The Polish documentary Powołany (“Called”), which includes dramatized sequences, was released on YouTube on Holy Thursday, the day of the institution of the priesthood, this year. It presents the lives of seven people whose lives were radically transformed through the witness and works of priests. It is available online with English subtitles.
Jan Sobierajski is the director and co-producer of Called. Over the past decade, he has been responsible for hundreds of Internet and television productions promoting Christian values. As an editor and cinematographer, he was the co-creator of such feature-length films as Matteo, Love and Mercy: Faustina, and Two Crowns. He is married two Maria with whom he has two children.
Catholic World Report spoke recently with Sobierajski.
CWR: Called is not your first film. You worked on Love and Mercy: Faustina, for example. How did you become interested in film as a means of evangelization?
Jan Sobierajski: Film has been my passion ever since I was a child. In the 1990s, my dad would buy me CDs with movie soundtracks and scores. I studied economics and management, but I began to work for a company where I would make videos, beginning with simple footage of our bicycle trips. I submitted some of my work to the Youth Film Festival under the patronage of the mayor of Warsaw and was shortlisted for a prize. Then I knew that I liked working with film. I started to work on the sets of television commercials, and I eventually found employment in television where I worked on TV films.
At the same time, I started my own company, and God came into the picture. I was astonished at the fact that although God exists, the production values of so many religious films are so poor. None of my colleagues would ever dare to admit that to watching Catholic films or television, for instance.
One day, I saw a trailer for a film on exorcism. I decided to write to the director that I could produce a much better trailer in just three days. Much to my surprise, the next day the director, Michał Kondrat, got back to me. Within three days, I re-edited an interview from the film. We have now been partners for many years. Our productions evangelize the entire world. Our film about St. Maximilian Kolbe, Two Crowns, is the third most-viewed documentary film in Polish box office history. Love and Mercy: Faustina did very well at the United States box office. We also made Purgatory and Matteo, which is about exorcism.
CWR: What was the story behind the making of Called?
Sobierajski: Called is different from anything I had done before. This film is literally from out of this world, and I feel that this was my first time participating in a work of God and that God Himself wanted this film to be made and for it to include people chosen by Him.
I have to distinguish between two things: God’s works and works for God’s glory. Works for God’s glory are man’s works praising God, and sometimes they are pleasing to God. Meanwhile, God’s works originate in God Himself, Who uses people to implement them. I feel that the production of Called was not of human origin; it comes from the breath of the Holy Spirit.
CWR: In recent years, there has been a lot of media coverage – in Poland, the United States, and the whole universal Church – of evil deeds done by clergymen. Naturally, the Church must be cleansed of those who cause scandal, but I get the impression that the secular media’s coverage of the Church has produced a very lopsided perception of the priesthood. Is your film a response to this?
Sobierajski: Called is not a direct response to this, but it provides a sense of balance. We wanted to make a pure film that shows God’s intentions in the institution of the sacrament of holy orders. That is why we sought out captivating stories of how God works through the priesthood.
CWR: How did you find the protagonists of Called?
Sobierajski: In the documentary section, we show seven incredible, spectacular stories. With regards to seeking out our protagonists, each case was different. Because this film is God’s work, God has guided us. For example, I knew of a certain professor who converted while studying Eucharistic miracles. He lives outside Poland, and we unsuccessfully tried to find a time for an interview for over a year and a half, but God kept showing us that He wants someone else to be interviewed.
Instead, right after that we interviewed Marta Przybyła, who supported abortion and considered leaving the Church until she felt God’s grace during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
God guided us to our protagonists in unexpected ways.
CWR: To me, the most surprising aspect of Called is that although the film is about the priesthood, priests are almost entirely off-screen; the film focuses on how laypeople have been inspired by priests. Why this unique narrative technique?
Sobierajski: We wanted to show the power of the sacrament of holy orders through the testimony of laypeople who experienced God’s love through priests. A film about the priesthood would not feel credible if only priests were on-screen; that’s why we avoided filling the screen up with Roman collars. This is a very Biblical approach: the Lord Jesus says that not our own words, but the fruits of our actions attest to us. That is why we decided to show very specific examples of how the lives of laypeople were transformed, often in very spectacular ways, thanks to priests.
CWR: Are there any interesting stories from the production process you would like to share?
Sobierajski: In the film, we credit the Holy Spirit as the screenwriter. We had a completely different idea of what this film would be like. We wanted to make a strictly documentary film without any dramatized sequences.
One summer afternoon, I went to my parish church. The priest announced that after the Eucharist there would be a procession with the Blessed Sacrament. During the procession, God showed me “images” and “concepts” of the film’s dramatized sequences. I wrote them down and showed them to the screenplay consultant the following day. Interestingly, she explained to us who these characters were and their characteristics. We had never completed any screenwriting courses, and so we ourselves did not know what to make of this. Thus, we decided to credit the Holy Spirit with the script in the end credits and on the posters.
CWR: I saw that Gazeta Wyborcza [Poland’s main left-liberal daily newspaper] has, unsurprisingly, harshly criticized this film, but apart from that, what have the reactions to it been like?
Sobierajski: If such media publish such articles, that means that I’ve made an excellent film. [Laughs]
In one of the readings at the beginning of Holy Week, we read that during the Last Supper Jesus told His apostles He was giving the Kingdom to them because they had participated in it despite difficulties and suffering. This means that the Kingdom belongs to those who are faithful. Over the past week, we have seen many signs attesting to what Jesus had said on the pages of the Gospels. I sense that God has shown He is pleased with this film.
One week after the film’s premiere, it has been viewed almost 800,000 times on YouTube. [Editor’s note: The film has now been viewed almost one million times on YouTube.] I know of no other online Catholic film anywhere in the world that has been so successful in such a short time. I sense from the comments section that a new grassroots movement to pray for priests is coming. This success is despite the fact that our advertising budget has been very modest. People are simply sharing this film and sending it to their friends. It seems likely to reach one million views by Divine Mercy Sunday in Poland alone, and we are working on subtitles in multiple language so that more people can see Called around the world.
You can scroll through the comments section to see how many people have been touched by this film. When we had a premiere at a cinema in Warsaw, after the lights were turned on once the end credits rolled, we saw many people tearing up. You should watch Called with tissues.
CWR: All of the film’s protagonists are Poles. But your intention was to create a film with a universal message that would resonate with people in many countries, right?
Sobierajski: We dream of this film being seen in all the world’s countries and think this is possible because many distributors around the world are expressing interest, thanks to which even more people will see how the Lord can change people’s lives through priests.
CWR: I follow your profile on Facebook and see that Called is only the beginning and that you plan on making more such films. Could you say a little bit about your future plans?
Sobierajski: In the near future, we plan on publishing footage related to Called. These are interviews with priests who are considered leading authorities in certain areas of the priestly ministry. These recordings will provide solid theological knowledge about various aspects of a priest’s ministry.
Our films will be funded through our profile on Patronite. We plan on making a drama film of the highest quality, which will have a lengthy pre-production phase and will be distributed in cinemas. For now, I don’t want to reveal any details because the direction it will take is not clear, as there will be a process of discernment in which God will show what kind of film He wants to be made.
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