Student Film “Precious Blood” Illustrates Church Controversy

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Student Film “Precious Blood” Illustrates Church Controversy

by Peter Mai

The creative heads of the project Precious Blood give their insight into the subject matter and relevance of the film, while others who declined to work on the project express their discomfort in the way that the material was conveyed.

Christopher Weingart, writer and director of the project, explained the premise of Precious Blood. “The overall story is that this young guy enters the seminary only to find out that it is infested with vampires.” Chris incorporated his knowledge of seminarians from his time discerning priesthood in St. Louis, Missouri from 6th-12th grade. He spent his time at discernment retreats and at the local boy’s club talking to the seminarians. “I was really, really invested. This was the place where I’m going. This was going to be my vocation.”

Chris had been trying to write a script about seminarians since freshman year of college. It’s taken various genres with each draft, ranging from comedy to drama to horror. What served as a stepping stone to completing his goal was Archbishop Viganò’s letter, stating how the Church has handled sexual misconduct and the calling for Pope Francis’s resignation from the papacy in late August of 2018. This article challenged Chris because of his Jesuit formation and through the underlying principle of seminarians being told to keep their heads down whenever misconduct happened.

“I’m very interested in [the idea] that this place that should be safe is not safe, and that’s a problem and that’s terrifying. And hence it was the idea of instead of a straightforward drama… what if it was in the style of an old black and white monster movie?” It was new for Chris as a genre in terms of writing and directing.

While he was writing, he was keeping up with all the media coverage of the Church scandal. He struggled with the content, but loved the main idea that stuck out to him: “Do you leave [the Catholic Church] or do you love it enough to stay and fight?” That phrase helped Chris with the heart of the story, which he describes as, “…a young man who loves the Church that he’s even though it’s destroyed him so much, he’s going to fight.”

Sophie Flemings, Director of Photography and Chris Weingart’s creative partner, talked about her opinion regarding the recent scandal within the faith. “Catholics shouldn’t be afraid to face the things that are hard to deal with, the things that we’re scared of. How are things going to get better if you constantly hide from what is evil? The Church, in its perfect state, should be a safe haven and it’s terrifying to confront the fact that she’s not. That the evil that’s out in the world is present among us in the people that we least expect it: the clergy. I understand the fear and not wanting to deal with it and wishing that it’s not true because it shouldn’t be but that’s what I think perpetuates it. We enable the abusers by not being active about stopping them and taking courage.”

“Personally, I don’t think that it [the film] is at all saying something about the issues of the Church. It illustrates it,” Sophie says.

Marielle Cuccinelli, first assistant director, fight choreographer, and producer of Precious Blood, says that the heads of the project all had an intense desire to see the problem in the Church fixed. “I think that Catholics being too uncomfortable to tackle this subject in the Church is why the scandal was possible.” Marielle believes that the message the film leaves its audience with is true and imperative for Catholics to grapple with.

Students who declined to work on the project felt that although the film had good intentions, they didn’t agree with how some of the material was being handled.

Timothy Shurtliff, a directing student, gave his insight as to why he declined to work on Precious Blood. “I read it and immediately knew that I wouldn’t be comfortable helping on it… I didn’t feel that it was being discussed or presented in a way that I was comfortable with or that was respectful, from my point of view at least. I felt that it went too much into a gray area that I wasn’t really willing to go myself.” 

Timothy felt like the subject matter would be good to talk about but viewed the script to be extreme. He thought that if the film were viewed by an audience with an uninformed perspective of the Church, it would give them the wrong idea of the Catholic Church.

Timothy, along with other students interviewed by the Pelican, commented on their discomfort of the consecration in the script. They didn’t like how integral the consecration of the Mass was and thought that it wasn’t necessary or done in a tasteful manner.

Chris said that there are two types of people who decline: those that make a snap judgment after reading the script and those who engage and struggle with the material before saying no.

“My perception for most of the people who declined is that they took a surface look and said no. That to me feels like the uncomfortable nature of ‘I don’t want to deal with this because this sounds uncomfortable’ whereas if you engage with it and you come up and you say, ‘I don’t want to do it because of x,y, and z,’ which I respond with, ‘Fair. I appreciate you at least engaging and asking what my approach was to the material’. I know that there are people who declined the project for very valid reasons and I respect that, one hundred percent.”

He doesn’t hold anything against the people who declined on a snap judgment. “It makes me sad, but I understand where they’re coming from because I was in the same spot at one time.”

In the future, Chris wants to see more challenging material be adapted into short films, within the proper context and handling of the material. “I want more complicated subject matter and ‘controversial movies’ being made here, not for the sake of being controversial but dealing with real things. You should always have a reason for what you’re doing. You should always be able to defend what you’re doing, artistically.”

For Chris, Precious Blood was a way for him to show what he was feeling during the scandal with the clergy and wants to share it with others to help spark a positive dialogue. “[Audiences] will be able to access it because it’s a recognizable genre,” says Chris Weingart.

Precious Blood will be finished at the end of this quarter.

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