A community of secular monks lives
in an isolated monastery on the Italian hills, identifying themselves as Christians
and practicing the martial arts. The call themselves Warriors of the Light and for
the past 20 years have been aiming to physical and spiritual perfection through
exhausting training and obsessive practices. The body is taken to its extremes in
order to forge the soul though discipline and meditation, living in a world of
abnegation which looks incomprehensible to many. They give up to the outside
world and to themselves as well, they give up to colors (they can only wear in
white) in a suffocating research for purity which pushed them to run away from
the contaminations of the world. They spend their days between prayers, extreme
training, unrestrained dances and vaguely-oriental rituals.
These warrior monks are the
protagonists of Valentina Pedicini’s latest documentary Faith, presented
in the Berlin Critics’ Week after its world premiere at IDFA in Amsterdam.
The director lived side by side with them for many months, sharing the daily
life of the community (counting 22 people as of today) led by a guru-master who
is also a former kung fu champion. “Faith was conceived as a visual and
emotional experience in the life and the psyche of the monks – the director
states – In order to achieve this result, it’s been fundamental to live with
them and accept the strict rules that regulates their universe.” As a matter of
fact, during their time in the monastery, the whole crew had to abide by a
series of rules, including wearing white only and use specific clothes and
shoes not to contaminate the place with impurities coming from the outside
world. The documentary is shot in black and white (cinematography is by Bastian
Esser), proving a consistent choice to describe such an exclusive and reclusive
Faith is produced by Stemal Entertainment with Rai
Cinema, with the contribution of Cinema and Audiovisual Directorate General –
MiBACT, with the participation of IDM Sudtirol – Alto Adice, produced by
Donatella Palermo (Oscar nomination and Golden Bear with Fuocoammare,
Golden Bear with Taviani brothers’ Caesar Must Die).
How did you approach such a closed
world and win their trust?
Time was key. My crew of four and I
lived within the community for five months, in a dimension of total
confinement. We spent an endless time together, like 15 hours per day to get 1
hour of shooting, but this was essential to tell the truth and tell it in an authentic
way, to catch what was happening in front of our eyes.
Did you abide by specific rules to
be welcomed by the community?
One of the rules was to wear in
white like them. It’s been the most difficult thing to accept, because it felt
like a form of de-personalization: we had to give up our clothes and wear a
uniform. Their uniform.
What took you to explore such a
I entered this world wondering why, at
a certain point in life, one decides to give up not only the outside world, but
also a part of one’s own identity. It’s not only religious faith, but faith in
someone. It’s been an interesting way to break down prejudices, because one
often thinks that people who are involved in this kind of situation have big problems.
Instead, these people belong to the middle-high class, some of them have a
college degree and didn’t have huge problems in their lives. This makes the
question of why one puts his own existence in the hands of someone else even bigger.
Why do you think the monks accepted
to be filmed?
They accepted to be filmed for a
very human reason. Eleven years ago, I made a short film about them. They hadn’t
seen people from the outside world since then, so my return has been something very
strong for them on a human level. Moreover, the Master was convinced that I was
back because God decided it. I also think that, for the first time, he wanted
to tell the story of this community outside of the monastery, for people to get
to know it. I feel he gave me the chance to film a sort of testament of the
Have you ever been afraid that the
community could be perceived in a distorted or ridiculous way from the outside
Not only my gaze doesn’t judge, but
it tries to keep a balance, also visually, because I know there’s a risk to
ridicule them. My effort was to find this balance in telling the truth without
betraying the protagonists and, at the same time, taking them closer to the
audience. I didn’t want it to be perceived as a film about a sect, but on a psychological
The members of the community live in
a sort of constant physical performance. How did you manage to bring out their
Having such a strong relation with
their body and its performance, they’re almost like actors. Once again, it was time
and waiting for them to undress from that ongoing performance, that brought out
the truth. I wanted them to step down from the stage they live daily, and remind
there’s still something human in them. In this effort, kids showed an
extraordinary power. Every time they arrived, I felt relieved. They are the
only ones who are in contact with the outside world, who leave the community.
It’s not by chance that the only gaze into the camera I didn’t edit out, was
that of a little girl, which is a way for me to say that kids don’t lie and
that that gaze is outside of the performance.
Which is the war they are getting
They believe in an apocalyptic
dimension that will come in the future, and they are ready to fight it to
defend us all. But the war that fascinated me the most, is the one they fight against
themselves by giving up everything, until becoming an armored body wearing those
Did they see the film? How did they
They screened the film in a theatre
we rented for the occasion. It was the first time they went to the cinema after
many years. It’s been very tough and emotional for them all, they all cried,
also because they saw again Gabriele, who left the community a few months after
the shooting. The Master told me it is a tough and violent film, but one that
tells the truth, so he has nothing to complain about.