During the filming of EWTN’s first major motion picture, “Kateri,” fhe story of the young Mohawk girl who became the first Native American saint, Writer/Director James Kelty says there were many “blessed” moments involving cast and crew. Of all the stories Kelty tells, my favorite involves the set’s costume person, Marilyn Mixemong, who is from Canada.
Kelty says that Mixemong got to know all the actors on the set, including the 50 or so extras from Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Mendota, California, who traveled 100 miles from their Central Valley location to the coast to participate in a full day of filming. When Mixemong returned to Canada, she continued to correspond with some of them.
“Marilyn had a third class relic of Kateri,” Kelty said. “She mailed it to them. One of the extras was the grandmother of a one-and-a-half-year-old girl who couldn’t walk yet. There was a lot of concern. The little girl’s name was Kateri. The grandmother pinned the relic to the little girl. A couple days or weeks later, I’m not sure, the little girl was at Mass and started taking her first steps. They were blown away!”
We hope EWTN viewers will also be blown away when EWTN airs “Kateri” at 9:30 p.m. ET, Wednesday, Nov. 18 and 8 p.m. ET, Saturday, Nov. 21. Before the Wednesday premiere, don’t miss Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s live interview with Kelty on a special “EWTN Live” at 8 p.m. ET, Nov. 18.
Kelty is no stranger to EWTN having produced a mini-series viewers will remember called “Footprints in the Wilderness,” which was about St. Issac Jogues and Rene Goupil, who were two of the eight North American Martyrs. Kateri was born about 10 years after the deaths of these missionaries and in the same village they attempted to Christianize. He also produced the five-part series, “Serra – Every Forward, Never Back,” which aired on EWTN in 2013.
“I was trying to go back 400 years, to see how they lived and what they probably had to go through,” said Kelty, who wrote the screenplay for “Kateri.” “There was terrible dislocation, disease, and intertribal warfare — it wasn’t always the Europeans [with whom the tribes were warring]. If you read the personal accounts of the Jesuit missionaries, it really draws you in.”
Another great inspiration for Kelty was his interview with Historian and McGill University Professor Alan Greer, who wrote a book called “Catherine Tekakwitha.”
“There’s a lot we don’t know; a lot we have to fill in according to our best guess and prayer,” Kelty continued. “But Greer’s point of view allowed me to see it as a secular historian would see it. I could see the shortcomings in his views and compare it with the hagiographies written by the Jesuit missionaries and come up with something that I think is as honest and truthful as we could make it. It was an honor and a privilege.”
John Elson, EWTN’s Director of Program Acquisitions and Co-Productions, who produced the film along with Executive Producer Doug Keck, says Kelty’s extensive research is one reason the film is so moving.
“People are often presented as if they were born saints and were that way their whole lives without any sense of growth and development,” Elson said. “Kateri is a saint, but previous to this, she was a young Mohawk girl. The importance of missionaries is also beautifully captured in the movie. That’s a subject that is often an overlooked part of the story.”
One of Kelty’s favorite memories involves the canoe scenes with the Jesuit missionaries. The crew was filming in a saltwater inlet, in a back part of Morro Bay, California. Kelty says the cast was on shore, shooting a dialogue scene, when the weather changed.
“All of a sudden this incredible fog descended. I said, ‘Stop everything. Get in those canoes and paddle your arms off into this fog. Then turn around and come towards us.’ In the film, you see these ghostly shapes coming out of that fog. There’s a ghostly shimmer on the water. There is no way Hollywood with all its money could have done it better!
“The snow that fell the day we arrived [in Canada] and the fog that suddenly appeared on Morro Bay (California] were two knock-your-socks-off things that happened. I call them goose bump moments. This production was blessed. There is no other way to say it.”
St. Kateri devotees, rejoice! Kelty will follow up this movie with an original four-part docudrama mini-series on St. Kateri, which will premiere on her feast day, July 14, 2016. He promises it will go into even more detail about the background and history of this beloved saint and the missionaries who gave their lives to Christianize an area that is now part of Canada.