22 Aug Militant Catholic Film-Maker
He’s a coal miner’s son from the far west of England. Today, he’s making compelling docu-dramas which compete with the best in the business – on both sides of the Atlantic – for America’s EWTN Network. Come along with REGINA as we explore the wonderful world of award-winning film-maker Stefano Mazzeo.
This is an unofficial trailer that EWTN are allowed me to publish to coincide with interviews and requests for information on the project. The series premiered by EWTN in October of 2016 and is a four episode docudrama. It was filmed across Europe in 2015 and was completed in early 2016. It is perhaps our most ambitious yet with live action drama sequences performed by professional and semi-professional actors and re-enactors.
REGINA: Please tell us about your youth.
STEFANO MAZZEO: My father is an Italian who came to England in the early 50s to work in the Cornish tin mines; he met my mum, a local girl from St Just. My father made sure I was raised as a Catholic and sent me to the local Catholic convent in Penzance as a day boy. After I left secondary education I worked for the Cornishman in Penzance as an apprentice, but art was always my first love so I ended up at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art and Design studying Technical Graphics. Much later I studied Theology at Plater College in Oxford. My degree is in Media Studies through the Open University in England.
REGINA: How did you get into media?
STEFANO MAZZEO: After art college I worked in various studios in England. During this time I became fascinated and a little concerned by the growing decadence portrayed in the media. I would always measure any media content against the gospel. I could see that secular film makers and TV producers were using the arts, music, drama, documentaries, even news and current affairs programmes as multi level platforms to turn our understanding of society and morality completely on its head. This was social engineering on a scale that would make any atheistic totalitarian state proud.
REGINA: Wow, so what did you do about that?
STEFANO MAZZEO: I felt that watching secular TV was incompatible with being a Christian and gave up the television, formed an apostolate called CUT (Catholics Unplug your Television) with an Irish friend and a prayer crusade in which every member chose a saint as a “battle buddy” who we could would invoke against any nefarious media event, and to bring our intentions before the Holy Trinity. We also adopt celebrities and pray for them.
REGINA: And how did you meet EWTN?
STEFANO MAZZEO: At about the same time as I formed CUT, I met a delegation from EWTN and St Clare Media – EWTN at the 2006 Faith of Our Fathers conference in London. We got talking and they were interested in my ideas; basically, I wanted to employ the secular media's techniques but to give a true picture about the Catholic Church and its history. They suggested I put forward a proposal for a documentary. This became “Wales, the Golden Thread of Faith.”
REGINA: What projects have you done for EWTN?
STEFANO MAZZEO: I have now made four films for EWTN and I am working on my fifth, “The Message of Fatima“. The first was called Wales, the Golden Thread of Faith on the history of the Catholic Church in Wales. I wanted to explore early Celtic Christianity with its strong loyalty to Rome in the face of pagan invasions from Northern Europe. I went through the ages of Welsh history, which was strongly Catholic until the persecutions of the Reformation; even then there was a strong Catholic recusant presence in Wales.
REGINA: You are from Cornwall, which is near Wales, right?
STEFANO MAZZEO: Yes, I also managed to weave in a little about the Cornish cousins of the Welsh who actually rebelled because the Mass had been changed and then translated from the Latin which they could understand into English, which they could not. (The Cornish had their own language.) They rebelled in 1549 but lost the fight and there then followed the ethnic cleansing of Cornish and Devonshire Catholics. In Wales there were many Martyrs. I wrote a play about St Richard Gwynn in the hope that it would be included in the middle of the series but in the end we found we had to axe it due to costs.
REGINA: How did the Wales project turn out?
STEFANO MAZZEO: The Wales docudrama proved to be a success and EWTN asked to me to write and produce a series on the Crusades. Again I would use the docudrama format to tell this complex story, and to do it justice I felt we needed good visuals. I wanted to explore the various characters of the Crusades so we staged various little drama sequences, for example St Francis meeting sultan Al Kamil.
REGINA: Yes, it’s an astonishing historical fact that Francis did meet the Sultan!
STEFANO MAZZEO: Most people today seem to think that St Francis was sympathetic to the Muslims but this is nonsense. What actually happened was St Francis tried to convert the Sultan to Christianity. St Francis believed this would be the only way to stop the battle.
REGINA: Speaking of historical controversies, is it true you’re taking on the Inquisition?
STEFANO MAZZEO: Yes. Our latest docudrama “The Inquisition” will be broadcast in October. It is perhaps our most ambitious yet. Here I should give special thanks to Triptych Productions, and the Crusade re-enactment group.
REGINA: And what should we expect to see?
STEFANO MAZZEO: It is going to be surprising to many that the Inquisition actually saved lives. In fact like the Crusades the myths of the Inquisition was largely created by Northern Protestant countries as a stick to beat the Catholic Church with in order to cement nationalism and the so-called Reformation. It is known in Spain as the ‘Black Legend’.
REGINA: You filmed this on location? And you interviewed some interesting people on this, too.
STEFANO MAZZEO: Yes, we filmed Spain’s Semana Santa (‘Holy Week’) penitential processions. We were very pleased to have leading historians involved such as Professors Madden and Smith of St Louis University, and Professor Phillips of Royal Holloway in London. Cardinal Raymond Burke gave us an interesting interview as well.
