[Guest post by filmmaker Matt LaFont]
Movies are still considered to be one of the youngest art forms of storytelling. With the invention of the motion picture camera in the late 19th century and the evolution of the editorial process, films have entertained audiences all over the world for many years.
As one of the most labor-intensive art forms, filmmaking itself requires an enormous collaborative effort of many different talented artists who all contribute to the same goal of creating an entertaining story for people to experience.
The process at times can be stressful, but after immersing myself in St John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) and working in the film industry for almost a decade, I’ve found my work more rewarding as it relates to the human experience. With the ups and downs of reality in my own life, it can be easy to connect with a compelling fictional story through beautiful images, a complementary score, and realistic sound design. Life’s biggest questions always seem to reveal themselves as the story unfolds, but during the creative process, you need to dig a lot deeper to find that story which awakens the sleepy heart. Even from my early childhood, I always sensed this was a career path I should take and JP2’s TOB constantly reaffirms this calling.
Art has the ability to engage the body through the senses with a variety of perspectives. The art of filmmaking has a unique way of taking someone’s mind away from reality for the duration of the film. Usually if someone responds to a film, it is because they engage their minds and hearts with certain characters of a story. Like any story, characters are usually faced with a conflict that needs to be resolved, and it is our job as filmmakers to guide the viewer throughout the journey of resolution.
In the cutting room, which is where the bulk of my work comes from, the editor must analyze the character’s inner soul through his or her body language in each shot, keeping the overall character arc consistent throughout the film. Observing these qualities of a character, which is a whole and complex human being, the editor can determine the emotional climax of any given scene. With my experience in editorial department, this careful examination is simply encountering the body and inner soul with a creative eye, and I feel the Theology of the Body has enhanced my craft as an editor.
My first glimpse of this “new way of seeing” was during my first feature-length documentary “Dog Man.” As the interview process began, it was hard to feel the full scope of emotion during the interview as everything was happening in real time. Once in the cutting room, I was allowed to play back and replay back what he or she said, hearing and seeing them laugh or cry again. Then it hit me… these are human persons who have intrinsic dignity, and it was my responsibility to show the truth regarding the things stirring in their hearts (since they permitted me to share their story in the first place). It wasn’t that I didn’t respect them during the interview, but that I was blind and did not truly see this dimension of their dignity as a human person. I had a deeper connection with them in a sense… not realizing that I was encountering God.
Almost like a interviewee in a documentary, the actor places a trust in the director’s vision as they work together to bring a character to life. It’s fair to say that most of Hollywood would not know anything about JP2 and his teachings, but you can’t deny that they are in touch with their inner desires as fallen and broken human beings. This is exactly why Christopher West uses movies to bring out themes of the Theology of the Body. You cannot separate the body from the soul, and during the actual filmmaking process, this is more evident than ever. I would argue that this is what makes or breaks a film. Just like a porn movie separates the soul from the body by allowing the indulgence of our desires with no limits, so too does the “so-called” Christian film (with good intentions) separates the body from the soul by forcing the Christian message in their art and only relying on the spiritual dimension of the human person. The fact is, God is already present in our art. God is present in His creation as He already speaks through us, through our bodies and through our souls.
Recently, I decided to answer God’s call to produce a narrative short film that is close to my heart. The story is about a man who discovers a beautiful woman expressing interest in meeting on his dating app. But after they meet, neither of them will see the other in the same way again. One of the greatest gifts you can give a person is a good and honest story. Stories can leave questions in a person’s heart… questions that awaken the desire for true love. In a world with so much sexual tension and confusion, it is hard to fathom how the healing process can begin. A simple short story can make people ponder life’s biggest questions without judging someone’s heart.
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