“St Josemaria is a great communicator because you can tell he walks the talk”
November 10, 2008
Juan Martin Ezratty directed a series of documentaries showing St Josemaria in dialogue with Argentinians. “Impelled by his Words”, “Love for Freedom” and “Learning to Love” include original images of the St Josemaria, the Opus Dei founder, in Buenos Aires during his stay in Argentina in 1974, interspersed with accounts by people who met him personally or knew him through his writings. In this interview, Ezratty answers questions on his work and motivations.
What is the underpinning theme of your series of documentaries on St Josemaria?
It’s a series of short films that grow progressively more intense. First, solidarity; next, freedom; and now charity, as the center of Christian living.
I like to see them as a challenge. In the first one, I wanted to show some of the many projects promoting the dignity of the human person that have arisen in Argentina in response to St Josemaria’s message. There are so many, and they are so different from one another, that it was a complicated one to make, but after working on it for a long time it turned out as “Impelled by his Words”.
After that I was asked to tackle a new subject: freedom. It was so broad it seemed hard to get hold of. We did it by taking testimonies from people who showed specifically how the Opus Dei faithful are free, autonomous, whether at work, in their social life, whatever. When we premiered “Love for Freedom” at the National Library in Buenos Aires, one of the viewers said when she most liked was the way St Josemaria emphasized charity, how he focused on love. And that kick-started the next topic, as a continuation of freedom. Without freedom, obviously you can’t love. So by the end of the first showing of “Love for Freedom” we already had the idea for “Learning to Love”.
Charity is quite a broad topic too. How did you focus that one?
I read lots of Gospel passages where Jesus Christ speaks about love for your neighbor. I also read the Pope’s Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, and some chapters of St Josemaria’s book The Way. In all of them I found the idea of forgetting yourself, and of loving God, and other people in God. I also asked other people what they understood by charity and I got to understanding – that even more than giving, charity means understanding people. Finally, when we brainstormed it, we came up with the idea of presenting charity as the solution to conflict. Around those three hinges we put together the framework for the documentary.
How did you go about selecting and recording the testimonies?
At the start it was hard to sort out who to include. On the first sweep we wanted really holy people who practiced the virtue of charity in very differing situations. So as well as St Josemaria, we thought of Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
But then we decided that it was important to show ordinary people, who try hard to practice charity and ask God for help when it gets really tough. I loved that idea. I reckon people sometimes see saints as superheroes, and I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to have something that’s outside of your everyday experience.
We filmed interviews in several cities in Argentina. We’d spend a bit of time chatting with each person first, so they relaxed and felt confident about speaking on camera. That sort of spontaneous, unstructured conversation is what you see in the finished product. What I find most striking was that people who had a heavy cross to bear like Silvana Lopez Gabeiras and Guillermina de Gallo, were the ones who said things like, “I’m happier now than I was before.” I have to admit, I’m still trying to get to grips with the mystery of the Cross.
Why is each documentary shorter than the one before?
My Mum always gets mad because she says my videos are too short, she wants to see more. Obviously I can’t expect everyone to be like my Mum. When I make videos I try and see them like a practice run: I take a subject and look for an interesting angle on it that will start people thinking, make them reflect. It’s like starting a song for other people to take up and sing on their own, with their own style and pitch.
I aim for the aesthetics, the music, and the length to connect with the new languages in media. In today’s YouTube, video-clips and adverts culture, “less is more”.
What makes St Josemaria a “communicator”?
There was a high-flying advertising exec who saw the documentaries and his verdict was: “What counts in this is St Josemaria”. I think St Josemaria is such a great communicator because you can tell he walks the talk, what he says is genuine. Which is why people were so ready to tell him about their personal problems in front of a crowd of strangers, because they got a deeply personal answer from him. I have to say that communicating with St Josemaria really helps my work.
How long does it take you to make a documentary about St Josemaria?
What viewers see is just a short video, but that’s the sum of lots of different factors –work on the photography, framing the shots, editing and continuity, producing the art and the music, everything. For this recent short, I’d like to pay tribute to my colleagues Martin Gutierrez and Eugenio Marzorati.