New documentary on chaplains to air on PBS

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Hospitals, prisons, battlegrounds - these are the dramatic life-or-death settings where you would expect to find chaplains guiding the wayward and administering last rites. But director Martin Doblmeier's new documentary, "Chaplains," shows that chaplains from various faith traditions also offer pastoral care in little-known locations: Tyson Foods processing plants, NASCAR race tracks, the U.S. Congress and a Hollywood retirement home among them.

"As human beings we are all body, mind and spirit, and the role of the chaplain is that dimension we call the spirit, a role that too often goes underserved," Doblmeier said in recent press materials released by his Alexandria-based production company, Journey Films. "For many, that is where they find meaning in their lives and at those times when we ask the big questions like 'how could this happen to me' or 'why do I deserve this?' It's the chaplain's role not to invent meaning but help the person reconnect to what is most meaningful for them. And often there is a spiritual dimension."

After working on the two-hour film since 2013, Doblmeier will debut "Chaplains" at the Pryzbyla Student Center at Catholic University in Washington Sept. 10 at 7 p.m. Admission to the screening is free and open to the public. Father (Major General) Paul K. Hurley, the U.S. Army's new Chief of Chaplains and one of the documentary's subjects, will be in attendance. After the screening, audience members will have the chance to ask Doblmeier about the film's content and production process. His director credits include more than 30 documentaries on topics of faith.

Doblmeier anticipates being asked why Catholics should "care about chaplains from other faith traditions," such as the female Buddhist chaplain who serves at a men's maximum prison in Oregon. His answer is to encourage "religious civility" and dampen "intolerance," which he calls a form of "ignorance," by witnessing non-Catholic beliefs put into practice.

"Most of us genuinely do live in our own religious silos," he said. Outside of those silos, we can feel "threatened" or "unnerved."

"When members of other faiths are nameless and faceless, it can be difficult to see their humanity," he said. He added that it's rarely the faith traditions themselves that promote violence or otherwise hateful behavior, "but, rather, misconceptions of the faith." Doblmeier makes films about religion because "religion can offer solutions to societal problems and civil unrest."

Doblmeier anticipates Catholics will connect with the subjects he chose, regardless of their faith tradition. In selecting subjects, Doblmeier faced "literally thousands of story possibilities," but he chose people who were representative of their faith traditions yet serving in unconventional places. He also sought to "balance the harder story (like prison and the military)" with "a lighter, more entertaining story (like NASCAR)."

"In the end, television is here to engage the masses," he said. "This is not a theological dissertation."

The challenge of presenting religious content on television today, according to Doblmeier, is that "there's a great suspicion that you might be proselytizing." Nonetheless, he hopes the film will resonate with secular audiences as they watch chaplains "live and celebrate their faith" as counselors and mentors.

"Chaplains" also will be screened at Parliament of the World's Religions in Salt Lake City in October, with a total of 24 screenings in the works. Available on DVD Oct. 1, the documentary will air in two segments on PBS stations beginning November 2015.

Find out more

To learn more about additional screenings, air dates and DVD orders, go to journeyfilms.com.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015