By Alistair Burns
The B.C. Catholic
The Archdiocese of Vancouver and The B.C. Catholic co-hosted the world premiere of Across the Divide June 3. The new Salt and Light Television documentary details the trials of students at Bethlehem University (BU), the Holy Land's only Catholic university.
Hosted at the Simon Fraser University Goldcorp Centre for the Arts, the event drew more than 350 people. The film focuses on the interaction between the teaching Lasallian Brothers and the students at BU.
After the premiere, a four-person panel fielded questions from the audience. Moderated by the film's director Kris Dmytrenko, the panel consisted of: Archbishop J. Michael Miller, CSB; Father Thomas Rosica, CSB, CEO of Salt and Light Television; Brother Jack Curran, vice-president of development at BU; and Carl Hetu, national director of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA).
"It was in November 2009 that our crew went to Bethlehem to start shooting the film," said Dmytrenko. "It's very fortunate for a filmmaker to be able to go into a situation, and try to deal with a very complex issue in a fair way."
Salt and Light interviewed many students at BU to get their points of view on many issues, as well as their hopes for the future after attending university.
Each member of the panel gave their respective opinions on Christian interests in the Middle East.
Father Rosica called the Holy Land the Mother Church. "We have a great responsibility as Catholics to support it, since it's small; it's a holy remnant, it's suffering. And Bethlehem U. is a branch of peace." One of the ways Salt and Light has reached out is through documentaries "to feature the living stones" of the Holy Land.
Production of Across the Divide turned into the most complex project Salt and Light has done. An example involved receiving permission from Israel to film inside the Supreme Court building as they followed the main character through her legal battle.
The production required 10 separate levels of cooperation: from various governments, the town of Bethlehem, the university, different churches, and the interfaith aspect of dealing with Muslims and Jews.
Archbishop Miller pointed out the film reaffirmed the call to responsibility for all Catholics to contribute time and money toward the land where Jesus walked. He praised Salt and Light's portrayal of the university, saying it provides a ray of hope in a grim situation.
"The wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians is visibly and viscerally something that is ugly. It's against the way things are supposed to be. We should be working very hard to see that the current state of affairs does not endure," the archbishop said.
Carl Hetu reminded the audience that in the last 10 years, there has been massive upheaval as various civil wars and strife have plagued the region. He said the invasion of Iraq, the recent flowering of democracy in Egypt, the trouble in Syria, and other events have lead to a massive wave of refugees from Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, and other countries.
"What is going on right now in the region is very important. Our organization has been associated with Bethlehem University since its inception in 1973, and the De La Salle Brothers are spreading a good message."
One would expect "students to be depressed and downtrodden, but they are not," said Brother Curran.
Father Rosica added, "You shouldn't walk away from this film happy, in a sense. But you should come away realistically hopeful, that one institution is educating agents of peace."