In life, you can believe in a higher power or you can choose not to. Most times, your beliefs are inspired by your parent’s direction and influence. As we get older and become more comfortable making independent choices, we will have to make some tough decisions that impact the next big chapter forward and possibly your life’s trajectory forever. If you strongly believe in the church and want to devote your life to serving the lord and others, then you might decide – your next big chapter is becoming a priest. Most men of the cloak have described it as a calling. When you combine spiritual and faith with belief, it’s hard to say no, when the idea has always been with you.
You can’t make a film about the Catholic Church without talking about the elephant in the room. Catholicism is on the verge of becoming a dirty word and it’s getting hard to see any silver lining in all the scandal and corruption coming to light. How did it get so bad and how do you stop it? Out with the bad and in with the good I always say. I honestly do not believe that the Catholic religion itself is to blame for the abuse, rather – I believe that very evil men and women used their authority in the church as a shield to commit that abuse. It is a shameful history that cannot, nor should ever be forgotten if we are to learn from it and prevent further violations.
Addressing abuse is just one part of the film, The Holy Game. The other part of the film covers a soccer league of priests that compete from all over the world in a high-level tournament. When you think of priests playing a game of soccer, you probably picture older men tripping over themselves and gasping for air. You really don’t expect young GQ looking men that are devoted to the sport but married to their religion. The Holy Game provides a window inside the Vatican and its procedures for ordaining new priests. Although the ordaining of new priests is another part of this film, this film has many surprises. There is also a wife and child that is discovered to be connected to a priest, Father Oscar Turrion, that is kicked out of the priesthood because of it.
Hodgee Films (Brony Tale – Netflix, I Am Chris Farley – Spike/Paramount) reveals a behind the scenes look at the Vatican’s Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament for priests in seminary. This award-winning production studio based in Vancouver, British Columbia have also been busy with films, Who Let the Dogs Out (Hulu), Run This City (Quibi/Roku), The Holy Game, and most recently, Pharma Bro (Blumhouse Productions), which chronicles the rise and fall of America’s ‘Most Hated Man’, Martin Shkreli and is set for a 2021 release.
The film is co-directed by Chris Kelly (The Slowest Show, This Is That) and was shot in Rome, Portugal and locations across the US.
HOLY GAME launched on CRAVE in Canada on June 28, 2021 and is being launched by Gravitas in the US and worldwide and became available on demand on June 29.
I had an absolute pleasure talking to good friends and co-directors Brent Hodge and Chris Kelly. Roll the tape.
HNMAG “Where did the idea for this film come from?”
BRENT “We enjoy a lot of weird world type films and a lot of pop culture films. We did a film called Bronys, about middle aged men that like My Little Pony. We made another film about the origin of the song, Who Let the Dogs Out and a deep dive into who created it. We love these pop culture worlds but we haven’t done a lot in the sports realm. Chris and I have been friends for a very long time, we met working at CBC and we’ve made a lot of stuff together. Chris came to me with this idea, saying ‘it was a Hodgee Film – a (soccer) league of priests in the Vatican and we have access to it!’ Chris’s dad is a deacon and his family is pretty close to the Catholic church. We had a meeting with him and explained that it was a film that we were putting together and it wasn’t a church film. We told him we wanted to follow the priests around and he gave us full access. We thought it was a real interesting world and a great way to make a sports doc.”
Brent also adds, “Chris and I directing this film was a really big deal. He has a completely different background and different opinions than I do. That’s the way you have to do a film like this. There’s a lot of Catholic films that are going to come out and they’re always skewed one way. That’s not a discussion or an opinion. There’s a lot of bad things that have happened but there’s also a lot of okay people that we met. Chris and I come from two different places and that was super important to us. To show our era and our ideas of Catholicism. What does it look like? It looks like a soccer game right now.”
HNMAG “You do a fantastic job on this documentary and you bring out some very personal stories. How difficult was it to have access into the priest’s personal lives?”
CHRIS “Growing up with family in the church helped to get access and it was really a matter of ‘hey let’s go meet this person and let’s also meet this other person. We had the good fortune of Hodge sending me over there (Vatican, Rome) with my dad in 2016 to try and find some characters. It was on the very last day that we met Grayson, the American from Detroit. I knew there was something there and then he introduced us to Duarte, the musician/Jesuit/Youtube star. They then introduced us to the Africans and it became this ongoing thing. The Catholic Church is generally hesitant to grant access, but once they trusted us, they welcomed us in.”
HNMAG “Was it difficult to gain their trust and get them to open up?”
BRENT “Getting into the Vatican to film is one thing, getting vulnerable stories and truths along with earnestness and honesty is hard. They’d have these PR answers and put up a front. Nobody said what kind of story we could tell or tried to tell us what topics to stay away from. We have a priest that was kicked out of the priesthood, so we didn’t shy away from anything. This was an exploration into a world that nobody knows. We’re talking about guys in their late 20’s who are graduating from College and trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. I can’t speak for Chris, but I really related to the guys on that level. Asking the ‘why’ someone would want to be a priest in this day and age was part of that mission.”
HNMAG “The subjects in your film are not yet ordained but are in the process of getting to the next level, is that correct?”
CHRIS “They’re in their 4th year of (priest) college and they graduate/become ordained at the end of the film. With the exception of Father Oscar, they’re all ordained priests.”
HNMAG “I’m surprised that you did tackle some of the negative press about the Catholic Church considering it’s even worse now, with the discovery of the children’s bodies outside of a residential school.”
