Internet Breathes New Life into Films

Of the roughly 2,000 movies that get made each year, only a few hundred actually make it to the screen. Some end up being released straight to DVD. Others, without a distributor, don’t get released at all. The Internet is changing all that.

“The Internet has given a whole new life to film,” said Sister Helena Burns, a former film student and Daughter of St. Paul, a religious order devoted to spreading the Gospel using the media. “With the advent of YouTube and Netflix there are multiple channels for movies to be downloaded. A film can have many lives.”

In the interest of breathing new life into some films, here are four films - three with obviously Catholic themes - that you’ve most likely never seen. The first two are past films, the second is a present film trying to find a distributor, and the third is one that’s currently in production.

The first is 2001’s Delivering Milo. Featuring Bridget Fonda and Albert Finney, this movie with a pro-life theme is about a guardian angel (Finney) who has 24 hours to convince a soul – Milo – that life is worth living.

The movie didn’t make it to theaters, but was licensed by United Airlines to be shown in-flight. It was one of the in-flight movies on September 11, 2001.

“Over half of Delivering Milo takes place in Manhattan, and the World Trade Center Towers are seen prominently in several scenes,” said producer Heide Levitt. “The terrorist attacks triggered such a powerful emotional response that there was concern that this visual might set the wrong mood for an otherwise light-hearted comedy. It got to the point that the major U.S. studios were afraid to release a film about ‘hope’ that also showed images of the World Trade Center.”

Not content to let the film sit on the shelf collecting dust, the producers entered it into the 2002 Heartland Film Festival where it won the Best Family Film of 2002. Eventually, U.S. DVD distributor Hannover House released it on DVD in June, 2005.

The second film is the largely forgotten Wide Awake, the first major film by M. Night Shyamalan (yes, that Shyamalan, of The Sixth Sense fame). Featuring Robert Loggia and Rosie O’Donnell (don’t let that dissuade you), it’s the story of a boy at a Catholic school who finds himself questioning God, a theme that resurfaced in Shyamalan’s later Mel Gibson movie, Signs. Given that Shyamalan attended Catholic grade school, this was a personal film for him. Unlike his other films, it’s not a thriller, but it does have a supernatural element, and a characteristic Shyamalan twist at the end.

The third film, which is currently seeking a distributor, is 2009’s The Mighty Macs.  Inspired by a true story, it tells the tale of Immaculata University’s unlikely win of the first national collegiate women’s basketball championship in 1972. It features Oscar-winning actress Ellen Burstyn.

Sister Burns said that the director decided to make the film because he was tired of the way that Hollywood treats Catholics.

Finally, a film that’s still in production, is Cristiada. Director Dean Wright is currently filming the epic film in Mexico. The film, about the 1926-29 Cristeros War that erupted after the government outlawed the Church, features an all-star cast, including Andy Garcia, Peter O’Toole, Eva Longoria Parker, and Eduardo Verastegui. Few people are aware of the persecution that the Church endured within the last century in our own hemisphere.

It used to be that film-goers only had word-of-mouth and print stories to learn of soon-to-be released films. Today, the Internet is used not only to get films in front of audiences, but also to create a future audience for the film and a “buzz” months, and even years, before it’s even released.

Wright is keeping a blog that offers behind-the-scenes photographs and stories from the Cristiada shoot. Here’s a video from the first day of shooting.

According to Wright, the film weaves a narrative thread through the lives of the military and political leaders involved in the Cristero uprising, with Ruben Blades playing General Plutarco Calles, whose opposition to Catholicism led to the uprising.

Wright, who worked on the last two “Lord of the Rings” films,  told Variety that he was unfamiliar with the story, but became intrigued after reading J. Michael Love’s script last year. NewLand Films hopes to release the movie in late 2011.