For God and Families
Films featuring children bring Catholic message home
Gather together one hundred or more kids outfitted in French Revolution period dress, place them on opposing sides in an open field, equip them with swords, knives, rifles and a cannon, and give the order, “Action!” What do you get? A scene that looks something like a real battle, after a little skillful editing, in a new independent film “The War of the Vendee.”
This scene and so many imaginative and moving ones like it are the brainchild of Jim Morlino, a former actor and now full-time filmmaker who founded Navis Pictures to tell Catholic stories with children actors. It sounds a bit wacky, but the finished films are surprisingly professional, informative and inspiring. Morlino even enlisted the services of a professional composer to write the score and record it with a full orchestra at Warner Bros. Studios.
An earlier film on Bernadette of Lourdes features one of Morlino’s daughters playing very convincingly the French peasant saint.
Morlino, 53, lives with his wife, Frances, and their six children in Danbury, Conn. He holds a BA in Music from University of San Diego, and an MFA in Drama from University of California, San Diego. He spoke with Fathers for Good about his unusual projects.
Fathers for Good: What inspired you to film historical dramas with teens and children as actors?
Jim Morlino: I worked for many years as a professional actor and then as a documentary film producer for various Catholic charities. When I got married and started having children, the last thing I wanted to do at the end of a 12-hour day was make more movies with my children (the cobbler’s children never have shoes syndrome). But the family persisted, and one thing led to another, and we started making some short films around the house. Early on, I was struck by the innocence, and wonder the children brought to the set. Many of their “untrained” performances were quite strong – even compelling. So, we kept growing, and within a few years we were making feature length films with hundreds of Catholic children.
Our first major effort, “St. Bernadette of Lourdes”, produced in 2009, has since been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Remember, the cast is entirely made up of young Catholics playing all the roles! In late 2010 I began writing the script for The War of the Vendee. There were about 35 days of principal photography (spread out over the entire summer) with additional photography lasting through the fall. The film took about three months to edit, and was finally released in March of 2012. Last year, it won “Best Film For Young Audiences” from a film festival headquartered at the Vatican!
FFG: We all know St. Bernadette and Lourdes, but why the Vendee?
Jim Morlino: Perhaps precisely because it was an unknown story. The Reign of Terror is only the tip of the iceberg in the horrors of the French Revolution. Catholic churches throughout France were closed and desecrated, priests and nuns arrested and executed by the thousands, there was a complete government takeover of the Church, ending in one of the first state-sponsored acts of genocide, with as many as 300,000 dead defending the faith. Yet most of the world (France included) has never heard a word of this.
FFG: Your own children appear in the films. Tell us about your family life and faith life.
Jim Morlino: All six of my children appear in “The War of the Vendee” (along with 250 of their closest friends).I wrote, directed, and edited the film, and my wife Fran did most of the costumes – Navis Pictures is indeed a family business. But it’s more than just a business. It’s an effort to produce beautiful art that will inspire, educate and entertain not only my own family, but anyone who sees our films. And although my work may be more splashy and visible than that of other fathers, at its root, it’s really no different. All of us are called to bring our faith into every aspect of our lives, whether it’s how we raise our children, how we do our work, or how we treat others.
FFG: What plans do you have for the films or for future films?
Jim Morlino: We’ve recently realized that it’s not enough just to make a good film – promotion is just as important. So at the dinner table the other night, the “Navis Pictures Board” voted me yet another promotion: Head of Marketing. So, for the rest of this year I’ll be traveling the country screening the film at parishes, and attending various Catholic conferences. If we can increase sales sufficiently, we may be able to make another film next year, and we have lots of ideas: the North American Martyrs, the founding of the founding of Baltimore, Maryland, and St. Augustine, Florida, the Battle of Lepanto.
For more information, visit Navispictures.com.