Award-winning Knock film director Campbell Miller looks at the filmmaking future with Chai Brady
The film production industry faces huge challenges in the future due to the coronavirus pandemic and the need for social distancing, but a Northern Irish director who has won a prestigious award for his docudrama about Knock is determined to remain positive.
The film was made and directed in Ireland and recently won an award at the international Gabriel Awards. It was directed for the global TV network EWTN by Campbell Miller from Co. Down, who was the first Irish director to win the award.
The film, Hope, documents the 1879 Apparition at Knock. It had its first screening in the Filmoteca Vaticana in the Vatican in January this year.
Speaking about the award, Mr Miller told this paper: “It’s special because it’s very hard for anyone creating a Christian-based movie in the secular world to get some recognition for it.
“It’s lovely to get that but it’s really good for all the cast and crew because it recognises all the work that they put in to make the movie what it is. It’s nice that they’re being supported in that way.”
Mr Miller said that the industry, like many others, is facing “very uncertain times”.
“How do you have 20-30 actors on set but be social distancing yet looking as if they’re close to each other talking, that’s a difficulty, how we get those sorts of things across?” he asked.
“Especially given that I usually film historic pieces, you can’t sort of cover things up with a modern-day look. The other thing you’re coming across is actors have to do their own hair, their own make-up, do their own wardrobe and that again is difficult when you’re doing historical pieces.
“It’s nothing to just putting on a normal pair of jeans and a blouse or something, if they’re wearing something that’s maybe from the 19th Century it becomes difficult.”
“We’re trying to feel our way through this, see what we can do that on-camera people, both cast and crew, will be safe. But also off camera that they’ll be safe and everyone has these areas that they can go to and be able to keep a social distance.”
Our hope when we made this film was to bring international recognition to Knock”
Mr Miller said there will be dramatic changes, but “the future is still looking good”.
Having released his award-winning film just before the pandemic hit Europe on a large scale, Mr Miller was fortunate to avoid the chaos it would have wrought on production.
“We obviously didn’t know that the release of Hope would coincide with the Covid-19 pandemic, but there are parallels between the two eras. People are fearful for their future, everything looks a bit grim.
“It is similar now, to the prevailing atmosphere at the time of the apparition. There is poverty, disease and a sense of despair. Our Lady’s appearance at Knock gave people a sense of hope. Ireland needs to hear that message again at a time when so many are under pressure, depressed, and fearful,” he said.
“Hopefully the people of Ireland now will look upon Our Lady for her intercession.”
His docudrama on the national shrine blends commentary and insight with reconstructions of life in 19th Century Ireland during the famine and mass emigration.
It features contributions from relatives of the original witnesses, as well as Fr Richard Gibbons PP of Knock and rector of the shrine, Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin and Knock historian Tom Neary.
Hope also includes an interview with Marion Carroll, whose healing from serious illness at Knock while on pilgrimage has been officially recognised by the Church.
“Our hope when we made this film was to bring international recognition to Knock, the movie was always going to be put out across all the EWTN networks in which we have a few hundred million people who have the possibility of watching,” Mr Miller said.
“The movie has already gone out in America and went down really well. The network has got a lot of great feedback from the content, people have loved the movie, also a lot had never heard of Knock so Knock itself have people contacting them that have watched the movie. We look forward to when we get to a time in which Knock itself is available to accept pilgrims again. The Gabriel Award allows the movie again to reach more people.”
The film is now available on Amazon Prime and is currently being translated into German and Spanish for broadcast worldwide. Despite a low budget, Mr Miller said, they managed to finish the film despite many challenges along the way.
He said: “To direct it was quite difficult, there was so many difficulties that you come across. It wasn’t a very simple operation, we had 15 official witnesses and you also had an apparition in which nobody moves, nobody speaks and to try and bring that across in video is very difficult because if nothing moves and nothing speaks well it basically looks like a picture but we have to give it that whole three dimensional look.
“We found that challenging and that involves a lot of post-production and greenscreen work to get that across.”
The Faithful have been faced with separation from many of the sacraments due to the current pandemic, with the life of the Church changing dramatically to ensure the virus does not spread.
Speaking of the challenges the Church faces, Mr Miller said: “My hope is that the sacramental elements of the Church, people will be able to take part in those, take part in the Mass as soon as possible – only when it is safe.
“One of the things that I’m doing, and a lot of Catholics like me, is praying for our leadership within the Church, that they are able to come up with and implement efforts that will allow people to be back in the church; back to Mass but in a safer manner.”