Filmmaker presents meditation on stations of the cross from perspective of the mother of Jesus
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Intent on recreating the feeling of awe and wonder he experienced at a European cathedral, Winnipeg filmmaker Bisong Taiwo sheds light some on Manitoba’s beautiful worship spaces in a new video released for the Christian season of Lent.
He shot Mary’s Way of the Cross, an hour-long meditation and reflection on the Christian stations of the cross from the perspective of the mother of Jesus, in 13 different Catholic parishes across the province.
“My ultimate goal is to make the kind of art that drew me into my faith in the first place,” he says of the made-in-Manitoba film which only repeats one location throughout the 14 stations.
“When I walked into Westminster Chapel (in London), it was the architecture, the paintings, and the music that drew me in.”
The Nigerian-born Taiwo replicates that multi-layered experience with music, spoken and sung liturgy, and shots of religious art, stained glass and statues. He opens the film with a painting of an Indigenous Jesus from Fort Alexander Roman Catholic Church, and then showcases distinctive Catholic architecture like the repeating arches at St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the grottos at St. Malo and Cook’s Creek Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The film also highlights the painted, arched ceilings at the 123-year-old Notre-Dame-de-Lorette created by Montreal artist L.E. Monty in 1901.
“The church has often been referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the Prairies because of all the beautiful paintings,” explains lifelong parish member Lucille Brunette, who is working with a local filmmaker to document the church’s history for its upcoming 125th anniversary.
Taiwo hopes his film draws viewers into the season of Lent, the 40-day period of fasting, prayer, and reflection before Easter, with the unusual black-and-white film shot in the chiaroscuro style, where light and shadow fall from a particular direction. The filmmaker was influenced by the 17th century painting The Penitent Magdalen by French artist Georges de la Tour.
In this case, Mary is lit by a candle lantern as she moves from disbelief to anguish to despair as she follows her son Jesus on the path to his public execution on the cross.
“Her feelings are just changing and over the course of that event, she couldn’t have been in the same mood at the beginning, middle and the end,” says Taiwo of his portrayal of Mary, who wears several different white flowing dresses and veils over the course of the film.
With a budget of about $10,000 to produce, Taiwo hopes to recoup some of those costs by asking viewers to pay for streaming, charging congregations $200 for parish-wide screening and individuals $10.
“If you provide enough value that matches the price point, then they will pay for it,” he says of the streaming fee, which also includes a poster and audio version as digital add-ons. A trailer is online at vimeo.com/ondemand/marysway.
It’s no accident he cast Winnipeg’s Gloria Thompson, originally from Ghana, in the non-speaking role of Mary, the film’s only character except for a brief appearance by Taiwo’s toddler. Taiwo wanted to reflect his own life experience in the film, a three-year project where he took on the multiple roles of director, producer, writer, cinematographer, editor, sound designer and financier.
“I just felt I was contributing my culture to the grand tapestry of her depth,” said Taiwo, who works as a software developer for a payroll company.
Thompson was excited to portray a Black Mary, a role she says isn’t often seen in Canada.
“I think we need more of this in the industry here because we have a diversity of cultures,” says Thompson, who has degrees in theatre arts and criminology from the University of Manitoba.
Filming Indigenous art in the Fort Alexander parish on Sakeeng First Nation may help Indigenous viewers feel included in this story leading up to Easter Sunday, says Rev. Augustine Ezediniru, also from Nigeria, who met Taiwo in Winnipeg through mutual friends.
“It helps each community and each group of people relate well to the incarnate Jesus,” he says.
“It showcases the identity of the people of the parish.”
For Thompson, taking on the role of Mary brought her back to her Catholic school days in Ghana and helped her understand the depth and complexity of Mary’s feelings as she witnesses the death of her son.
“I hope (the audience sees) that little glimmer of light she is holding in front of her, and they learn something about faith and holding on.”
The Free Press is committed to covering faith in Manitoba. If you appreciate that coverage, help us do more! Your contribution of $10, $25 or more will allow us to deepen our reporting about faith in the province. Thanks! BECOME A FAITH JOURNALISM SUPPORTER Click here to learn more about the project.
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.