When I was an undergrad at Notre Dame, I made a short called “Pope Michael”, about a guy in Kansas who believed that we was the rightfully-elected Roman Catholic pope. I loved making it, and soon after I graduated I decided to make a full-length documentary. I believed it warranted the full-length treatment because there were new characters (two young followers moving in with him and his mother) and new situations to explore (Pope Michael going to Kansas University to give a talk).
Last month I released “Pope Michael” for free online (you can see it here). It’s a testament to the level of technology that the web has risen to over the past four years for me to embed my entire documentary in HD right here below this paragraph:
It’s on YouTube and Vimeo which makes it available to pretty much any smart TV, smart phone, computer, or internet device around. The technology really is incredible. It’s free because I wanted people to see it with as few barriers to them clicking “play” as possible.
One question I’ve sometimes had is why didn’t “Pope Michael” premiere at any film festivals? The honest answer is that I was rejected from all of them! Embarrassing to admit, yes, but true. It wasn’t for lack of trying either – “Pope Michael” was rejected from 14 different film festivals from Sundance to Full Frame to the West Palm Beach Film Festival – right across the board.
I’m not exactly sure why it never won any favor with the powers that be in the film festival world, but I can’t help but doubt that it was because “Pope Michael” was lacking in originality. It’s never fun getting rejection letters (or emails), but it didn’t play a role in my lessening desire to make documentaries or the decision to put “Pope Michael” up online – those two things would’ve happened either way. Film festivals are competitive and although I wish “Pope Michael” premiered at one, I’d rather let the people who want to see it see it than hold out for a spot.
I learned a lot during the process of making “Pope Michael”. Probably the biggest lesson I figured out is that making documentaries is ultimately not what I’m interested in, although I continue to love watching them.
Even if it’s not what I’m ultimately interested in doing, the journey of making “Pope Michael” was well worth it in the end. I’ll never forget showing up at Bawden’s house one morning in October early enough to get a shot of snow falling on the grounds, or stopping at Cici’s Pizza on the way to the KU presentation, or immediately finding my iPhone after Tiki convened a group prayer to Saint Anthony after I told her I couldn’t find it. I owe a lot to my brother Derek, Doug Klinger, Michelle, and Andy Burd. I also owe a lot to many more people who were incredibly supportive of me taking time away from life to travel deep into the Kansas countryside.
I also owe a lot to my Poppa, who funded a good portion of “Pope Michael” and never got to see a frame of it. I think he’d like it.
Finally, probably the best thing to come out of the “Pope Michael” project has been my brother’s amazing soundtrack. He came up with something really incredible. We put it up on iTunes – I highly recommend you check it out.