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Changing the Culture for Christ, 1 Film at a Time (2654)

Catholic Identity College Guide '12 feature: John Paul the Great University Students Put Morality in Movies

09/16/2012 Comments (4)
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There’s nowhere to run in space. A sci-fi thriller short film exploring the consequences of our choices.

That’s the teaser promoting Project Callisto (ProjectCallisto.com), a movie under way using the talents of aspiring filmmakers at John Paul the Great Catholic University in San Diego.

The film is the senior project for Paul Duda from Manassas, Va., who is studying movie directing and production.

Duda and his crew of more than 20 fellow students have entered the pre-production phase. Duda just finished raising the minimum $5,000 necessary for filming, which begins at the school this fall quarter. Professional actors from Los Angeles will be hired.

Duda describes two of the goals behind the project: "We’re attempting to promote Christian truths through the themes, and we’re looking to break into the industry to actually make a difference."

The ultimate goal for himself and the crew is "to get into the filmmaking industry and tell Catholic and Christian truths in a way that’s marketable to everybody."

Duda points out that this project is not an explicitly Catholic film, but it does focus on and address a universal truth: how pride has consequences and is ultimately self-destructive.

"Obviously, that’s something everybody can relate to, Catholic or not," he says. "They can see how pride can be a destructive force in their lives."

The movie centers on the female captain of a spaceship who thinks she can take care of everything herself. Her pride gets her into a situation she can’t get out of on her own, and the story poses the question: Will her pride lead to her demise?

Duda explains why he approached the subject this way: "One of the main reasons we went with a more universal truth is because it’s our first major production. We wanted something that upholds our moral standards and at the same time doesn’t pigeonhole our careers and doesn’t not allow us to work in Hollywood."

This is an approach the college encourages, Duda says: "to try to make films and tell stories that are marketable so we’re not just sitting on the outskirts and making these films for Catholics only."

In the words of the university’s mission and core purpose, the school works to "impact our culture for Christ by forming creators and innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs at the intersections of communications media, business and theology, guided by the spiritual, moral and social teachings of Jesus Christ."

Nick van Lieshout, the scriptwriter and assistant director, is a junior majoring in film production and directing.

He is looking forward to directing projects after graduation and to "go wherever God takes me."

The film’s co-producer, McKenna Daniel, is an MBA graduate student with a concentration in producing.

At Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., as an undergraduate, she studied mass communications and philosophy. After graduation, she worked for a year with Heroic Media, a faith-based pro-life organization that uses media to present hope-filled alternatives to abortion and thus build a culture of life.

Because "Hollywood is (potentially) the biggest megaphone for our faith and witness worldwide," she decided to study at John Paul the Great.

It’s important to tell stories with real heroes, Daniel believes. People in the movie theater can identify with characters and their virtues, and "that’s where people come away with an impact on their life."

Dominic Iocco is the supervising professor and executive producer of the film. Iocco serves as John Paul the Great’s provost. He teaches students that audiences relate to movies in different ways, depending on approach.

"People came out asking themselves a simple question," he says of the animated film Finding Nemo. "Am I a good dad? That, to me, is as effective as it could be for a paying audience."

"On the other side, if The Passion of the Christ came out every year — that scale, that impact, that well done — that would be a great thing," he adds. "But that’s still only two hours out of everybody’s life the entire year. We had The Passion — and the whole world isn’t converting because of that movie. That’s where Christians get into trouble. We want to make a movie that gets everybody to convert instantly."

Iocco believes that, ideally, a film should present something true and beautiful, show people what the truth is, and let truth stand for itself. Then audience members’ own questioning can lead them to conversion.

"The job of the media is not to convert them, but to start them on that process to seek the truth," he says. "That’s the great asset the movies can be."

That approach seems to be what Duda is after: to make movies that entertain but also provoke thought via strong moral themes.

"The culture of Hollywood (is something) many people see as depraved," he says, "but to be Christ’s light in that darkness — I would like to do that."

Joseph Pronechen is the

Register’s staff writer.

Filed under catholic identity, catholic identity college guide, catholic students, filmmaking, john paul the great catholic university