Good will is not enough for Christians working in Hollywood — they also need to achieve a level of excellence that makes them competitive in the industry, says an Italian editor.
Armando Fumagalli is the editor of a new Italian edition of Behind the Screen: Hollywood Insiders on Faith, Film and Culture, a collection of essays previously edited in English by Spencer Lewerenz and Barbara Nicolosi (Baker Publishing, 2005). The essays aim to illustrate how to live the faith in the hard and competitive world of cinema.
Fumagalli, a professor of semantics at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, spoke with Zenit news service about why Christians must be ready and willing to “learn from the best.”
What are Christians doing in Hollywood? Are they helping to raise standards?
We are speaking about Hollywood because the products made there are sent throughout the world. But the presence of Christians in European cinema is — if possible — even less than in Hollywood.
As usual, among Christians there are those who are more or less good, more or less qualified. But the interesting question is, on the one hand, to ask ourselves: Why have there been so few in the last 10 years or so?
Even more interesting is what Barbara Nicolosi is trying to do: trying to get people of faith to be highly qualified, with high professional standards, to be able to work in this competitive market, to bring another voice to the dialogue among cultures and various visions of the world that we see in cinema and television.
It is not enough to have good intentions; we must also be professionals. For me, as for Barbara Nicolosi, many movie scripts seem to be written with the best of intentions but they are of very low professional quality.
Christians, as with other professionals, must have humility and patience to learn from the best.
What are the differences between Catholics in the industry and Christians of other denominations?
One thing that struck me when I read the book in English was the spontaneous unity between Christians of various denominations who work in the movie industry.
In a world that is so far from God and that is in need of the spiritual dimension, the differences among Christians naturally disappear. The book seemed, right away, to be a beautiful example of “lived” ecumenism.
But I must also say that, in the writings of Protestant authors, you can notice a lack of sure doctrinal references on certain important ethical questions. They do not have a magisterium, or at least they don’t have the clarity that we Catholics have.
I felt compassion for these people who wanted to do good for others. And, once again, I realized the great treasure we Catholics have in the magisterium.
Why does America, which is “profoundly religious” as it says in the book, offer us so many films with so much blood and violence?
In part, it depends on their culture. They have only been a country for a few centuries, and for many decades of their history it was a sort of “no man’s land” in which the law of the survival of the fittest often won out.
We must not let ourselves be duped by the idyllic images we see in the movies. In the 1960s in some of the states in America they were still lynching blacks, just to make an example of them.
The Christian faith — but also in the movies, I am convinced — was and will be an element of education and transformation toward a less violent society.
This “rough” culture is reflected in part in American movies, which is more tolerant of violence than European movies.
We must not forget that European cinema has its roots in nihilism and atheism. In American cinema there are still significant traces of spirituality and, very often, from a human point of view, the solutions that are given to the characters’ problems are rooted in a balanced anthropology that has its roots in Judeo-Christian values.
I am thinking of films that are not outwardly religious, such as The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but also a film such as The Truman Show, You’ve Got Mail, The Family Man, Master and Commander, Hitch, Cinderella Man, The Interpreter and more.
Why do we blame Hollywood for the evils of today?
On one hand because it is true that movies and television series, which are the most widespread audiovisual products in the world, are important for presenting models for living.
On the other hand, though, we must not forget that it is the responsibility of everyone to make the workplace the object of prayer but also a place of hard work, of men and women who have at heart the human person and his eternal destiny.
So therefore it is not enough to blame Hollywood for the evils of today. Each one of us must ask himself if he or she can do something to make things better.