NEW YORK — Think of David DiCerto and Steven Greydanus as the Catholic “Siskel & Ebert.” They won’t mind. When DiCerto first pitched the idea for “Reel Faith,” a weekly Catholic movie-review program, to New York’s NET-TV, that’s exactly how he described it.
“As a Catholic film critic, I always felt movie-review shows like ‘Siskel & Ebert,’ while entertaining, were missing something: the most important thing,” says DiCerto, whose insight and creativity help drive the show as it’s co-host. “[They] rarely made mention of how the film commented on the world.”
There’s no arguing that films both reflect and influence culture. Even during a recession, people continue to attend movies. Box office receipts for 2009 show that $1.42 billion in tickets were sold — the highest total gross in five years.
“Movies are much more than entertainment; in the words of Pope John Paul II, they are ‘communicators of culture and values’ — both good and bad,” DiCerto says. “I felt it was imperative that Catholics have a voice they can trust, one that is fair-minded but faithful, one that would address the moral as well as the artistic dimensions of movies so that moviegoers can make informed judgments about what films are appropriate for them and their families.”
‘Film Reviews You Can Have Faith In’
That’s what viewers get with each half-hour episode of “Reel Faith,” which is also available online. It pairs former U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Film and Broadcasting film critic DiCerto with National Catholic Register film critic Steven D. Greydanus, as well as a regular segment by Father Robert Lauder, who takes a look at classic films from the Vatican’s “45 Great Films List.” The show’s tagline sums it up: “Film reviews you can have faith in.”
“Most other movie-review shows don’t address the religious aspect of films,” notes Byron Johnson, brand manager for NET-TV. “They give a film five stars, yet it’s a film you would never want your children to see. Many of these shows have no moral compass or a compass that relates to what Catholics believe.”
In that sense, “Reel Faith” offers something that isn’t being offered anywhere else.
“I realized that there really wasn’t anything like it, at least not in a TV format,” says DiCerto.
The show is styled much after “Siskel & Ebert.” DiCerto and Greydanus utilize the interior of a Brooklyn movie theater for the show’s filming, sitting in the theater’s signature red seats to view clips from two or three films and discuss the films from their perspective and the perspective of the Church.
The Voice of the Church
“The conversational tone of TV gives us the opportunity to pepper our conversation with relevant points from Church documents, such as the documents of the Second Vatican Council,” says Greydanus.
“We try to incorporate discussion on what the Church has to say about topics that a movie might deal with, whether that be human sexuality, family relations, bioethics or free will,” adds DiCerto. “Of course, we also provide any concerned parent with a moral assessment of any problematic content, including violence, foul language, profanity and sexual content.”
But that doesn’t mean ignoring films that might be considered offensive.
“We see our mission as commenting on problematic films as well as recommending films we like,” says Greydanus. “We don’t want to shy away from a film just because it has problematic content.”
“The Church needs to be in the thick of things, making its voice heard and providing guidance on both the positive and the negative things projected onto movie screens,” explains DiCerto. “It is essential that we provide Catholics with the information to enable them to clearly articulate why they consider a movie offensive.”
For example, in a recent episode of “Reel Faith,” DiCerto and Greydanus reviewed the films Inception, Despicable Me and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. They compared director Christopher Nolan’s Inception to a Greek tragedy, pointing out that the film contains tremendous action violence as well as the problematic theme of main characters who are trying to sabotage a person’s free will and violating the dignity of the human person.
New Evangelization Television
NET-TV launched in 1988 as The Prayer Channel. In 2008, it was rebranded as New Evangelization Television (see related story). It’s available in New York City on the Cablevision and Time-Warner cable networks, as well as streaming online at NetNY.net. The signal is available in at least 1.8 million homes throughout New York City. In addition, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 people around the world watch the network’s online content each day.
The network’s lineup includes the daily Catholic news program “Currents,” the Emmy-nominated “Mysteries of the Church,” children’s programming, daily Mass from the Cathedral of St. James, and much more.
“Reel Faith” is wrapping up its initial 12-week run. If successful, its hosts hope it will continue for another 12 weeks and longer.
“Six months ago this show was just a concept, but now it’s part of our summer show schedule,” notes Johnson. “It’s doing ‘Reel’ good; in fact, it’s one of our more popular shows. It helps that both of the hosts are already known and have their own blogs and websites where they can talk up the show.”
Both DiCerto and Greydanus are hopeful that NET might continue the show more permanently.
“I am convinced that there is a vital need for a show like ‘Reel Faith’ so that Catholic viewers have an alternative resource to mainstream secular reviews,” says DiCerto.
DiCerto referenced Pope John Paul II’s 1995 World Communications Day Message, where the Holy Father reminded the Catholic media of its responsibility to educate the faithful, singling out film literacy as vital to the mission of the Church.
Adds DiCerto, “What we’re trying to do is no different than what Archbishop Fulton Sheen did: Use popular media to evangelize and spread the Gospel message.”
Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.