Big vision. Big screen.
Take about 200 preteens and teenagers, give them 14-hour summer days with limited adult supervision, and what do you get? A feature-length movie about an epic battle between good and evil, or “practically a miracle,” said co-director Clare Vining.
This story begins in 2015 with a fail. The Vining family of Carrollton couldn’t find a movie that would be appropriate and entertaining for the five children and their parents. What they found instead was a video on how to make a movie.
Watching that lit a match under the two oldest Vining children, Clare and Mary, now 18 and 16 respectively.
Since then, Clare and Mary have made several short films, and on March 29 -30, their latest and most ambitious film, “The Light of Virsa,” will premiere at the Cinemark 17 in Dallas.
The Vining sisters are quick to credit God “for the graces to make it happen” and for the volunteer talents of the 200-member cast and crew. A primary contributor is 18-year-old composer Diego Campos, who wrote and arranged the original score for the 90-minute movie, as well as two previous short films with the Vining sisters.
Diego became involved early in “The Light of Virsa,” while the sisters were still putting the final touches on the script they began writing in February 2019.
“Music is 50 percent of a film,” said Clare. Mary added, “It really makes it flow, and tells you what emotion you are supposed to be having.”
“It’s like glue for the various scenes you put together,” said Diego, a member of St. Mary Parish in Dublin. Diego’s score includes themes for the hero and his foil, and he carefully matches the action of the fight scenes and abduction.
The music and film combine to tell a tale of an orphan on a quest to rescue his kidnapped sister and restore goodness and order to the mythical land of Virsa.
Clare explained, “The whole idea of the film is that while the struggle between good and evil is often desperate on the side of good — and it’s a hard, long run — good is the victor in the end, always. So even if it looks like evil is winning, in the end, good always triumphs.
“It’s supposed to be encouragement, especially to Christians, to keep going and to know that they are going to win, as long as they stay with the good. That’s the winning team,” she said.
Lights, Camera, Catholicism
Until its upcoming theatrical release and subsequent distribution via streaming, a broad audience has not viewed this feature film with its Christian message of hope, perseverance, and the ultimate triumph of good.
However, Clare and Mary realize the production itself is a powerful tool of evangelization for the large cast and crew.
Although many, including Clare, Mary, and Diego, have a strong foundation in the faith due to their Catholic homeschooling, others have been recruited to the project through flyers at the public library and word of mouth. For some, a day at the set may be their first exposure to teens who are actively practicing the Catholic faith.
The co-directors begin and end each day of filming with prayer, and participants abide by a strict code of behavior governing dress code, phone and media usage, and other matters vital to teens.
In conversations with their peers about the reasons behind the rules, they share “how passionate about Christianity we are. The set is a good place to evangelize and just help people’s lives grow in a good direction,” said Mary.
Michael Hoffman, who plays one of the few adult roles in the movie, observed the girls growing up as they attended daily Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Carrollton.
He reflected, “I’m so grateful to be a part of watching God move in their lives. God is setting up people to have influence where He needs them to be. He has given them as gifts their desire to be filmmakers and their talents. They give those gifts back to Him, then they feel joy and are energized. It just gets better and better.”
The three teens have given their talents back to God in full measure. Together the sisters have dedicated about 11,000 hours to the project over two years, which began with scriptwriting, continued with filming and editing, and concludes with marketing and distribution. Not to mention scouting the 40 locations, coordinating schedules of the volunteer actors and crew, and mastering special effects software, among many tasks to get their vision to the big screen.
Clare laughed, “We learn the quality as we do the quantity.”
Diego estimates he’s spent more than 4,000 hours writing music for the movie, but it taps into his passion.
“Music is, in my opinion, the purest form of human expression,” he said. “Simply the act of playing or performing music is giving back to God because it brings joy to others. But when you compose the music, you do that in a more intimate and deeper way than performing. And if I can assist in telling a great story . . . that’s perfect.”
Leesa Hammit, Diego’s music instructor, expects “The Light of Virsa” won’t be his last musical score. She said, “He has tons of talent, so much potential. At a gut level, he understands how to support what’s going on — the emotions, the lighting, the sound effects, the plot. His work is not for his own glory, not about how cool the music is, but to make a cohesive, beautiful ensemble with what’s happening on screen.”
Diego completed his high school studies in December and is enrolled in community college in Stephenville. He plans to study music composition at University of North Texas.
Clare, who now attends Mater Dei in Irving with her family, will finish high school this spring. She’s not sure about her next step. She said, “We’re very passionate about filmmaking. If this is what God calls us to in the future, absolutely, we’ll be doing this full out, just like we’re doing now and hopefully impacting a lot of people. But if He calls us somewhere else, then that’s where we’ll be.”