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Meet the alumni: Teresa O’Grady-Peyton’s feature documentary receives world premiere at Dublin Film Festival
Last month saw the arrival of this year’s Dublin International Film Festival – an eleven day event showcasing many Irish premieres, in cinemas all across the capital. One film receiving its exclusive debut was The Judas Iscariot Lunch, the story of thirteen Irish ex-priests who came to be missionaries for the Catholic Church in East Asia, the Pacific and South America during the 1960s and 70s. Speaking now, the men bravely contemplate their experiences, recalling the effect their travels had on perspectives on faith, religious ritual and their own humanity.
The film’s release is of noteworthy excitement to Met as it’s director, Teresa O’Grady-Peyton, is one of our past Documentary Filmmaking students. This intensive eight-week course is designed to provide both the knowledge and technical capabilities required to create brilliant documentaries from conception to implementation. We also offer it on a popular part-time basis.
We decided to speak to Teresa about the exciting project, discussing the film’s subject matter and execution, as well as any advice she has for aspiring documentary filmmakers.
What initially inspired you to make The Judas Iscariot Lunch?
My husband Joe O’Grady was the inspiration for the documentary. He joined the Missionary Society of St Columban as an idealistic 18 year old. After 7 years in the seminary he was assigned to the Philippines for four years. It was when he was assigned to London that he grew up “in more ways than one”. After four years in London he returned to the Philippines, but soon after had to make the difficult decision to leave the priesthood and face into a world of uncertainty at the age of 35. He had no money, no job and returned to Ireland at a time when society could not accept what he had done. It was a form of “social suicide”. A kind man from London gave him his first job pulling pints in McGoverns pub in Dublin. When he turned to the Missionary Society for financial assistance he was told to be “more concerned about his soul than his temporal needs”. This was very painful, and a clear injustice that was experienced not only by Joe but many priests & nuns around the world. Their voices have never been heard and now that they are in their 70’s and 80’s we wanted the story told while they were still with us on this earth.
Watch the trailer for The Judas Iscariot Lunch
How did you go manage to connect with the 13 ex-priests that feature in the film? Did they have any apprehensions about being involved?
The very courageous ex priests who participated were all friends of my husband from the same missionary society. Most had been assigned to the Philippines, but others to South America & Fiji. Yes there were some apprehensions. One was that their story might cause hurt to the friends, family & community who had supported them over the years. Another was that they did not want to cause hurt to the Missionary Society of St Columban in any way. Even though they were let down, they still have enormous respect for their friends who opted to stay with the Society and continue their great work. Their sense of injustice is directed more at the institution of the Church and their collusion with the State as opposed to the fine men in the Columban Society. Lastly all of the guys are very honest but some go where “angels fear to tread” with regard to how they handled celibacy. Sharing on such a personal level creates apprehension in us all.
On the project’s website it mentions that the missionaries developed “much broader ideas about god” – Would you say this is a documentary that more questions the rituals of priesthood, rather than faith itself?
I would say there is a range of ideas expressed in this regard. Certainly it comes across very clearly that once the guys were assigned to the missions – be that the Philippines or South America – they began to question their relevance. They had gone to give them something that these people didn’t have, but found that was not what was needed. It is hard to believe now that the original mission of the Columbans was to convert China to Christianity! The documentary fails to do justice to the work the guys did with the poor and marginalised on the missions. They were truly freedom fighters, opposing corrupt and unjust governments and empowering farmers and fisherman alike. On the question of faith I would say that they translated faith into action and followed the central message of the gospel, rather than following the more traditional path of administering sacraments. The 60’s and 70’s were a time of revolution in the Church – an exciting time.
The Judas Iscariot Lunch receiving rapturous applause at the Dublin International Film Festival.
What relevance or importance do you think this documentary has in 2016?
I hope it will contribute to a conversation on the central themes of celibacy and faith, but also will prompt people to question what it means to live a good life. Also I hope that it will encourage people with tough decisions to make to be brave. The other relevance for me is the importance of solidarity and support. Just yesterday I met a young man who told me that four of his class mates had committed suicide. For too long we have kept silent and suppressed any feelings of guilt. The guys in the documentary supported one another through their feelings of shame and guilt and I believe this helped them to become the great and whole men that they are today.
The concept of faith is understandably a weighty, controversial subject – how do you think viewers will react to the film?
I look forward to this reaction very much. So far we have only had viewings in Ireland, which though changing, is still very much a Catholic culture. While we were making the film, and in particular when the guys are talking about how young they were when they entered the seminary – some as young as 15 – it made me think about what is happening in the world with young men and women being recruited to ’causes’ that end in such destruction and devastation. Towards the end of the film the guys express a range of views on faith and belief and I suppose it will be ever thus. The important thing for me is that each of us challenges ourselves and tries to find the path to authenticity. If this film can help people on that path in some small way then that would be very worthwhile.
Teresa speaking at the Dublin International Film Festival
Your film received its World Premiere at the Dublin International Film Festival last month, followed by a Q&A. How was it?
The premiere was a wonderful event. It was sold out in a matter of days and we got a marvellous response – very exciting!
I noticed the runtime for the film falls just shy of an hour. Are there plans for it to receive television broadcast?
Yes we are delighted to say that the documentary will be broadcast on RTE 1 (national TV in Ireland) later this year and we are in touch with ABC in Australia.
What advice would you give to Met Film School students who are interested in pursuing documentary?
A couple of things…Bob Harvey who ran the course I did at Met Film School said that “access is crucial“, and with that I agree 100%. The whole process has so many phases and there are many technical decisions, judgement calls and financial decisions, but above all remember the contributors and keep them and their families upper most in your thoughts. Also, get a good team around you; I was very fortunate to have TJ our son as producer and Andrew Burton as our editor – you need that. Lastly, stick with it; it will be worthwhile. Your rewards will be great in heaven (if you believe in it)! Thanks to the Met Film School for putting me on the road!
Would you like to work in the screen content industries? Teresa studied on our Documentary Filmmaking course, which we also offer on a popular part-time structure. Download a prospectus to learn more today.