Sunday, September 09, 2007

Saint of 9/11; Mother Theresa: films about Biblical charity


Netflix, with its brand Red Envelope Films, offers a documentary that may be the only significant feature film that covers both the 9/11 tragedy in New York City, and the history of the AIDS epidemic. The film is Saint of 9/11, directed by Glenn Holsten, 91 min, produced with Equality Forum. The DVD has a conventional 1.85 to 1 format.

The film is a biography of Franciscan priest Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. He died ministering to fireman during the 9/11 attacks when the South Tower collapsed. The early part of the film does review that tragic morning.

The middle part of the of the film gives a biography of his religious and, somewhat, his personal life as a very private gay man. He would “come out” gently, although to the consternation of a few others around him, and eventually become very active in ministering to PWA’s. The film reviews many of the headlines in the 1980s as the new epidemic unfolded.

Eventually Congress would pass and President Bush would sign the Mychal Judge Police and Fire Chaplains Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-196, commonly known as the “Mychal Judge Act”). The law is supposed to prove a $250000 benefit for anyone “most likely to suffer financially” to a policeman, fireman, or similar official killed in the line of duty, made retroactive to Sept. 11. If has been criticized for not always providing benefits to GLBT partners (look at Cynthia Wade’s film “Freeheld” on this blog June 17). Here is a discussion from the National Center for Lesbian rights. (Link: Here is a discussion from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. Link:
Here is an account by Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice, July 17, 2002, Link:

A related film from 2003 might be Mother Theresa of Calcutta (Italian title: “Madre Theresa”, from Lux, directed by Fabrizio Costa, in English, at least on DVD). This is a somewhat perfunctory biography of Mother Theresa, and some attention is paid to the financial “scandal” that she stumbled into. The media has made much of her (according to her diaries or journals) own crisis of faith, and she mentions it toward the end of the film. She also blasts the “culture of indifference” of our capitalist culture, as she indicates that her own highest calling is to serve the poor without intellectual question.

About the same time I watched Forgiving Dr. Mendele, 2006, First Run Features, dir. Bob Hercules and Cheri Pugh, 82 min) about two twin sisters who survived horrifying eugenics experiments at Auschwitz (the (Pittsburgh) Andy Warhol Museum, discussed in these movie and drama blogs in late May would have an exhibit on that early this year). But the main point of this film was the public debate over the decision of Eva Moses Kor to forgive the infamous Nazi doctor. The theological meaning of forgiveness comes into discussion and takes up much of the film.

This is a good place to mention Bernadette, (1988, Cannon, dir. Jean Delannoy) which I saw in 2001 in Lourdes France. This is the story of Bernadette, son of an unemployed miller, who apparently sees the Virgin Mary in the Massabielle Grotto in 1857. I saw the movie in Italian with German subtitles; it was offered in various combinations.

Picture: From the National Park Service museum at Chancellorsville Battlefield in Spotsylvania County, Va. At this Center one can see a 22 minute film on the battle, with a similar film at the Fredericksburg museum nearby. The full length DVD’s are very expensive and apparently not available outside of the NPS visitors centers.

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