The Table

The award-winning documentary, Radical Grace, made its Italian debut at the 19th annual Religion Today Film Festival last Thursday evening in Trento. As the foremost international film festival dedicated to showcasing religion and culture, Religion Today brought together 53 films from 26 countries, selected from more than 270 applications during its two-week run. At the heart of the festival is education and interfaith dialogue on issues of peace, human rights, and gender.

Radical Grace screened as part of a double-feature with the 2016 Israeli film, Measures of Merit, telling the story of Ruth Colian who set out to establish the first ever-political party for the Ultra-Orthodox Haredi women and her campaign to run for the Israeli Knesset in 2015. Haredi women are the only segment of Israeli society that are not represented in the Knesset. The influence of the Rabbis depicted in the film is extreme: in one case the film showed Ruth canvasing for herself, when a woman told her, “I will take that when my rabbi hands it to me.” Most striking was the language that the Rabbis used to define gender roles and “divine patriarchy,” which could have been swapped seamlessly with the reasoning from some members of the Catholic hierarchy. 

Religion Today Film Festival Poster seen around Trento

Religion Today Film Festival Poster in Trento

Between the films, Italian journalist Adele Gerardi briefly interviewed Ruth Colian and me as a representative of Radical Grace and WOC. Gerardi asked about the Women’s Ordination Conference and our mission, how one can be a feminist and a Catholic (a classic), and how the sisters are doing now. Not wanting to spoil the film, I shared just how unified the U.S. sisters have become, and now especially, how they know Catholics are behind them.

Radical Grace screened late into the night but the audience stayed until the very end. Afterwards, the woman next to me gave me a tearful hug, “Brava, brava grazie!” and groups of students and younger viewers came up to me to talk about the movement. One university student in particular, first told me how many times she cried throughout the film, but also how she is so thrilled to know that WOC exists, that people are working in this issue. The next morning I had an email from her, subject line: “How do I support your cause?”

I had worried that the “Ryan budget,” the “ACA,” and more American-focused themes might be confusing for an Italian audience, but I realized that while those issues are confusing, what the Nuns on the Bus (“suore in Pullman”) were doing is not. Social justice, courage, and humility translate just fine. (My WOC title of co-executive director, however, doesn’t quite translate as well and I suspect I got a promotion to executive producer in some translated conversations! Sorry Susan Sarandon!)

The next day, the Festival organizers arranged a short walking tour of Trento where I got to speak to more of the judges, film-makers and actors. There was great interest to bring Radical Grace to other festivals in Italy, India and Bangladesh, and in particular to have discussions around women’s ordination. True to the mission of the film festival, this cross-pollination of creative people and tools brought great dialogue and sharing. It was a true honor to represent WOC and the film Radical Grace at such an important nexus.

Radical Grace is now available on itunes and for community screenings, with discussions guides on economic, social, and gender justice for download.