Not To Be Dismissed
Dorothy Day: Don't Call Me a Saint
Directed by Claudia Larson
2006, One Lucky Dog Productions
Running Time: 57 minutes
his thoughtful labor of love was written, directed, and produced by Claudia Larson (a first-time filmmaker) and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April. Running at 57 minutes, it does not attempt to address every aspect of Dorothy Day's life, but does address the primary challenge: How does one tell the story of a woman who was as ordinary as she was extraordinary, without romanticizing either aspect?
Larson began the film in 1993 after attending the Catholic Worker's 60th anniversary celebration and meeting long-time Catholic Worker Joe Zarella, who encouraged her to make it. Thirteen years later we have the fruits of that encounter: a poignant picture of a remarkable woman. While Day is considered worthy of sainthood by many, including some in the Catholic hierarchy, as Day's famous quote, "Don't call me a saint," in the title suggests, getting to know this woman might not be such an easy task.
Much has been made of Dorothy Day as a great paradox. Many have tried to capture who she was, and most conclude that while the facts of her life might seem at odds to some, at her core was a firm belief in the dignity of every person and the insatiable desire to create and live out a vision of a more just world. Don't Call Me a Saint chronicles Day's roots in early-20th-century communist circles and in the company of radical writers, her work as a journalist, her common-law marriage to Forster Batterham, and the birth of her daughter-an event that influenced her conversion and entrance into the Catholic Church. We are taken through protests of the air raid drills and the Vietnam War, the growth of the Catholic Worker newspaper, the opening of many houses of hospitality, her last arrest in 1973 with the United Farmworkers, and finally, her death on November 29, 1980.
Larson allows much of the story to be told simply through photographs, many of them quite striking: crowded dinners at the Catholic Worker, demonstrations, alone in prayer, or surrounded by children. The many interviews in the film give voice and depth to the archival footage, weaving stories about Dorothy and life at the Catholic Worker with a conversational ease. Those interviewed make up an eclectic list: Day's daughter, Tamar Hennessy; Catholic Workers past and present; authors John Cort, Eileen Egan, and Fr. Daniel Berrigan; and artist Ade Bethune. The interviewees are at once serious and joking, chuckling at anecdotes and recounting with awe Dorothy's impact upon their lives.
Larson uses art and music with careful attention to detail. The art is bold and the music ethereal, not used as filler but as crucial aspects of the story. Behind the conversations and photos one can hear Puccini, one of Dorothy's favorites, La Bohème and La Rondine, the Latin chant Veni Creator from the Roman rite, and original music by Wes Hambright. There are woodcuts of the Works of Mercy, and ink drawings of the violence of war and the lives of the saints. This use of art and music embodies Dorothy's belief that "the world will be saved by beauty," and her ability to find that beauty in the midst of suffering.
The full quote goes, "Don't call me a saint, I don't want to be dismissed that easily." Day feared that the pedestal of sainthood would make us, mere mortals, forget the many tasks at hand-the daily struggle of building a better world. This film ensures we never will.
For more information on the film, visit www.dorothydaydoc.com.