I recently had the opportunity to interview Grassroots Films co-founder Joe Campo. Grassroots Films is known for its documentaries, including The Human Experience and Fishers of Men. Campo is executive producer of the company’s new documentary entitled Outcasts, and the director of The St. Francis House in Brooklyn, New York, which was founded by the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR, in 1967.
Outcasts follows the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal as they work on the streets with the poor and forgotten of New York, New Jersey, Nicaragua, Honduras, England, and Ireland. Campo explained the film-making process, and what it was like to work with the Franciscans. Below is the interview, or you can listen to it on iTunes or SoundCloud.
What is Outcasts about?
Joe: Outcasts is a documentary produced by Grassroots Films about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (CFRs). I’ve been pretty close to the CFRs since 1988, so I kind of feel like I had the inside scoop. People will see the friars doing a lot of work and see them visible in the street, but I’ve had the opportunity to be very close with them and see what happens on the inside—some of the work that they do that people are not aware of.
Some people don’t know who the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal are or what they do. Please explain what you experienced while working with them.
I think the film can explain that much better than I can than in an interview, because seeing is really believing. I want to bring to the screen is how and why they do what they do, and how they sustain themselves. This film is for mature audiences. Lots of people will be surprised when they see some of the things in this film. Some instances have literally kept our editors, producers, writers, and directors up at night. We just can’t go back to sleep after we witnessed some of the things we did.
Some of it was quite depressing. Some of the guys were ill from doing the film. But we chose this life, and this is what we do. We wanted to bring reality to all of this—a realness, an authenticity to this. After you watch all this, you wonder how the friars do it and discover how they do it.
The film is an emotional roller-coaster. There are many surprises and many ups and downs.
What is your job and how do you work with the Franciscan Friars on a daily basis?
I’m also the director of The St. Francis House in Brooklyn. The house was opened for young men who need a second chance in life. I’m connected to the Friars through that particular apostolate. I also used to be the director of Youth 2000 New York, which is a Eucharistic-centered retreat for young people ages 15-30. So the Friars were our main speakers at that retreat, and they really have helped the St. Francis House over the last 50 years.
Whose idea was it to make this documentary and why?
There are many other films and videos and on YouTube and throughout the world that others have done about the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. It was my idea to do this so that I would be able to really put something out there that no one else has ever done. The Friars gave me permission to do the film, and we just went to town on it.
As you were filming, what was your reaction when you saw the Franciscans’ work firsthand?
I was shocked. I was not on every location, thank God. I don’t think I would have survived it. But I had the opportunity to do some of the filming right here in this particular area (New York), which is a very important piece of the film. I was quite surprised and quite shocked. It was haunting in some cases. But I think it’s information that needs to be brought to the front so people can see what the friars do.
Do you think people of other faiths (besides Catholics) will see this film, or have they already?
I didn’t make the film just for Catholics. It is our hope that many, many different religions will see and like this film. The friars happen to be Catholic…but it’s not an overly Catholic film. I’m not even sure if the word Catholic appears in the film. It’s really about the people that the friars help more than it is about the friars themselves. So you really enter into these people’s lives on a personal, deep level. Then you see how the Friars, of course, help them.
People don’t realize why people go for food at the friary. Some people may think it is because they are hungry, but actually that’s not it at all. They just want companionship and the friars offer that. It’s explained in the film and that’s why I urge people to see it.
What do you hope viewers will take from this film?
I hope it changes them in a profound way to be better people—to be more compassionate to people. We’re releasing this film in the year of what the Holy Father called the Year of Mercy. Hopefully that when people see this film, it will be the film for the Year of Mercy. I’m hoping that people will be edified, will find mercy for other people, and just learn about how the other half lives—mostly the poor and the forgotten, who have always had a spot in my heart. Hopefully they become better people by seeing this.
What has been the response from people who have already seen it?
We showed it in April to about 400 people in New York City. It was an instant hit. People loved it. I wasn’t sure how well it was going to go over because it was the first screening and you never know how these things will go. I watched it so many times I wasn’t even sure if it was a good film or not, to be honest with you. I was so close to it. But everyone laughed in the right places, everyone cried in the right places, and everyone clapped in the right places.
When we put the trailer up on Facebook, we received about 100,000 hits in 3 ½ days. I really feel the film has meaning. Films offer the potential for art to open up theological possibilities. A lot of this deals with the hidden aspect of the human person, so we explored the human condition with creativity, and mostly compassion and respect. We wanted to do this through storytelling for this film Outcasts.
If there was one thing that you’d like to say about this documentary, what would it be?
Film is increasingly becoming a major way of telling stories as a society, and because of that, you should see this film and give yourself the opportunity to make your life better and to make other people’s lives better.
Where can you see the film?
I don’t think it’s actually going to make a theater run, but we’re working on distribution.
People can call us up and request a screening and we go out with a Franciscan Friar and one of the guys from the production company with Grassroots Films. People will watch the film and then we will do a question and answer at the end of it. We will be available for that. If anyone wants one, they can just call us.
Note: This film is for mature audiences.