spoke to the regional meeting here in New York on the same day, Saturday. I hope we will get some volunteer help from this if we do some shooting in New York as I hope.

So far, so good. But there is so much work still to do. . .

Back Home and Thankful

Back home, and no real time to write. I will have to get caught up later. But I have managed to solve the spam problem — I hope — with the introduction of a filter that will require potential posters to type the letters from an image of a word before they can post, something that “spambots” can’t do. It’s been tested for a few days and seems to work just fine.

In the meantime, here is a corrected version of a letter I sent to my friends at Act One a couple of weeks ago.

Hello, friends,

My family and I just returned, filled with joy and gratitude, from two unforgettable weeks in Rome, which included successful shooting of a total of seven interviews for a documentary on St. Elizabeth of Hungary. In fact, the shooting went so miraculously well that I can only attribute it to the direct heavenly supervision of a quite wonderful lady, St. Elizabeth herself, and not least to the prayers offered up by Act One members. Thanks so much, all of you!

A few more details that I didn’t have time for before. A little over a year ago, I was asked by the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular to speak on St. Elizabeth at a historical conference they were organizing to take place in Rome in February 2007 for the eighth centenary of her birth. I began planning my talk a whole year in advance. Then they asked me to translate the sources for Elizabeth’s life for her centenary, as well as revise my dissertation on her, a work in which I was aided by a grant from the friars. Then I was asked to go to Rome last September, to help write a formation program for the centenary for the Secular Franciscans, the order to which I belong. Then I returned to Rome on November 17 for the kickoff of the centenary year (the actual anniversary of Elizabeth’s birth is November 17, 2007).

The friars had also graciously offered my family their guest appartment at the basilica and convent of Sts. Cosmas and Damian for two weeks at the time of the actual conference on February 23. My mother, two sisters and my brother Nick and his wife and daughter, were excited about joining me. Then, as if I didn’t have enough to do already, I decided to try to realize my dream of a documentary on Elizabeth; I knew it was the opportunity I’d been waiting for because my brother is a professional videographer. When I asked him to participate, he was very excited. He managed to get a very good rental deal on an HDV video camera. We went over there with little more than a month’s preparation, and money for the camera raised by donations.

I wanted the documentary to be a chronicle of the centenary as well as a look at Elizabeth’s life. We began by interviewing members of the International Secular Franciscan Council from all over the world, who were having their chapter meeting in Rome that same week. These members from Canada, Venezuela and the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, are men and women living in he world who are devoted to realizing the ideals of St. Francis in their daily lives.

In the interviews we shot on the grounds of the convent belonging to the Angeline Franciscan sisters, they told us how they were inspired by St. Elizabeth, one of the earliest Franciscan penitents, who was herself a wife and mother living in the world, and who became known as the “mother of the poor” in the Thuringian territory in Germany where her husband ruled. After his death, Elizabeth put on the religious habit and made her life a holocaust of service to the sick, poor and lepers, until she died in 1231. Amazingly, she was only twenty-four years old at the time of her death. Our interviewees spoke of the example of Elizabeth’s marriage and her commitment to social justice; they proved beyond a doubt that her example is still vital in today’s world.

My brother also shot video of the historical conference. (I only wish he could have missed the moment when I tripped and almost fell off the podium at the end of my talk). The day after the conference was the inauguration of a traveling art exhibit on St. Elizabeth at the basilica.

On that Saturday and the following days, the friars generously closed the basilica to visitors and allowed us to film our interviews with the scholars inside. When I say basilica, I mean a fifteen-hundred year-old church built from the ruins of a first-century A.D. Roman temple with a magnificent sixth-century mosaic of Cosmas and Damian with Christ and the Apostles in the apse. We also shot one interview in the sacristy, against a wall that once belonged to the Roman Forum. Talk about a colorful background!

We interviewed Matthias Werner, Professor of the University of Jena, near Eisenach, where Elizabeth lived, who has written a number of studies on her life. We also interviewed Fr. Salvador Cabot, TOR from Spain; Fr. Fernando Scocca, TOR, who helped organize the conference, and Fr. Lino Temperini, TOR, who teaches at the Franciscan University in Rome, the Antonianum. They told us how Elizabeth inspired them and discussed the historical controversies surrounding her life. Later, we also taped some of the visitors to the art exhibit, and some other footage inside and outside the basilica.

No time to tell you about the rest of our wonderful two weeks: about the sightseeing we did, our delicious meals at the trattorie on the Via Cavour; our visit to St. Peter’s basilica for one of the Pope’s Wednesday audiences; or my first visit to the catacombs and my re-acquaintance with their inspiring story of faith. But you can be sure we had a wonderful time.

I can’t wait to have the footage edited into a teaser trailer so we can continue our fundraising and put together the material on
Elizabeth’s life. I will continue to give updates, and once again, please remember us in your prayers.

Roma Eterna – Part III

I’m off to Rome again tomorrow for my participation in the historical conference on St. Elizabeth. I’ve had no time to write for the last few weeks, not even about the upcoming Oscars, partly because of yet another St. Elizabeth project I’m very excited about — I’m going to be shooting some video for a documentary on her! My brother Nick will be the cameraman. In fact, because of our schedule, we may miss the Oscar telecast altogether, but I don’t mind — this will be my first flm, and I’m very excited!

Also, because of the trip, lack of time, and overwhelming amount of spam, all comments will be collected and personally monitored for the time being, which means most likely nothing will post until I get back from Rome.

Until later, then — ciao!