It began as a job to film the young adult members of the local Sojourners of the Burning Heart Prayer Group on their annual trip to Medjugorje. But, soon after arrival, filmmaker Steve Scaffidi’s voyage centered on self-exploration and his relationship with his son Stevie, 24, who accompanied him as a sound assistant.
The trip resulted in the 82-minute film, “The Sojourners,” debuting Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. at Notre Dame Seminary.
Scaffidi said the crux of the film began to be redefined after he fired his son three days into the shoot, and Stevie became just one of the young adults. Scaffidi, though, didn’t figure out the shifting focus until he began editing. He thought he would revisit participants a month after the trip to assess its impact on them.
Scaffidi’s son is captured several times on film declaring he is not a practicing Catholic and doesn’t expect anything to change during the trip, even as his father prods him throughout to help him rekindle his faith.
“There are some honest things in there, and we don’t hide them,” Scaffidi said.
How the film materialized
Scaffidi, 55, an award-winning filmmaker, was introduced to Medjugorje in the late 1980s when New Orleanians were discovering the town and its visionaries were receiving Mary’s messages. As a local TV station cameraman, he edited hours of footage shot when reporters Mary Lou McCall and Jim Bailey went on pilgrimages.
“I didn’t believe then,” he said. “I was not negative about Medjugorje but just jaded.”
While working with Sojourner director Tammy Dupuy and the MIR group’s Mimi Kelly editing the Spanish-version Medjugorje documentary “Beyond the Fields,” the idea to film a Sojourners documentary surfaced. Neither knew if it would pan out. Dupuy was worried Scaffidi would intrude on the private faith moments of the young adults, and Scaffidi worried about being controlled over what he could film. He did not want to make another promotional film about Medjugorje.
“The thought of having a camera in the face of the kids was daunting,” Dupuy said. “I’m real protective of them.”
“When I first met Tammy and Mimi, I didn’t know if they were going to put their hands on me and heal me or what,” Scaffidi said.
As Dupuy got to know Scaffidi, she began to feel more comfortable. She asked him, “When we get over there, are you willing to turn the camera on yourself and your son?”
His “yes” was all Dupuy needed.
Chronicles a faith journey
Dupuy said the film is not a documentary about Medjugorje.
“It’s about a faith journey of a father and son,” she said. “The Sojourners are the backdrop for hearts to be opened.”
“This is an honest documentary told through my eyes, and I have to tell it like it is,” Scaffidi said. “If I didn’t, nobody is going to care about this film. … If I would have found a visionary on the trip was a fraud, I would have had to film it and would have gone in that direction. The (original) purpose of the film was to follow the 40 young people.”
Scaffidi was surprised about what he captured, especially the faith of the Sojourners.
“I would call Tammy and tell her, ‘I have five minutes of gold’ and come see it, and it kept getting better and better. It was these little moments of gold, and I had to figure out how it flowed.”
Dupuy had editing approval but mostly acted as a fact checker for Scaffidi. She said the film’s honesty gave her some trepidation. But, it’s not a film targeted to theologians.
“It’s a mainstream film that will make you cry, make you laugh and make you cheer,” Scaffidi said. “I think it’s going to reach people across the board, whether you are a practicing Catholic or not. It’s all about faith. It will reach you in a different way.”
He let events unfold
Scaffidi said he didn’t do much research in preparation for the film other than attend a few Sojourners meetings to get to know his subjects. He didn’t want to stage events or script interviews as is routine on a film shoot; he wanted spontaneity in Medjugorje.
“I think I made the greatest decision in my career not doing my homework,” he said. “It’s about discovering faith. Do you believe that there is something out there?”
The Sojourners formed in 2006 to travel to Medjugorje. The levels of spirituality of those who travel make each trip different, Dupuy said.
The group heard several visionaries, and Scaffidi tried to interview visionary Mirjana Dragicevic-Soldo, to no avail. But he captured her on video walking from her home through the crowd, praying the rosary, before she received Mary’s message. A guard with whom he tried to negotiate an interview handed him her rosary.
“I’m the least likely to get this rosary,” Scaffidi said. “I hadn’t prayed the rosary in 20 years. I don’t pray it every day but have prayed it several times since.”
Among other poignant moments captured on film was a man on crutches climbing up the steep, rocky Cross Mountain in Medjugorje. Stevie actually took the camera and photographed this.
“If that guy can climb that mountain … sometimes you have to see things like that to get a perspective on life,” Scaffidi said. “There is some incredible stuff in this film.”
Premiere is Feb. 29
After the movie’s debut Feb. 29, Dupuy said she and Scaffidi will distribute it in a grassroots way, traveling to parishes throughout the state and region.
“We think it’s not only important for people to see the movie but also to hear the story and testimonies and do a question-and-answer session,” Dupuy said, “and then ask the question, ‘Am I on a faith journey? Let’s get committed to a group.’”
Dupuy thinks the movie will light a spark in bringing more youthful hearts to God.
“They will see a community. … It will make them think about what they are doing in life – what is this faith thing all about?”
Since creating the website – beasojourner.com – and a blog, the Sojourners have received inquiries from California, Massachusetts, Kansas and Kentucky.
“We would like Sojourners to crop up all over the world,” she said. “It’s Catholic-based and under the authority of the church (under the MIR Group’s direction). The essence of the whole film is the Sojourner culture.”
Scaffidi said his faith journey continues.
“Never did I think I’d make a film like this,” he said. “To be part of what can be the Sojourner mentality … if we can get people to just become better people, that’s huge.”
“We want people to be good people, but I want to see lives change to know Jesus Christ,” Dupuy said. “(Sojourners) believe the core is God. If we can put Christ in the center, everything else goes.”
To find out more about the Sojourners of the Burning Heart, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.