Exploring the Church Through Documentary, Media

Pontifical University Hosts Second Day of Communications Conference

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By Ann Schneible

ROME, APRIL 17, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Faces, People, Stories: the eighth international seminar being hosted by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross' department of communications explores the unique challenge of communicating the human element of the Catholic Faith through modern mediums of communication which are in a constant and rapid state of growth and flux. The seminar concludes Wednesday, and is being held at the University, located just north of Piazza Navona in Rome.

Some of the diverse themes which were explored in today's sessions included a talk by Marcus Vetter on effectively bringing human stories to the screen, and a talk by Jack Valero of Catholic Voices on how to constructively communicate the faith to the secular media.

Award-winning documentarian Marcus Vetter, from Stuttgart, Germany, spoke about his films, including Das Herz von Jenin, which won the German Film Award for Best Documentary in 2010. He has since founded a non-profit organization called Cinema Jenin, which aims at rebuilding a theater which was closed in Jenin, West Bank, in 1987.

In his talk this morning, Human Stories that are Effective on Screen, Vetter spoke about his experiences making documentaries, especially in Jenin, and what it takes to give an authentic portrayal of the main protagonists of these films.

The purpose of a documentary is to help the viewers "overcome prejudice," Vetter explained, "to tell the people that they have to judge with their own eyes, that they shouldn't rely on fast news, for example, which increases the fear. But there is so much [that is] positive in human beings to be told that there is a future for our humanity."

"You have to love your protagonist," moreover. "Even if your protagonist is an antagonist, you have to try to love him, because otherwise you are not allowed to make a documentary film." He concludes: even "if you are making a documentary about a murderer, you have to try to balance him; otherwise, you just shouldn't do it, because people are giving their life story, so you have to take care of what you are doing. You have to take care that they can live afterwards with this film."

Speaking to the media

Co-founder of Catholic Voices Jack Valero spoke this morning about the challenges of communicating the faith through the media, and the opportunities for evangelization and dialogue which crises afford. Catholic Voices was initially established as a means of communicating Pope Benedict's 2010 pastoral visit to the UK through the media; it has since grown into an initiative which seeks to revive Catholic apologetics in a manner that is consistent with modern means of communications.

In communicating the Catholic Church through the media, Valero explained in his presentation, there are three dangers that should be avoided. The first of these is anger, specifically towards the unjust way some members of the media might treat the Church. "When you get angry," he says, "you stop communicating; no one listens to you anymore. If you get angry, and the other person gets angry, the dynamic that follows is: isn't religion awful? See, there are always people fighting each other. I want to have nothing to do with it.' We therefore always try to be positive, and never be angry about anything."

"The other danger that we try to avoid," Valero continued, is that of "being defensive. I always say that the Catholic Church is so beautiful, you don't need to defend anything; you just tell your story. You tell it so well that at the end of two or three minutes people say: I want that. That is the objective of your communication."

Finally, it is essential for Catholic communicators to not lose the opportunity to communicate the faith when difficulties arise. "The doors that open about communication of the Church always open through scandal, drama, unusual circumstances. News that is framed in a negative way, and that we would use to communicate. They are the only windows that open for us to communicate."

"We want to revive this apologetics in this era of 24-hour news," Valero concluded, to "make Catholics confident in communication, and to spread this idea that, if you are good at communication, this could be your vocation, a vocation from God. We look forward to just a few years [from now] when there are thousands, millions of Catholics communicating all around the world in a way that people listen. This is our dream, and this is what we hope will happen."