BRENT “I witnessed some pretty good individuals and the Catholic Church obviously has a lot of issues but we didn’t shy away from it. The individuals that we met have a reason for why they’re doing it and it was earnest and real. If we scurry around a subject, we’re not doing justice to the story. The incident that you’re talking about is one of many that has happened and to be frank, will keep happening. We’re going to keep seeing things and that’s a hard pill to swallow. We wanted to go in and get first hand information and not ask permission from anyone to make the film that we wanted to.”
Chris adds, “You do have to acknowledge it because it’s the reality that they’re stepping into… and they know that but despite all of it, they are still making that decision. Although we addressed it, we also wanted to spend a lot of time on soccer, on sport and what that means to a healthy human being and how faith and sport crossover with each other.”
HNMAG “Is soccer the only sport organized by the priests?”
CHRIS “No… there’s also a pretty amazing cricket team. It’s less of a tournament but the Vatican itself has a singular cricket team that goes to England and other places and kicks ass (laughing).”
HNMAG “Have any of the priests been scouted for a pro team?”
CHRIS “(Laughing) That’s so funny because there’s this one priest that was part of a different school and is a former pro goalkeeper. There are other former pros that play in the league and quite a high standard of play in these games.”
HNMAG “Was it pretty important for you to show the two different angles of the Catholic church?”
CHRIS “I grew up in it and Hodge didn’t, so there was a lot of explaining to do. It was about finding the middle ground between the two. Hodge grew up with sports and I didn’t (laugh).”
BRENT “What is faith, what is religion? What is your moral system, what is your value system? This is all stuff that I personally feel like I’ve explored while making this film.”
HNMAG “Does that mean that you might be joining the priesthood, Brent?”
BRENT “I’m currently inside a super church (pans iPhone to a grand ceiling with extremely large windows), no I’m kidding. I’m actually at a big theatre (laughing). It does feel like I’m at one of those mega/power churches in Minnesota.”
HNMAG “In order to be discreet, did you travel with a small crew?”
BRENT “It was an extremely small crew of 3-4 and I will say that we got the best footage when it was only one or two of us.”
CHRIS “There is an amazing sequence when we are out with Duarte and he’s being vulnerable and opening up about having a hole in his heart that God can’t even fill. That was just the three of us grabbing some food and drinks walking the streets of Rome. That’s how you get that personal stuff.”
HNMAG “The priest that was asked to leave because he had a secret family, must’ve been hard to track down?”
CHRIS “We had just finished shooting the film and started editing it, that’s when the scandal broke. Father Oscar went underground, and we couldn’t contact him for a very long time/a few months. I tracked him down on Facebook of all places. I reached out to him to ask if we could explore and talk about what happened. He’s an open book and such a character. We were going to go down there but then the pandemic hit. We planned another trip to go down and he said he’d tell us everything and how it happened. We had earned these guys trust from spending so much time with them. They knew that we would honour their stories and tell them fairly. I think it was important for him to tell his side of the events.”
BRENT “My favourite thing that Father Oscar had said, was… ‘having been through all of this, becoming a priest… being kicked out, finding my way to God – I feel closer to God now’. Whether he calls it a mistake or not, he knew what he needed to do. We loved his story and Chris talking to him over the pandemic and securing that later talk on camera… that’s when we knew we had an ending to our film.”
HNMAG “Was there a particular reason why you chose the Catholic institution?”
CHRIS “It led with the soccer because it was a new twist on the game. It truly is a World Cup of Soccer… but with priests. You’ve got all the countries represented and you have a high level of play. It’s approx. a 3 mth. tournament because it gets played over the course of the spring. There’s lots of games and the fans are passionate. It led with the soccer, but then you’re like… wait, there’s this whole other story here. Who are these players and what about these big choices they’re making in their lives?”
HNMAG “How much time did you get to spend over there?”
BRENT “It was quite a long period of time. 2016 was when Chris had met the priests and we did it within the two years of that. It was a lot of meeting the characters and going to Portugal. We went over for every game to follow the tournament – we also tried to follow the story. It took a few years.”
HNMAG “I also found the editing was done extremely well. Were any of you involved in that department?”
BRENT “When we got back, we thought this was pretty serious stuff, soccer was cool – but then we started to realize that we had some really funny people here. The tournament organizer, Felice on a scooter… is exactly what I think of when I think of Italian. When it came down to structuring it, we used Felice as the narrator to walk us through the tournament. A lot of it was done in the edit. We went over there and captured what we could and the idea of priests playing soccer is funny. You think of priests that are balding with bellies but they’re not. They’re young GQ looking guys, which was pretty shocking.”
HNMAG “I also loved the way the music set the tones and moods of the scenes. It must’ve taken a long time?”
CHRIS “I really feel like a signature of Hodge’s films is the music. He has an amazing ear for it. We’d come to him with mixes of songs and he’d tell us what’s working and not working. There’s also an artist, Connor Youngblood that we used 3 times. Hodge discovered him and he really sells it. The music is at the end of the film and I think it really helps to give it that strong emotional push.”
HNMAG “Where can we expect to see this film?”
CHRIS “It premieres at the end of the month (June) on Crave. It’s also going to be on VOD with Gravitas Ventures, so it will be all over the world and all over the US, iTunes, Amazon. We’re kicking it all off at the Kicking and Screening Festival out of New York on June 28.There’s going to be a Q&A with the priests, Chris and myself.”
Brent follows up with “It was a lot of fun to make this film with Chris and we’ve been wanting to make a film together for a very long time. This is our first film and Chris’s family came over, his wife came over and it felt like a tight knit group travelling together around Europe.”
They both say that Rome is an incredible city and it was a delight and a joy to go there so many times. After watching this film I think I’d love to go to Rome and experience the history, the architecture and the people.