Sacred premieres December 10 at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN. [Update: Streaming now online and via THIRTEEN Explore and PBS apps.]
A solitary Buddhist monk walks around Mount Hiei in Japan as part of a 1,000-day meditation and prayer practice, on a quest for enlightenment. A young Muslim father from Cairo softly chants the call to prayer to his baby who is only minutes old. A dying woman in Connecticut reflects on the power of prayer. A bris in New York City. The Dance of the Virgin Carmen in Peru. A Chinese Muslim wedding in Chongqing, China.
These are a few of the compelling spiritual and cultural moments captured in Sacred, a new documentary premiering December 10 at 10 p.m. on THIRTEEN. Sweeping in global reach and yet intensely intimate, the film by Academy Award-winning documentarian Thomas Lennon (American Experience: The Battle Over Citizen Kane), is a tour de force that unifies these disparate scenes into a single work, told without narration, without experts and, for long stretches, without words at all.
Filmed by more than 40 teams around the world, Sacred reveals how people turn to ritual and prayer to navigate the milestones and crises of private life throughout the life cycle – from birth to death to rebirth. Lennon commissioned or sourced footage from top independent filmmakers from more than 25 countries who documented a wide range of religious traditions — each team contributing a single scene.
“Here the goal is to plunge the viewer into a series of private experiences of faith and hopefully the intensity of that encounter shakes up our reactions, triggers something fresh,” said director Thomas Lennon.
While filmmakers around the world were capturing seminal life moments, Lennon was stationed in New York City. He sought out local filmmakers across the world who could film these moving stories of faith, religion, and spiritual practice with an immediacy, intimacy, and understanding not accessible to outsiders.
“This was not a crowd-sourced film — far from it — but it was an intense international cooperation, carried out across the web for more than two years between filmmaking teams all over the globe and a director who never left his home base in New York,” he explains.
The film’s journey begins with initiations of infancy, such as bris and baptism, then moves on to coming-of-age ceremonies in Mandalay, Jerusalem and the San Carlos Apache Reservation, featuring boys and girls at the cusp of adolescence. We see teenagers in Spain and India lean on their faith to navigate the most intimate pressures of their lives — the strains between two parents, the prohibitions of dating. We also observe the rituals of marriage and the trials of adulthood, as well as the rites — some of them solemn, others riotous and drunken — by which we remember and treasure our dead.
Lennon found that the film became a deeper reflection into religion and spirituality than most documentaries that cover the topic. “As media people in a cosmopolitan city like New York, we’re expected, on the whole, to approach subjects of religion and faith with a very hard-eyed, skeptical, analytical view,” he said in a Q&A following a Sacred screening at the film festival DOC NYC. “But for me this (film) was an opportunity to come with a softer heart. As a great teacher said, ‘Religion is a fire, and it can burn you, or it can warm you.’ I wanted to look at that part of the story where faith warms you.”