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'The Arts Can Prepare People for Church'

So Says Barbara Nicolosi, Director of Program for Christian Scriptwriters

VALENCIA, Spain, MAY 6, 2004 ( The film industry won't change with criticism, but with the positive contribution of believers, says the director of a school for Christian scriptwriters in Hollywood.

Barbara Nicolosi, program director of Act One, was interviewed before participating in the first International Symposium on the Cinema, organized by St. Vincent Martyr Catholic University of Valencia. The symposium takes place May 13-15.

Q: What is Act One and what is its mission?

Nicolosi: Act One provides formation, training, mentorships and Christian fellowship for writers and executives who are looking to become part of the mainstream entertainment industry.

We were founded in 1999 and have since evolved many programs that advance the program's keynote values of artistry, professionalism, ethics and spirituality in the context of mainstream Hollywood.

Q: What are the main differences you find nowadays between European and American cinema?

Nicolosi: I am not an expert on European cinema. Clearly, however, the main difference between our cinema and that of the rest of the world's is that ours is more successful at finding and entertaining the global audience. In pretty much every country, American movies are eight of the top 10 at any given time.

American movies tend to reflect a sense of individual destiny that we call "the American dream."

That is, our movies tend to tell stories about the promise and value of the individual person to surmount obstacles and attain to a kind of heroism that in some way heals the world. This makes our stories very compelling for people.

American movies also pay a great deal of attention to the needs of the audience. It's less about an artist expressing himself or herself, and more about what we call "the contract with the audience."

That is, the goal of our cinema is to take the audience on some kind of emotional journey in which they will be engaged intellectually and emotionally. I find many European projects much more about the filmmaker's needs than about serving the audience.

Q: You are going to participate in a symposium where the educational role of cinema will be discussed. Are you sure that the current cinema is educationally oriented in general?

Nicolosi: For a film to work with audiences, there has to be some kind of new information offered to the audience. Aristotle called this the "logos" element of drama. However, it is a mistake to try to make cinema into something it is not.

It is not the best medium to teach particular theological or intellectual formulations. Cinema is at its best when it is providing a meditation to the audience, as opposed to a message.

Q: Do you think that it meets the youngest audience's expectations or specific needs regarding spiritual issues?

Nicolosi: Probably not. It will be up to the filmmakers of the current generation to bring their spiritual questions onto the screen.

The problem is, not too many people who take theology seriously opt to become part of the filmmaking universe.

Religious people are trapped in the mode of criticizing instead of creating. I find media criticism pretty much useless. You really have to earn the right to criticize by putting your own artistic efforts out there first.

Q: Do you think that cinema is able to be an active player for religious teaching purposes? In this sense, do you prefer films offering religious-related information -- historical facts, saints' lives, etc. -- or those ones including topics or values from the point of view of Christian faith?

Nicolosi: The goal is never going to be to replace what needs to happen at church. We will always need churches. In the same way, we will always needs arts and entertainment.

The arts can prepare people for church. They can lead people to the Church. They can deepen what happens at church. But a movie theater is never going to be a substitute for the Church.

People of faith have much more to offer the creative communities than just sacred art. If our faith is true, it has something to say about every area of human life.

The Church's preoccupation is always to have a "preferential option for the poor." In terms of cinema, who are the poor? The corporate world, advertising world and artistic worlds are all well-represented in the global culture.

The one group who has no voice is the audience. The Church could and should represent the needs of the viewing public, asking questions that only we can ask, and providing guidance that is informed by our faith.

Questions like: What is the role of entertainment in human development? What is healthy entertainment? What is the role of the artist in society, and what is the authentic prophetic role of the arts? How should the sacredness of the human person affect dramatic content, and even the way dramas are produced? What does the theology of the body have to say about the portrayal of sex and violence on the screen?

We have things to say to the secular world about all of these things. We don't need to make reference to God to share our insights in these areas. We just need to translate what we have to say to people who do not speak our language.


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