One of the trademark values of Catholic tradition is the use and promotion of artisitc expression. This expression has been found in poetry, literature, architecture, statues, theatre, and numerous other forms. That great tradition continues to this very day. 8beats is a groudbreaking, collaborative effort between numerous, leading artists and creatives who hold to the hope that in order to reach the modern world, one must lead with beauty. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once stated that, “a particular feature in the very essence of beauty—a characteristic trait of art itself: The persuasiveness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable; it prevails even over a resisting heart.” 8beats aims to arrest the modern heart through the beauty and expression of artists and creatives through the profound words of Christ. Today, Jared Zimmerer sits down with one of the collaborators of 8beats, Sam Sorich of Glass Darkly Films, to discuss beauty, collaboration, and the heroes of Catholic artists today.
8beats is a film that is set to be an incredibly unique artistic expression given its subject matter and the amount of collaboration involved. Can you tell us why you and the rest of the collaborators chose to create a film based on the Beatitudes?
I wish I could say it was the Beatitudes themselves that first inspired the idea, but I’ve always found them too mysterious and difficult to comprehend. It was actually an encounter with a cinematic work of art years ago that sparked the idea. In college, I started watching more world cinema and came across Kieslowski’s polyptych masterpiece The Dekalog (1988), a ten-part Polish television series loosely based on each of the Ten Commandments. I remember being struck by the strong Catholic themes and then being surprised to learn that the director was atheist, which made me ask, “How is it that many atheist filmmakers can produce better religious films than most Catholic movies?”
An eight-part series on the Beatitudes was an obvious sequel. So obvious, that when we announced the project at the 2017 Catholic Creatives Summit, several other people whom I had never met before told me how excited they were about the project, because they too had seen Kieslowski’s Dekalog many years ago, and had wanted to do the same type of series on the Beatitudes, some even in development with people in Hollywood. It was great consolation to hear and proved to me this is a film meant to be made.
It has also gave us the chance, as a community, to meditate on the meaning of the Beatitudes together. They still remain mysterious, but the artist is called to enter into mystery, to throw paint on the invisible subject before them, and to watch it take shape and incarnate.
Where did the inspiration come from to do this as a collaboration? And, what have you learned in this process as you come together as artists?
Over the past year and a half, I have been active in a Facebook group of Catholic filmmakers, where we post our work in progress, ask for business or technical advice, and even prayer requests. It developed into a pretty fruitful discussion forum, and it was exciting to see all the young talent out there in the Church. We had a natural desire to work together, but we were too geographically distant, so it made collaborative projects impossible and expensive. So I proposed a challenge to the group: Let’s divide into regional teams, and each team will be in charge of their own no-budget, 5-10 minute short film based on one of the Beatitudes! By the end of the year, we can have a short film under our belts, an excuse to form intentional community and learn from each other’ processes. Challenge accepted.
Simultaneously, the Catholic Creative group had their first Summit, which brought together many of the Catholic artists, graphic designers and entrepreneurs who were forming a similar community online. 8beats seemed like the right fit for the first project Catholic Creatives officially would sponsor and take on, to mobilize this newly formed community and transform a small, no-budget film challenge to a national flash mob and massive collaboration.
Suddenly there was a lot more risk involved. What happens to the group after the public exposure if we fail to raise the money? What happens if the films aren’t good? These real fears forced a group of strangers to open up about our insecurities, be honest and vulnerable with one another, and encourage each other in this ambitious task.
As Catholics, we have a long history of making the greatest art, art that lasts centuries and continues to inspire. How do you and the 8beats collaborators hope to continue that legacy?
I can’t speak for the rest of the 8beats team, but it’s my opinion that although it’s true that the Church has produced some of the greatest art, it hasn’t done so consistently, not lately, not in new media. There have been a few pioneering voices including Word on Fire, Spirit Juice Studios, Kinnane Films, et al., but there remains a large population of Catholics who are disenfranchised with mainstream Catholic video production. Its an evangelical failure and a waste of money, in my opinion, to continue supporting these archaic types of productions.
