Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
The Hidden Rebellion: Untold Story Behind the French Revolution is a movie in the making.
Filming itself is complete, and only the final editing and musical score needs to be added, as anticipation runs high for this true story.
The Hidden Rebellion aims to bring to light the story of the war in the Vendee region of France and the massacre of many people there, who fought to retain and protect their Catholic faith as the architects of the French Revolution attempted to wipe them out because of it.
The film’s producer and writer is Daniel Rabourdin. An American citizen, he was born and schooled in France but has lived in the United States for the past 25 years.
He is an accomplished filmmaker.
For 16 years, he was a producer for EWTN television. Among other credits, as chef and speaker, he hosted an EWTN series called Theology of the Table. He also authored, produced and directed a reality show called Mission Amazon.
For this production, Rabourdin brought Jim Morlino onboard. Morlino is himself a talented filmmaker, who not only knows the subject in depth, but who also wrote and directed The War of the Vendee with a young cast, garnering the Vatican’s Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival award for "Best Film for Young Audiences,” as well as a best director award from the John Paul II International Film Festival held in the United States.
Rabourdin and Morlino talked at length about the film and the campaign for funds to complete the final editing.
The goal is to have a 90-minute version for release in theaters and a 60-minute version for major television release.
This true story is worth telling.
The Vendee is a coastal region south of the Loire River in western France. The war in the Vendee began in 1793.
Matthew O’Brien, history professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville, confirms that estimates of those killed by the French Revolution’s conscripted army range from 150,000 upwards, out of a native population of 800,000. No one was spared: Clergy, nuns, men, women and even children were purposely slaughtered.
Rabourdin points out that the equivalent percentage today would be 44 million Americans.
No surprise that this major, well-documented uprising against the brutal dictates of the French Revolution’s architects was suppressed and then even written out of French history books, Rabourdin notes. However, he points out that it was known about enough to actually inspire the architects of communism, with their gulags and mass executions, plus other despotic governments.
The Vendee war itself ignited as the French Revolutionary government fanatics drafted laws to seize all Church property in France and have clergy take an oath of loyalty to the new government. O’Brien says that the pope condemned this move.
At the same time, the government enacted the first army conscription, or draft, in European history.
Faith was integral to the life of the Vendeans, who were mostly peasant farmers. They objected to the laws. When the new anti-Christian army was sent to close their churches and do away with the priests, the Vendeans fought valiantly for their faith and religious freedom.
Rabourdin wants his film to bring this true story to light; he says it is timely, given current headlines.
He calls the film a docudrama because it alternates between beautiful and dramatic cinematic re-enactments and experts talking about the history, significance and ramifications.
“We did little three-minute sequences as a movie scene, then follow with three minutes with a historian. who enlightens [viewers] about the scene of what happened in Vendee,” he says.
Rabourdin ticks off major historians and experts he filmed for their insights and commentaries. Among them is Reynald Schecher, a key historian who has explored the archives of the French Revolution and found proof of orders for “the eradication of the people of Vendee — so that moves the situation from being a war to very probably a genocide ordered by a government.”
The technical quality of the movie is due to the expertise of Morlino, director of photography for The Hidden Rebellion. Years earlier, producing a 13-part EWTN series, Understanding the Mass, Rabourdin had met Morlino, who was assisting the priest he knew headlining the series.
Rabourdin was impressed by Morlino’s own award-winning film on the Vendee war and wanted his imput.
Since it was made with and for a children’s audience, Morlino says he “concentrated on the essence of the story, which boils down to virtues like courage, perseverance, love of the Church and all of these tested by persecution and injustice.” His script was safe viewing for even sensitive watchers.
“Now, Daniel is pulling back the veil and telling the fullness of this story, as he goes into the details of the genocide,” Morlino explains of the docudrama.
Shooting the re-enactments of the battles and life of the peasant Vendeans was exciting for Morlino for a couple of reasons. For one, it was filmed in France. Two, his wife, Fran, was on the crew, too.
“For me, it was deju vu, in the sense I was filming situations and environments that we had tried to re-create here in the States with children; and, now, we were doing things in the actual places where these events happened,” says Morlino, emphasizing that they included people who "were actual descendants of those who had given their lives for the Church 200 years ago.”
Indeed, many actors even had the last names of the original Vendeans involved. One man was related to the well-known general leading the Vendeans and who became the last man standing in the battle against the bloody Revolution.
“One of his descendants was there participating in the film,” says an amazed Morlino.
The re-enactors had authentic props and costumes. They “have great affection and a knowledge of an important event in history and, most importantly, what their ancestors were fighting for. They honor their memory by paying tribute to their sacrifices.”
Because many of these re-enactors also appear in the shows and spectacles at France’s nearby Puy du Fou – a large theme park about France’s history — Morlino says of the film, “their commitment and their deep understanding of the history all combined to make a very authentic and truthful re-creation of these events.”
Watch the trailer here.
Rabourdin is now in the midst of the next phase — a donation campaign to raise the rest of the money to complete the final editing. He needs $30,000 for this final editing phase and has turned to the Internet (here). Any donation is welcome.
The producer shares that he has put what he could, $18,000 from his own pocket, into the project, takes no salary and receives no compensation, because he sees the immediacy of bringing this story “as a moment of education for the people of goodwill,” he says.
In fact, he wants to speak to all people, not only Catholics, about this history.
“The Vendee is full of martyrs,” he says.
Rabourdin believes it shows a great deal of hope even though society and politics may be oppressive, and Christians are increasingly persecuted.
“We can face it with joy,” he says. “Remember that we are called to bless our enemies. Many of them don’t know what they are doing. They don’t have God, and they replace that by a political slogan. But they have potential to be children of God.”
Rabourdin’s film has the blessings and encouragement of Bishop Dominique Rey of Frejus-Toulon, France.
In a public letter, Bishop Rey states: “We have full confidence that you will produce it with love for truth and justice. Our prayers are with you, and we are confident that men and women of goodwill in the whole world will support this initiative.” He thinks “that a courageous media production must be made for the English-speaking world about this page of history.”
The bishop further adds that “we see the production of this docudrama, The Hidden Rebellion: Untold Story Behind the French Revolution, as an opportunity to rediscover the courage of martyrs and errors of the past. We encourage all men and women of goodwill to pray for and support this magnificent endeavor in any way they can.”
If all goes well and costs are met, Rabourdin hopes to have the film ready for fall distribution. .
“This is a chance for the Church to seize,” he says, hoping that parishes or dioceses will reserve and fill theaters for showings.
“It is a powerful new way for the Church today to commission producers and to produce works of art that glorify the Lord for the good of the people.”
Note: Donations can also be mailed to: The Hidden Rebellion, 5728 Belmont Dr., Birmingham, AL 35210