March 26, 2019 | 30° F

Rutgers professor directs global documentary, depicts contrasting role of religion worldwide


thomaslennon-rutgers-edu
Photo by Rutgers.edu |

 Thomas Lennon, an Academy Award-winning director and head of the Documentary Film Lab at the Rutgers Filmmaking center, had more than 40 filmmaking teams contribute to the film. 


"Sacred," a documentary film originally released in 2016, is set to air nationwide on Dec. 10 at 10 p.m. on PBS.

Academy Award-winning director Thomas Lennon, who is in charge of the Documentary Film Lab at the Rutgers Filmmaking Center, directed the film.

"Sacred" explores the role of prayer and ritual in daily life. The film focuses on depicting faith demonstrations worldwide, including religious functions, ceremonies and rites of passage.

Lennon collaborated with more than 40 filmmaking teams around the world to complete the film. "Sacred" premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2016, and has been screened at more than 25 international festivals.

Lennon commissioned or sourced footage from top independent filmmakers from more than 25 countries, with each filmmaking team contributing a single scene, according to PBS.

Lennon did not choose the project. Instead, he was assigned it. WNET THIRTEEN, a public television station in New York City, approached him with the project. 

The documentary is told without narration, features no experts and has no words at all for long stretches of the movie, according to PBS.

While most documentary directors physically go to the sites that they are filming, Lennon approached his film from a different angle.

“The challenge that I posed to myself was: would it be possible to make a sweeping, global documentary and never leave my office in New York? I wanted to do a film that I really directed, one that I could really control and shape,” Lennon said.

Lennon was able to find his filmmaking team without leaving New York City, opting to search for filmmakers on the internet instead. Each filmmaker only shot one scene for the film, adding to the unique approach he directed.

“We just went on the web, and looked for people in the particular countries (to film) the scenes we wanted to shoot. We would approach them and explain what we were doing, then they would be hired to do just that one little section. So I never did leave my office in New York,” Lennon said.

Searching for filmmakers to shoot footage in a specific country was not always easy, Lennon said. Countries such as Myanmar do not have many documentary filmmakers. 

"Sacred" may not have the same impact on the small screen as it does in theaters, despite the fact that no scenes were cut for the television airing, Lennon said.

“It is exactly the same film, but broadcasting a film is a different experience than seeing it in the theater. I have watched it with enough audiences to know that it works beautifully on a large screen. I hope that in a broadcast environment, where there are more distractions, the film will still play with the same intensity,” he said.

Lennon is continuing to adjust to life at Rutgers, where he began teaching this past fall. He is also working in documentary filmmaking, currently consulting on other films.

“My new project is figuring out how to be a good teacher at Rutgers. I have only been (at Rutgers) for a couple of months, and it is an exciting new adventure for me, and a real challenge,” Lennon said.


Jake McGowan

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