National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Catholic Heroes Fight for Religious Freedom

Navis Pictures’ 1793-Based War of the Vendee Features 256 Young People

BY Joseph Pronechen

Register Staff Writer

March 25-April 7, 2012 Issue | Posted 3/15/12 at 5:06 PM


Navis Pictures has released its second film, The War of the Vendee.

It was released on DVD Feb. 24 — a significant date, as it marked the 219th anniversary of the infamous 1793 French Revolution decree to conscript an army of 300,000 to fight wars triggered by the execution of King Louis XVI.

The king’s death, following in the wake of the revolution’s Reign of Terror, provoked the fiercely loyal and strongly Catholic peasants of the Vendee region in western France to take up arms. Influenced by St. Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort, the Vendee (pronounced Von-day) peasants carried their rosaries as they waged a counter-revolution to restore their religion and the throne.

Jim Morlino, Navis’ founder, assembled a cast of 256 young people for this “mini” epic full of exceptional performances.

You used a children’s cast to great success in St. Bernadette of Lourdes. How did that become an asset in this film?

Most of the kids are not playing too far removed from their actual age. They were closer to type than you might expect. To be historically accurate would require actors perhaps only 10 years older. The Vendee uprising was a young movement, by and large. Many of the most important leaders and generals in the French Catholic resistance were very, very young men, as young as 18 or in their early 20s, up to 30. That played in our favor.

Also, what we try to do is cast to age in a relatively proportionate manner. Relatively proportionate casting means some of the older actors play the older roles; the younger actors are cast in the roles of their children. ...

If you treat young people seriously and carefully lay out the truth of the drama or story for them, and they understand it, then, many times, they are able to infuse the script with great honesty — because it comes from a place of innocence. As a director, I don’t have to fight through years of acquired baggage, as I might if working with adult actors.

Why does the believability of the performances come through so remarkably and so emotionally?

The believability of this comes through because every moment and line is infused with Catholic truth — this sobering realization that these people gave their lives willingly to protect what you and I take for granted on a daily basis: namely, the right to worship God freely. So when the Vendeans unflinchingly take up arms to defend their Church and their priest, that’s a very moving thing for me as a Catholic to think about.

How many of us will be called upon to have a real martyrdom? We have a white martyrdom and have these real struggles, but not to the extent these people did, when simply practicing their faith was a death sentence for thousands and thousands of them.

Maybe Catholics around the world should pin on the Sacred Heart badges the Vendeans wore and fight for the Church and freedom of religion, thereby honoring and being inspired by these great Catholics (from) only 200 years ago. Their story is an inspiration to all Catholics who try to defend the faith.

Why did you choose this story?

Basically, before we started, nobody knew this story. That’s what prompted me to do it. Like many Catholics, I had a very vague understanding that the French Revolution was not all that it was cracked up to be. It had a dark underbelly, but I didn’t know the details. I had a vague idea the Reign of Terror was the manifestation of the dark forces driving the Revolution. That’s all I knew.

When I discovered that all French didn’t just roll over and play dead when the Revolution happened, I was astounded. The fact is: Many of the people in the western part of France formed by St. Louis de Montfort 70 years earlier immediately recognized they had no choice. They had to fight evil.

How many Vendeans were affected?

The estimates are 400,000 dead out of an estimated 1 million people living in that region. The French government decided to annihilate them and committed unbelievable atrocities in one of the first acts of state-sponsored genocide. French soldiers went through the countryside killing every priest and nun and every man, woman and child they found, and burning all the buildings, killing the livestock, poisoning the wells to erase the memory of these people. …

The French peasants of 1789 didn’t have an easy life, but compared to other European peasantry, they had it pretty good. They were hardworking, faithful, peace-loving folk. Then a small group of Enlightenment politicians who hated the Catholic Church and imposed their will on the rest of the country murdered anyone who got in their way, all in the name of “Fraternity, Equality, Liberty.”

I did lots of research about the Reign of Terror and the war and came away firmly believing there had to be an element of demonic influence on the architects of the French Revolution. That’s why we make the suggestion in the film.

Do you see timely aspects in what’s going on in today’s world?

I didn’t set out a year ago thinking this would be an allegory of the religious persecution going on in our country. It brings a new significance to our little film. It’s a perfect but unfortunate parallel, the difference being,

God willing, none of us will have to lay down our lives. But who knows?

For your small budget, the production values are outstanding. How did you get such an award-winning-caliber musical score?

After we posted the trailer for Bernadette, before the movie had even been released, I received an email from a gentleman who introduced himself as Kevin Kaska, a Hollywood orchestrator, conductor and composer. He was very impressed by what we had done on Bernadette and offered his future assistance because he was a Catholic and wanted to do something for the Church.

When I clicked on his website, my jaw dropped. He is a master orchestrator and composer, very successful, not the least of which is working with John Williams himself. He conducted the Boston Pops with Williams for years.

When Kevin saw the rough cut, he got even more excited. He seemed to recognize immediately that this was the kind of film any composer would jump at the chance to score because it contains all the elements — drama, humor, epic scale, tragedy and romance — all these great emotions and virtues that make for an exciting and rich score.

He’s just taken that to the nth degree and written a score that rivals anything his mentors have put out. I wouldn’t be surprised if the score itself receives recognition above and beyond our little film.

How would you summarize the film?

Vendee is a thoroughly Catholic movie and has this unique quality of appealing to Catholic families because of the nature of the cast. Young people love to watch other young people perform, so young Catholics will eat this up.

At the same time, adults will see in the film a ray of hope for the future of the Church and a face of the future of the Church.


Register staff writer Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.

To order the DVD or CD of the musical score, visit