The answer to my earlier question of why many atheist filmmakers make better religious films is because I think they don’t have the fear of being bombarded with criticism and accusation of heresy or scandal. They aren’t a part of the community that is most sensitive to the material, so they have nothing to lose and can thus afford to be more penetrating into the human experience. Whereas many Catholic and Christian art “plays it safe” in fear of blowback from a their own peers, so they remain “family friendly” and give a caricature of the human condition that is the opposite to the prophetic honesty of the Bible.
Bishop Barron speaks about not dumbing down Catholicism, and 8beats is an experiment in changing the tone of Catholic media and not dumbing down the art of storytelling. The goal is to give permission to younger Catholic Creatives to stay within the bounds of the church, but feel free to explore the chiaroscuro of the world with the light of Christ. We are here to support you in your artistic journey.
The future is hopeful for Catholic media, there is a Catholic New Wave of filmmakers on the horizon, and there is room for everyone.
As an artist, how does your creation of these expressions fulfill you spiritually? And what advice might you have for other creatives who desire to saturate the world with beauty?
It truly is a blessing to be an artist, I feel very lucky to wake up and get paid to do what I love. But I don’t hang my hat on artistic expression to fulfill me completely. A lot of times the work I do feels meaningless, I feel like I’m contributing the equivalent of corporate greed and consumerism sometimes present in the church. The Catholic film world can feel like another competitor, another market to corner, and the gospel a commodity, a brand, a trend. Who am I robbing from to create promotional videos for a Catholic organization? I’m afraid to be complacent in a church that isn’t radical enough.
I think the antidote is in our great Catholic tradition that encourages healthy and holy communities. No community is immune to the potential for envy, egoism, greed, and grand standing, but what differentiates christian communities is the shared and conscious awareness of the obligation to love one another, and the faith that where two or more are gathered in Christ name, there He is.
As far as the desire to saturate the world with beauty; the world is already saturated with beauty, as artists we must capture the Grandiuer of God, that flames out like shining from shook foil. I don’t have any advice, other than, be not afraid.
Are there any Catholics saints, artists, or cultural players from our history that you and other artists are drawing inspiration from?
There aren’t too many Catholic saints I know of who are artists, although I suspect there are a few in our 8beats project and the Catholic Creatives group. We really are a diverse group of artists, and represent a wide range of aesthetic tastes. I can’t speak for the group but for myself I can name three persons I’m drawing on for our film. Andrei Tarkovsky, Flannery O’Connor, and Pope Francis. Tarkovsky because he’s the greatest filmmaker and greatest teacher to young filmmakers. If we lost all movies in a great fire, but only Tarkovsky’s survived, we’d still be ok.
Flannery O’Connor whose mediation on Catholic art in Mystery and Manners and her letters, has shaped my imagination more than any other Catholic artist. I’m indebted to her encouragement to be “odd” and “Christ haunted”, I appreciate her distaste for the sentimental in religious art, and her uncompromising devotion to her craft and the Eucharist. And finally, Pope Francis for his challenge to young people to make a mess, “Make a mess but then also help to tidy it up. A mess which gives us a free heart, a mess which gives us solidarity, a mess which gives us hope….We don’t want young weaklings. We do not want young people who tire quickly, who live life worn out with faces of boredom. We want youths with hope and strength,”
I feel this quote reflects our 8beats community nicely. We want to shake up the culture, in solidarity and provide hope through the stories we tell. We are hardworking and faithful, characterized by a spirit of joy and love of one another.
How can our readers get involved or help the project?
Social engagement, encouragement, constructive criticism, prayer, and financial support. Our crowdfunding campaign ends in just 9 days, if we don’t reach our goal, we can’t make our films. We need your help, to help patron the arts for this next generation of artists.There are some great gifts that we are rewarding to those who donate, e.g copies of the films, t-shirts, and prints of the poster art. If everyone who reads this article gives just $5 dollars we can reach it today. Thank you so much to everyone who chooses to give.
Lastly, thank you Word on Fire team for featuring our project, patroning the arts, and being an example of quality Catholic new media.