Monday, December 26, 2011

The Way: “It Says Something About Our Humanity”

The Oscar race is on, and according to one handicapper, the early favorites for Best Picture include “The Help,” “The Descendants,” “The Artist,” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” I haven’t seen any of them yet, but I’m still willing to bet that you could throw them all in a bag and weigh them against one slow, little movie and the bag would come up short. That movie is “The Way,” Emilio Estevez’s film about the Camino de Santiago, starring his father, Martin Sheen.

It’s the little movie I wrote about here and here, a movie dear to my heart because I am going to walk the Way of St. James this spring with my daughter. This morning I ran across a brief interview with Martin Sheen in a New York Times blog post by Melena Ryzik, and it prompted this update.

Did you know that the former Ramón Antonio Gerard Estévez took his screen name partly in honor of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen? That has nothing to do with the movie, but read on.

More non-“Way” trivia: Did you know that in his early 20s Martin Sheen borrowed money from a Catholic priest to try his luck as an actor in New York, only to meet Dorothy Day and go to work for the Catholic Worker? Have I got your Catholic attention now? Keep reading.

Produced with borrowed money, “The Way” made only $110,418 in its opening weekend but has now grossed $4 million to date, according to Ryzik’s blog post.

About that borrowed money—Prodigal son Charlie Sheen “came through with the dough for it” at a critical moment, according to his father. That recent story appeared in the UK’s Catholic Herald.

In her interview, Ryzik asked Sheen about the people who showed up for the film’s promotional tour (a cross-country bus marathon headmanned by Sheen and Estevez). It took time for Catholics to stand up and be counted:

“We had an agency,” Sheen said, “they called focus groups and they said this film should appeal to Christians and so they would bring in fundamentalists, a lot who were very scrupulous and they loved it because there was no cursing and violence, they felt comfortable. But then more traditional Catholics began to support it.

“The Archdiocese here [in New York City] supported it very much and we began to get a groundswell of support among these communities on the Internet. That’s how it started. If we had been a studio film and had gotten this reaction, the film would be an enormous financial success because they could have poured a bunch of dough on it, TV, radio ads and make it a must-see and people would have felt they’d miss something if they hadn’t seen it. But we’re not a studio, we did it ourselves. We have this little company that distributes and that’s about it. We pay all the bills.”

Asked if Big Hollywood pays more attention to small films when a film like “The Way” gets traction, Sheen said:

“I would say that they don’t give a whole lot of special attention specifically to it. They make a lot of dumb things that make a lot of money, but those dumb things don’t win awards and they can’t brag about it so they make enough films that are about people and relationships. ‘The Help’ is one. Hollywood, I think they like very much to see our film succeed because it will draw more real independent filmmaking to studios.

“It takes a whole committee to make a ‘Superman’ or ‘Iron Man.’ They’re not made by a guy with a big heart, they’re made by a committee with a lot of dough and some creative people thrown in. All those studios would prefer to be connected with ‘The Help’ than they would the other big films because it says something more, I think, about our humanity.”

In this recent PBS interview with Tavis Smiley, Estevez calls his father “the most generous man I have ever known in my life.” Sheen calls the part his son wrote for him “the best part I’ve had in 30 years.”

Finally, check out this YouTube video made by a professor at Virginia Tech, with the help of a few friends, with which he (successfully) persuaded Sheen and Estevez to visit Blacksburg on their promotional tour. Incidentally, the prof’s nickname is The Plaid Avenger.

1 comment:

  1. I just saw this movie last night. Great movie! My favorite Catholic movies are ones that really open the human drama, bringing you to a point where a question emerges - it's at this point that one can really consider the answer in Christ. Really great movies do not ask the question for you, but they make it relevant.

    I wish I could join you this summer!

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