Thoughts on my current film, “Father Soldier”…

dave's portraiMy most recent film, Father Soldier, a profile on the life of Father Leo Hetzler, CSB, has been available live on the web for the past week. So far I’ve gotten some very nice responses from online viewers. The one most interesting came from my older brother, Joe, who said he screened the film, went to bed, and woke up near dawn after dreaming that he was hearing and thinking about Father Leo’s voice…

Early this past week, my wife and I were invited to the Basilian Home here in Rochester, which is where Father Leo and a number of older priests are in retirement. We were treated to a really nice meal, and then we screened the film. There were ten priests total in attendance. As usual, I stood behind the audience with one eye on them and the other on the screen. Most of the priests are retired academics – they’re a very bright and sophisticated bunch – and they’re all still quite sharp. I felt a bit intimidated at all that brain power in the room and wondered what they were thinking about while watching the piece.

When it was over, four of them were plainly moved by the film, their affect ranging from mistiness, to tearfulness, to outright sobbing. The sobbing, for me, was really disconcerting – actually it was a bit frightening. I checked on the priest immediately and put my arm around him. His name was Father Paul, 88 years old, and the same age as Father Leo. I asked him if he was OK, he nodded, and I moved away. I found out later from Father Leo, that the scenes of boyhood really got to him. He said to Father Leo, “that was my childhood!”

Another priest, Father Al, a retired mathematics professor at St. John Fisher College, walked over to me quickly, gave me a big hug and cried, “God Bless you, God Bless you!

Father Leo himself was tearful, but quiet. I asked him why he was emotional at this screening, since he had already viewed the film twice previously. He said that the first two times he was watching it to see how it hung together, whether there were any problems with it factually, etc. This time he said he could just let it wash over him. He told me he was deeply honored by what I had done.

Tim, a philosophy professor from St. John Fisher who I had interviewed a couple of days earlier for my next film project, was also in attendance. He thanked me for the screening, didn’t say anything in particular about the film, but the next day emailed me with names I should call over at the college in order to arrange screenings for larger groups. Action not words!

The biggest surprise of the screening was in my own reaction to the film. Being the person who had filmed, edited and watched the film literally dozens and dozens of times as it came together, I had thought that I would never be able to view it with fresh eyes – except perhaps after a long break. At the time of this screening I felt completely unable to evaluate it, except from my own skewed perspective of course.

Well, as I stood behind the audience and felt the vibe coming off them, I saw the film, if not with fresh eyes, at least through theirs. And it was great – in fact it was thrilling! My wife and co-producer, Ann, told me I caught her eye during the screening. She said I was moving my right arm and leaning towards the screen as if I was conducting an orchestra! I just vaguely remember being caught up in the moment…and hoping people were riding the wave with me.

I think the most wonderful part of a successful screening, or any presentation of one’s artwork, is coming to the realization that you actually had an effect on the audience, not by talking or interacting with them directly, but through the third party of a piece of artwork that exists separately from you. It is something to be savored, though never taken for granted. I’ll call on it when I’m in the throes of my next production, which will be on the theme of friendship.

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