National Edition

Films depict real, raw role of clergy interacting with community

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 1:05 p.m. MST

In addition to his earnest compassion, another trait of Reinke's that impressed Moss was his constant self-assessment of whether he was doing the right thing, why was he doing it and whether he was being true to himself, his family and congregation.

"There was some mystery to motivations," Moss said. "But his healthy self-questioning to me was an indication that there was really more to him as a person, that he was really struggling with (his motives) as a person and the attendant costs on his personal life was clear."

Reinke is remarkably candid sharing his innermost thoughts with Moss about what the turn of events has done to his family and himself.

"The private me distances myself from the public me," Reinke confides. "I can believe the public me because sometimes it looks very good. But the private me has become something else."

In the drama "Calvary," also premiering at Sundance, a Catholic priest in an Irish village has his life threatened during a confession. In the days following, as Father James tends to the spiritual needs of his parishioners and visitors, he contemplates who his would-be killer could be and begins to question his own commitment to his vocation.

And in the Polish drama "Ida," an orphan raised in a convent, discovers her disturbing family history and wonders whether she is ready to take her vows to become a Catholic nun.

"Any clergy member who is being honest would say that they wrestle with fundamental issues of doubt," Callaway said. "It's not just should I care for poor people and the outcasts, but do I believe in the stuff that I am saying? That’s a real thing that is very hard to say in church contexts when you’re the leader and people are putting you on this pedestal."

The spiritual journeys and outcomes of the faith leaders in all three films are grim, graphic (in the dramatic feature films) and surprising. Callaway acknowledges that it may be disturbing for some to watch a film where spiritual leaders struggle, walk away from it all or act against their better judgment.

"I find it refreshing," he said. "I find it hopeful and a good model for anybody interested in a conversation on faith and how that impacts your life."

Different kind of priest

Callaway speculates that the reason people don't find clergy as a central character with the strengths and weaknesses of anyone else in major motion pictures is because the general audience isn't interested.

"My gut tells me it's the same problems that besets our public conversation about anything," he said. "There is no real space for thoughtful, well-rounded, moderate views to be espoused or considered because they don’t sell, they don’t make good sound bites."

John Michael McDonagh, director of "Calvary," said he wanted to portray a different kind of priest than what he had seen in other films: "I wanted to do something about a good priest ... someone trying to do good and do the right thing," he said.

Father James in "Calvary" is also widower who joined the priesthood after his wife dies and his daughter visits him after a suicide attempt.

"I chose someone who had a full life and I think that made him a better priest," McDonagh said. "Without experiences of life you can't be speaking the truth and I would think what you tell people you would be guessing most of the time."

Callaway said that unlike Hollywood there is more room for exploring authentic characters like a self-doubting religious leader in independent cinema, like that showcased at Sundance.

"There is an openness in independent films to seeing these people as they really are that you don’t always get in movies that just have to be profitable," he said.

Email: mbrown@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @deseretbrown

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