Movie Review: The Human Experience

Last October I attended a pre-screening of the first feature film of independent filmmakers at Grassroots Films, The Human Experience. I was familiar with their previous work: they had done an powerful infomercial on the priesthood called, Fishers of Men for the USCCB, and a short documentary about a Eucharistic Procession on the streets of New York City which was beautifully done. Both showed that these two men had great promise as Catholic filmmakers.

The Human Experience is the story of two young men, Clifford and Jeffrey Azize, who, as young men are prone to do, seek the meaning of their own existence. Since they hail from Brooklyn, you might expect them to seek meaning on the streets of New York, and they do, only they put themselves in the shoes of the homeless in order not only to film them, but to understand them. On the coldest night of the year, with temperatures near zero degrees.

The plight of the homeless in New York is something I both studied as a graduate student of Social Work in Manhattan, and labored with as a Social Worker with Catholic Charities. I set up literacy programs in soup kitchens and tutoring programs in poor parishes. I taught high school in poor neighborhoods to angry teens who had never met their fathers and had already committed felonies. I thought I knew the poor of New York. But I have never lived with them, not even for one cold night as these men did. The open discussion, which they were able to film, between themselves and these homeless individuals was something I've never seen whether in my personal experience or on film.

What moved me most was the optimism of these poorest of the poor. Many of those interviewed were absolutely certain that God had his Hand on them, and that He had a plan for their lives. They were hurt by the indifference around them, but not crushed. Perhaps part of God's plan was the way they would touch us by their testimony that frigid night in New York. They taught us that having a great job or fancy home is not the meaning of life.

I was looking forward to the next segment with the disabled children in Peru. My daughter has Down syndrome, so the joy in these children's faces is part of my daily experience of motherhood. I was not disappointed. The children, most of whom lived in deplorable conditions of poverty and neglect, were absolutely bursting with enthusiasm for life. They ate up the attendtion of the men and their friends, and within a simple therapy trip to the hospital, it was obvious that another powerful life lesson was learned. Physical perfection is not the meaning of life. Loving one another is.

Then, off to Africa to visit the desperately ill within the dreaded leper colony, and the modern plague, HIV. Again, hope in the midst of illness, societal rejection, and grinding poverty. Death is looming for many of these people, and an uncertain future. But the sense of hope and loving community somehow upholds them. What is their secret? The filmmakers interject black and white shots of modern day philosphers, including Fr. John Neuhaus, offering their ideas on the meaning of life.

The sequence of the Eucharistic procession through the African rain forest, and the words of the Muslim cleric divulged part of the secret to the happiness of these ill and dying financially destitute people. Their eyes were able to see beyond this world to the one beyond. To someone who loves them. The meaning of life is having an eternal purpose.

By far the most powerful part of the film is the surprise ending where one of the young men puts his newfound knowlege into practice in an unexpected way. An unforgettable way. At the disccussion following the standing ovation, Fr. Benedict Groeschel praised the film for it's role in the New Springtime of Evangelization. I was perpelxed, the religious content of the film was far less than their previous work. He went on to explain that those in this culture need to be met where they are in order to be brought to the Truth. And it's a long journey, this discovering of the meaning of the Human Experience.

The website of the film lists locations where the rough-cut version can be screened.


Mother to three daughters and a Literature instructor, Leticia has always loved writing, good literature, and classic films. She became a blogger in 2006, and began to include film reviews on her blogs, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, and Cause of Our Joy Suddenly Leticia was thrust into the world of film criticism when Eric Sheske of the National Catholic Register mentioned her blog as a source for Catholic film reviews. The next day, an invitation arrived to attend a film premiere in Hollywood, which she accepted, and a film critic was born. Leticia began Catholic Media Review to guide parents in their decisions on whether to let their children see a particular film. She also promotes independent family films like “Bella”, and “Fireproof” so that they can reach a larger audience. Her goal is nothing less than a transformation of the culture to what Pope John Paul II called a “Culture of Life”. She realizes that the pivotal role the media has to play in this transformation, and is determined that those who would defame Christ’s message do not have the last word. She writes film and book reviews for the following publications: MercatorNet, Catholic Exchange, Catholic Online, and “National Catholic Register”. Her reviews have been posted at the websites of Reuters, IMBD, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, and various TV news stations.

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