Foreclosing on Faith: A Dramatic New Film on Church Closings

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The Catholic documentary, premiering at the ‘La Femme Film Festival’ in Los Angeles on Oct. 21, aims to facilitate a dialogue between all those involved in this tragedy and to offer possible solutions.

 

A new documentary film on the tragedy of church closings in the United States will receive its first major showing at a film festival in Los Angeles on Saturday.

Foreclosing on Faith, directed and produced by Hungarian filmmaker Viktoria Somogyi (in the interests of full disclosure, a friend of mine) and Emmy Award-winning producer Jeff MacIntyre, documents the “heroic battles, passionate protests and widespread resistance” over the closing of churches in the country.

“Churches are being shuttered at an alarming rate” and at stake are “issues of ethnic and cultural identity and the well-being of communities across the land,” the movie’s producers say.

“This is a David vs Goliath struggle; a war raging within the Catholic Church,” MacIntyre said. “Many of the faithful feel used and forgotten, but courageously fight to save their spiritual homes. We’re honoured to tell their stories.”

The filmmakers say the 51 minute documentary, captured over three years in Cleveland, Boston and New York, picks up where the movie on clerical sex abuse Spotlight left off as a major reason for many of the closings is compensation claims from abuse victims that have financially crippled some dioceses.

The film is narrated by the parishioners themselves who are given the opportunity to tell their stories while the hierarchy is offered space to respond. It also offers possible solutions to could keep churches open.

“It is vital to start an open dialogue as soon as possible about church closings by involving all the players,” said Somogyi. “ It has caused a lot of suffering and despair to far too many people, and has brought much destruction in the Catholic communities around the country. The film would like to contribute to and facilitate that conversation.”

Somogyi, who is also an editor for Vatican Radio’s Hungarian program in Rome, said her deep concern for the issue came after regular visits to the U.S. since 2006 and trips to Hungarian American Catholic communities. There she witnessed “how they conserve their homeland’s historical and cultural heritage and identity, their ties to it, and what role faith plays in this crisis.”

“Destroying a home — a spiritual one in the case of these faith communities — causes an enormous shock, inflicting a huge and inestimable crisis on people at many levels,” she said. “I wanted to analyze how communities react to these shock waves, and what strategies they apply in response.”

What especially interested her was how such “seemingly powerless” communities could come up with a “winning strategy to bring them out of a desperate and an extremely disadvantageous, if not life-threatening, situation.”

But also of great interest was the importance of the sacred, and the deep need to preserve it. “Even in today’s world, deeply disconnected from the spiritual world, people are still, perhaps unconsciously aware of the presence of the sacred,” she said.

Somogyi observed how, in their protests, prayer vigils and other efforts made to keep their churches open, they show their profound wish to “protect the sacred.” She calls it “a 21st century Antigone story: divine law vs. man-made law, or rather a law induced by financial reasons.”

The film, financed by MTVA Mecenatúra, a Hungarian patronage program, and NKA, the National Cultural Fund of Hungary, is being billed as a Catholic documentary version of the recently released “All Saints.”

That movie, made by Sony Pictures, follows a group of refugees as they try to save their tiny Episcopal church, condemned for closure.

Foreclosing on Faith will show at noon Oct. 21 at the La Femme Film Festival which celebrates and supports women filmmakers.

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