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‘8beats’: 8 Blessings for the Spiritually Hungry of Any Background

April 16, 2021


The 8beats Anthology is a series of short films by different Christian writers and directors brought together by Executive Producer Sam Sorich and Dallas-based Catholic Creatives. Following the example of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Decalogue films, which explore the Ten Commandments in contemporary society, the 8beats films are about the Beatitudes, which are the recapitulation and fulfillment of the commandments. In his Jesus of Nazareth book, Pope Benedict XVI calls the Beatitudes “the fruit of looking upon the disciples . . . those who have set out to follow Jesus and have become his family.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the Beatitudes “sustain hope in the midst of tribulations” and “proclaim the blessings and rewards already secured, however dimly, for Christ’s disciples” (CCC 1717).

But the Beatitudes do more besides. They “respond to the natural desire for happiness” (CCC 1718) and “reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts” (CCC 1719). The 8beats project rightly seeks to use Jesus’ great teachings as the foundation for compelling storytelling with an underlying goal: Evangelize without moralizing, while still conveying the all-encompassing, revolutionary character of life with Christ in the Church.

The 8beats website states, “The Beatitudes are not moral prescriptions, but paradoxical and poetic doorways into our deepest questions and longings. What do we hope for? What do we fear? Will we ever find resolution in our deepest yearnings? The Beatitudes speak of the kind of hope that can only come out despair, the kind of joy that only comes out of suffering: a beauty that can only come out of the mess.”

Each of the eight films in the 8beats collection explores one of the Beatitudes in a loose, sometimes completely undetectable way. They vary in quality, but each is a sign of hope for at least two groups that should overlap more often: Christians who want much deeper and more sophisticated content to come out of our creative space, and fans of art and cinema who want much more than CGI superheroes and tidy, telegraphed plots. The 8beats films may also appeal to another group that includes most of us: spiritually hungry people of every background.

2AM Lullaby, directed by Sean Shiavolin and written by Dave Kang, is a touching immigrant tale that explores “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Christopher Marquez plays a Mexican man who works as a janitor in a nightclub to send money home to his mother. He is mesmerized late at night by the voice of a singer, played by Crystal Cook, who is mourning the loss of her father. Their separate paths intersect in the beauty of their childhood faith, which shows them God in one another, even as their true selves remain mostly invisible to the world.

Almost Home has a western, road trip setting, and it focuses on “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Written and directed by George Simon, this film is a bit confusing and very sad, but ends with a moving depiction of humans’ subtle ability to help each other grieve.

Claire McKenna is among the best of the eight, offering a vivid depiction of a sensitive young woman’s heroin addiction—a perfect scenario for “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Written and directed by William Price III and starring Bailey Hyneman, there are moments of graphic drug use and despair in this film that are excruciating to watch. But it is finally a story about how our failures may be the best opportunity for God’s success. As any recovering addict will attest, Claire’s salvation comes from embracing her weakness. She says of a dream where the Lord visited her, “I felt seen. And important. And small, in the best way.”

Rigor Mortis is an oddball homage to classic zombie cinema by the Kinnane Brothers, who have many significant credits to their name, including Kevin James’ Sound Guy videos. Rigor Mortis is one of my favorites of the bunch, and it hilariously illustrates “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Simon’s Agony is the best of the eight films, and the one most evocative of Kieslowski and the intense, interior world characteristic of high-quality European cinema. Written and directed by Polish filmmaker Deniz Demirer and starring Zenon Zeleniuch in a gripping performance as a silent, ill, and devout sculptor, Simon’s Agony is the only part of the anthology that states its particular inspiration: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In just twenty minutes, Demirer manages to show something truly extraordinary about the nature of art and faith, as Simon’s drive to create for God necessarily means human disconnection, and even betrayal.

Scarlet Begonias is beautifully shot by director Dan Johnson, who focuses on redemption and healing in the context of human trafficking. The film depicts a middle age man and a very young woman, neither of whom knows at first that they are helping each other find a path to wholeness. Its beatitude is clearly “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

Somewhere in July is the most troubling of the eight films, which is likely to leave faithful viewers with more questions than answers. Directed by Laina Barakat and written by Barakat and Aaron Widerspahn, the film deals with a family in the midst of turmoil after a father changes his gender from male to female. We get a clear picture of the agony both children and parents endure when someone transitions, and we do not know whether the scars on the character’s arms came before, after, or both. Some viewers might interpret the butterfly and Easter motifs as an affirmation of transgenderism, where others may simply think it a portrait of growth in love and understanding that does not undermine the natural law or the teachings of the Church. I find myself wondering, who is the one being “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” here? In any case, Somewhere in July reminds us that many families now face challenges unheard of even a generation ago. Barakat and Widerspahn are brave to wade into cultural waters in which more of us may find ourselves thrust into the deep in the decades to come.

Finally, Sam Sorich’s Seau de Sang tells the story of the ailing French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette in the winter of 1675. It illustrates “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” as Père Marquette comes not with guns and swords but crosses and sacraments. His triumph is his suffering, and his evangelistic journeys among Native Americans are an important and neglected part of the American foundation narrative. Sorich does a marvelous job addressing this cultural and historical blind spot. Director of Photography Stan Barua creates visually stunning images with the red of blood and fire set against the midwestern snow, as well as the water of the Mississippi River.

The 8beats Anthology is a promising sign of things to come for Christians, who are long overdue in reclaiming our once undisputed place among the best working artists. Re-presenting Matthew 5:3-10 is a good place to start. The 8beats Anthology is now available to purchase for streaming here, through the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Center for Thought and Culture of the Archdiocese of New York.