These days, when many perceive heaven and Hollywood to be polar opposite, mutually exclusive destinations, it’s easy to forget that film and faith have the capacity to intersect in vital, remarkable ways. Catholics in Media Associates (CIMA) was founded in 1992 to serve as a reminder that Hollywood has many professionals who strive “to tell stories that transcend daily life in compelling ways and to communicate the true, the good and the beautiful.”
Their work in the entertainment industry was celebrated at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels Conference Center on Oct. 9, as CIMA honored the past year’s best media productions that succeeded most in telling stories that “uplift the spirit and promote human dignity,” as well as the professionals behind them.
Archbishop José H. Gomez, who celebrated a packed Mass before the awards presentation, offered opening remarks noting that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the Church’s World Day of Communication, an event established by the Second Vatican Council in 1963 and first celebrated four years later by Pope Paul VI to recognize the powerful role media plays in communication.
In addition, Archbishop Gomez highlighted the fact that Pope Francis, in keeping with the Year of Mercy, titled this year’s World Day of Communication observance to be “Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter.”
“The Gospel, at its heart, has always been about communication,” the archbishop said. “We are called to be missionaries to a generation that depends on media to create a culture in which men and women can encounter the mercy of God, and in which media serves the human search for God.”
Following Archbishop Gomez’ comments, actor Mark Derwin (best known for his role in the Amazon original series “Bosch”) served for the second time as the host and emcee of the awards presentation. The first award of the afternoon marked a first for CIMA, as it awarded its inaugural $2,500 Student Scholarship to Loyola Marymount senior film student Amy Rodriguez, who dreams of one day becoming an animator for children’s programming and has begun work on her thesis film, which tells the animated story of a successful Wall Street banker who inherits his family’s circus business.
The CIMA Communicator Award was presented to Bishop Robert Barron, who founded the wildly popular “Word on Fire” weekly podcast and hosted the highly anticipated film series “Catholicism: The Pivotal Players,” which will premiere later this fall.
“The Catholic tradition is a smart tradition, and it is a beautiful tradition,” said Bishop Barron, whose knack for delivering thoughtful, accessible lectures has helped him amass more than 90,000 YouTube subscribers and Twitter followers. “The Catholic genius is to use the beautiful to interact with God. And I want to show that off.”
CIMA’s Documentary Award was presented to National Geographic Channel’s “Story of God with Morgan Freeman” series. The series follows the aforementioned Morgan Freeman, one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed actors (who once actually portrayed God in the comedy film “Bruce Almighty”), as he travels around the globe and explores questions of the heart, such as God, and good and evil, as how they are understood by a multitude of religions.
Upon accepting the award, series producer Frank Koza said, “We didn’t seek similarities; we had no mandates for finding common themes. They simply emerged naturally, and often breathtakingly. Our purpose is not to change minds, but to open them.”
This year’s CIMA Television Award was presented to the Showtime premium cable channel series “Ray Donovan,” which follows a Boston-born, Los Angeles-based “fixer” and his Irish Catholic family, many of whom have deep ties to the Irish Mob. The award was accepted by series co-executive producer Ed Saxon, who marveled at how far the Church has come since the days of the “Hays Code” (or the Motion Picture Production Code, in which film and TV productions were forced to adhere to a strict moral code) in its capacity to recognize the immense artistic value within stories that portray characters who genuinely struggle with matters of faith and morality.
“The fact that this award is being presented to a show that featured two characters murdering Catholic priests, as well as two characters being sexually abused by Catholic priests, serves as a sign of the tremendous growth we’re undergoing, and that we’re starting to challenge ourselves with these questions of the heart and the human struggle,” assessed Saxon. “Life often doesn’t end on an upbeat note: we, as humans, often struggle. Good storytelling should illuminate that road.”
The final award of the afternoon was the CIMA Motion Picture Award, which was presented to the recent reimagining of the epic “Ben-Hur.” Though the film was a box office flop, CIMA commended the film for the way “its dominant themes of revenge, forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy blend a powerful human story with the divine.” The winning husband-and-wife producer team — “Touched by an Angel” actress Roma Downey and “The Voice” producer Mark Burnett — have been labeled as “Hollywood’s noisiest Christians,” because of their constant efforts to produce faith-based content. They accepted the award together.
“The themes of building bridges, of bringing people together and finding places of reconciliation is very personal and of great importance to me,” explained Downey, who spoke with Angelus News just prior to “Ben-Hur’s” August release.
Much like Koza’s account of the subjects interviewed in “Story of God with Morgan Freeman,” none of the award recipients tried to force a common theme in their acceptance speeches, but a thread nonetheless emerged naturally: there is plenty of room for telling uplifting, challenging stories in Hollywood, and those stories are most effective when they are neither dumbed down nor censored. And, as was evident at the CIMA awards, there are plenty of people fighting to tell such stories.