REGINA: Tell us about the in search of Christendom series. What inspired it?
STEFANO MAZZEO: Films for Christendom was a natural progression. My filmmaking philosophy is to produce films that make orthodox and traditional Catholics understand their faith and the history of the Church, as is EWTN's own ethos.
So often our history is being told by un-sympathetic secular filmmakers who more often than not, are very economical with the truth.
There is very little to be ashamed about in Church history and much to be proud of. The Crusades for example saved Christendom at a time when two thirds had been overrun by Islam. As Professor Madden of St Louis University said their way of converting Christians “…was all by the sword”.
REGINA: You began, however, with a modern-day miracle, the yearly pilgrimage to Chartres.
STEFANO MAZZEO: “In Search of Christendom – The Chartres Pilgrimage“ shows the joy of Traditional Catholic youth have for orthodox Catholic values. Not for them the liberal values of aging hippies. It was interesting to use time lapse photography of my usual cameraman Michal Benko to show the frantic secular material world and compare this with the joy of young Catholic pilgrims. EWTN have shown this documentary many times during the last year.
REGINA: You have been filming in Portugal?
STEFANO MAZZEO: At the moment we are working on a docudrama to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima, The Message of Fatima. We are working with a local folk group in Fatima called Casa do Povo and also Triptych Productions in England. This is a different type of film than the others we have made. It's more theological and mystical. Of course we are talking about historical events, but it does not engage in apologetics in the same way as the other films. It is more of an exploration of Our Lady's message to mankind.
REGINA: Who is your target audience?
STEFANO MAZZEO: First of all the target audience is the loyal supporters of EWTN. Second would be any lukewarm Catholics who come upon our work — who may have had their faith broken by the misrepresentation in the Secular Media. I want to say through these films that they have got it wrong. Thirdly would be anyone of any faith and none who would like to discover a little about Catholic history and culture.
REGINA: You’re winning awards.
STEFANO MAZZEO: I believe that music themes make up about 25% of the docudrama's impact. The Crusades was a co-production with Lux Communication of Slovakia (who supplied the production team of Michal Benko and Marek Polacek), Buckfast Abbey England and St Clare Media – EWTN, an EWTN affiliate station in England. We were very pleased to win the Grand Prix of the Niepokalanow International Film festival in Poland. I was honoured to receive the Maximillion Kolby award as the filmmaker. I don't go looking for awards but if it draws attention to our ministry and enables us to do more work and bring the truth to a greater audience then so be it.
REGINA: This is all rather un-politically correct, isn’t it?
STEFANO MAZZEO: It stands to reason that Catholic history should be good as the Church was founded by Jesus Himself, so my job as a Catholic film maker is really quite straight forward, to tell the truth. I think what surprised TV Lux, the Catholic TV station of Slovakia was my complete and unashamed dedication to the Catholic Church. They called me a “militant Catholic”, which made me smile; in England I've been called an “Arch-Conservative”. While I do not reject those titles I simply like to think of myself as a loyal Catholic.
You ask edme what inspired the Christendom Project? Well I suppose it was the nonsense of the secular media when addressing Catholic history. This may sound grand but I like to think it is an antidote to the poison and misrepresentation by the Main Stream Media. When people truly explore the faith and Catholic history it's really very exciting and heroic. Forget football, pop music, secular films and TV. The Catholic faith is really quite wonderful and all embracing.
There is only really one battle going on, one war, and it's between Satan and his demons and the Catholic Church. Everything else that has ever happened on earth has either been in preparation for this battle or as a result of it.
REGINA: What do you hope to accomplish?
STEFANO MAZZEO: In some small way I hope that these films will start set the record straight on the perceived difficult aspects of Catholic history. I hope we can present our faith, culture and history in an inspiring way. Really it's quite easy as the Church, the saints, the Fathers, the apostles, Our Lady and of course Christ Himself have already written the script, all I need to do is follow faithfully. After all if the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus, then we can't go wrong.
REGINA: What do you mean?
STEFANO MAZZEO: Just look at what has been achieved by Christendom — the greatest music, finest art, the most magnificent buildings. The greatest advancements in medical care, food production, law and order etc. All this was founded on structures of the Church and the Mass. Perhaps we could go one step further here and suggest the greatest advancements in science came out of the Western world which itself developed out of Christendom.
This does not mean the Western man is better than anyone else. Far from it, it's just because they were Christians and no other reason. Out of the West also came electricity, aircraft, motor cars, computers, television, radio etc. However, it's possible that all these inventions without the moderating influence of the Church will lead to its downfall.
So what EWTN hope to accomplish with this series is that the Church gets some credit for laying the foundations for the modern world. Hopefully people after seeing our films will do their own research, and be a little more open minded towards the benign influence of the Catholic Church throughout history.
Next year I will return to the Black Legends with a four part docudrama on the Reformation! So with the Crusades and the Inquisition, the Reformation series will complete what I hope will be a Black Legend busting trilogy.
REGINA: And next?
STEFANO MAZZEO: I am very fortunate in my executive producers, Doug Keck and John Elson at EWTN and Andy Pollok at St Clare Media – EWTN in England who pretty well let me get on with it. John Elson keeps an eye on me of course as I am spending hard-earned EWTN's supporters’ money. Our aim is to compete with secular channels like the BBC and the History Channel but on a fraction of the budget.