| Hollywood insider sees opportunity for Catholic impact
By working in small, low budget productions rather than in the traditional film industry, a veteran of the Hollywood entertainment industry sees an opportunity for Catholics to make a new impact on Americans through the media.
Writer and producer Ron Austin says some big-budget Christian movies made in Hollywood had some positive impacts, including "The Passion of the Christ." But those movies cost a great deal and are probably tougher for Catholics to produce today, in part because of the cost.
Austin told the Catholics at Work breakfast in October that he envisions a renewed Catholic entertainment ministry with smaller efforts, even hand-held cameras. Those efforts would be far less expensive and could produce good results.
The timing is right, said Austin, citing the calls of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis "to get out there and make a radical commitment to the poor, to peace.
"We may now be called to be a visible Catholic community. We are the radical alternative" to today's dominant culture.
Austin was born and raised Jewish in Hollywood and worked for half a century as a producer and writer. He did not convert to Catholicism until his 50s. Since then he has worked in homeless shelters and prison ministry, written several books and now lectures on culture and media at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley.
With his long background in "the belly of the beast," Austin traced a shift from the 1930s and 1940s when Hollywood made films that were idealistic and patriotic, through a loss of idealism, and the disappearance of alternates to it. Catholic priests and families had been held up as an ideal.
But by the 1970s the movie world's strong father figures had largely disappeared, replaced by actors such as James Dean, Elvis Presley and Sal Mineo.
"They are all adolescent males. You start fragmenting the family and you have arrested development," Austin observed.
"Today the commonality of the American experience is the broken family."
Catholics trying to impact the nation through entertainment can do so, in Austin's view, but they should work in small media that deliver a clear Christian message, rather than producing films that look like old Hollywood movies.
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