Fifteen years ago, in my work in the film industry, I had the privilege of working alongside Lucia Gonzalez. Lucia was a young aspiring filmmaker from Spain. She was interning with the Metanoia Films, having worked on Bella and was now working with me on The Stoning of Soraya M. My heart leapt when my Hollywood publicist friend Alexis Walkenstein sent me a screener link from a new film being distributed by Lucia Gonzalez-Barandiaran and her company Basco films.
I’ve spent many years making and promoting films for the Christian and family market. I’ve seen a lot of good intentions and pure motives lead people nowhere, thanks to a failure of craftsmanship. I’ve also seen wonderful films disappear down the well thanks to botched, misguided marketing. At the same time, I’ve seen mainstream films with toxic messages produced with consummate skill, promoted by clever marketers who knew how to make them into “phenomena.” Our culture gets changed by movies like that, and not for the better.
That’s why it’s such a pleasure for me to come across a film like Alive.
Five Stories of Faith
It wasn’t expensive to make. There are no special effects, or exotic and gorgeous locales. Most of it consists of people talking about their lives. While the film is beautifully shot with exquisite music, what elevates it above the ordinary is simple. It’s the presence of God.
The film recounts the lives of three young Spaniards and one middle-aged couple. Each emerged from the slick, secular liberal culture of post-Franco Spain — where faith in God is denigrated and dismissed, treated as a relic of an old fascist regime, or at best a pastime for old folks. Each of these people’s stories shows how God’s grace gently but relentlessly pressed against his defenses — seeking a crack of humility where He could overwhelm and reclaim the person.
A Youth Movement Bringing People Back to Prayer
The film was produced by the vigorous Catholic youth movement Hakuna, which operates worldwide. The movement and the movie are centered on the power of Christ operating via the Eucharist, the sacrament He instituted with His apostles at the Last Supper. For too many Catholics, this vital sign of God’s love has become a hollow symbol, or a mechanistic accompaniment to ritual observance.
In Alive we see something different. Each of the people who recounts his conversion story here explains how the Eucharist served as the focal point for something quite new in his life: A personal encounter with Jesus, an ongoing dialogue with Him about who He is, what He wants from us, and what He offers in return.
An Atheist Medical Student
We meet a young medical student, who thought that Christianity was something to console sickly old grandmas with little left to look forward to. When he reluctantly accompanied a friend to a “Holy Hour,” he met the God he’d long forgotten. Soon he was sneaking off to services, ashamed to tell his secular parents. But his love for God only deepened, transforming this former Nietzsche fan into a humble, joy-filled Christian. God’s slow, inexorable work eventually moved him to “come out” to his parents and friends and admit his faith in Jesus. He’s now studying for the priesthood.
A Girl Whose Boyfriend Died in a Car Wreck
A college student lost her beloved boyfriend in an auto accident. She was still grieving when an acquaintance reached out to her in friendship. At first she was resentful. Upon some self-reflection, she realized that she was envious. She knew that there was some special peace and joy in this person’s life, which she’d never known. Eventually, she welcomed this new friend, and began joining her for Holy Hours spent cultivating a sense of God’s personal presence. Over time, this contemplative prayer transformed her life, allowing her to experience the very same sense of meaning and love.
The Doctors Told Them to Abort
A middle-aged couple, who were go-through-the-motions Christians, encounter a crisis. Namely, at age 48, the wife discovers she’s pregnant. And the pregnancy is in trouble. Together, the couple endure a gauntlet of medical professionals warning them that she will give birth to a “monster,” and pressuring her to abort. But these two had attended a religious retreat together, and begun seeking out Jesus in sacramental form. His presence helped them fend off the terror that gaslighting doctors instilled, and trust in God’s plan for their lives, and their tiny child. (We see her, healthy and happy, sitting between her parents during the interview.)
He Went from Venerating Hitler to Jesus
Perhaps most powerful is the story of an alienated teenager, who became addicted to alcohol and intoxicating ideology. Living in a Spain where the liberal establishment detests the nation’s heritage and seeks to replace its population with refugees, he reacts by grabbing onto an ugly alternative: the neo-Nazi movement. It channels his adolescent anger toward convenient targets, and gives him a sense of purpose as part of a “revolutionary” movement. We see him and his friends gathered reverently around a portrait of Adolf Hitler.
God’s grace works through a priest who’d known the young man as a boy. He invites this fervent racist and atheist to join a mission to Calcutta. And for some mysterious reason, the young man agrees. He witnesses nuns from Europe pouring out their lives in service of dark-skinned foreigners … and sees that they are happy. They’re experiencing a joy that has eluded him all his life. He wants to know the source, and starts observing them closely. Eventually he realizes that they aren’t deluded humanitarians, but souls in love with Jesus. And he falls in love as well. Soon he has abandoned racist ideology, and is spending his days tending the wounds of Indian beggars.
Young People Turning to Christ
This gentle, meditative film filled me with hope. It showed me chapels and churches full of fervent, happy young people on fire with love for Christ. Every Catholic should see it, and so should non-Catholics curious about the Church’s sacramental practices, and the role they play in cultivating a personal friendship with Christ.
Alive is showing as a special Fathom event for one day only in theaters on Monday, April 25.
Jason Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream. He is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker.