Blake Avery discusses short film ‘Clergy’

by Naomi Laeuchli

Blake Avery, a student at Notre Dame University, discusses his short film Clergy which he collaborated on with fellow student Zuri Eshun. He discusses the film itself, his favorite aspects of it and the importance of pushing boundaries.

Can you tell me a little bit about the film ‘Clergy’?

‘Clergy’ was the final collaboration project for a production course between my colleague Zuri Eshun and I in the University of Notre Dame’s film program. The film follows the psychological faltering of faith within an aspiring priest in seminary school as his fervor for a friendly woman gradually overcomes his mind. His daily routines become plagued by haunting visions of her smile and body that ultimately force him to choose between a devotion to the Church or that of his own desires.

 What was your favorite aspect of the story?

After digesting Zuri’s provocative script, I couldn’t help but be inspired by its creative desire to challenge viewers to go somewhere they didn’t necessarily want to go – that perhaps the religious figures most people look towards for the comfort of reassurance can perhaps feel the creeping spread of doubt within themselves. My favorite aspect of the story is its insistence on reflecting the viewer’s gaze inward, of twisting the camera on the audience and forcing them to analyze their own architectures of faith. By destabilizing the foundations of the priest’s convictions, ‘Clergy’ in effect invites viewers to question their own.

What was the hardest part of creating this film?

The most challenging part of creating this film was devising unique and effective techniques of implanting the viewer within the mind of the priest. Because our concept relied so heavily upon inhabiting the psychology of our main character, we had to conceptualize a multitude of visual and auditory codes that could creatively translate his subjective thoughts and emotions to the audience. We tried extremely hard to make it feel as if your own mind was insidiously crumbling alongside our character’s throughout the plot’s progression. However, when viewers admit that it feels like they experienced the film through the priest’s psyche, all the hard work we put in to the film feels immensely rewarded.

What was the biggest thing you learned from working on ‘Clergy’?

To me, the most important lesson I learned from creating ‘Clergy’ is to be comfortable in pushing the boundaries of what a film is ‘supposed’ to do. Admittedly, it was a bit nerve-wracking to be producing a considerably controversial concept in addition to screening it for hundreds of students across my campus in our annual film festival. At first, the prospect of depicting a somewhat ‘taboo’ subject seemed daunting, but the more we delved into our story, the more confident and inspired I became to fully realize it on screen. It became vitally important to us to create something that had a meaningful, vibrant vision that went beyond traditional aesthetics, sounds and narratives. ‘Clergy’ ultimately taught me that you shouldn’t be afraid to work outside of the normal boundaries in cinema because within that thrilling, liberated space is where some of the most captivating stories flourish.

What is your next film project?

My next film project, entitled Beleza, meaning ‘beauty’ in Portuguese, is another artistic collaboration between Zuri Eshun and I. This summer, we were funded by Notre Dame to travel to Salvador De Bahia, the Brazilian community in which our script takes place. We used this opportunity to research the sociocultural and historical context of our main characters, three Brazilian teenagers navigating the unstable racial and political conditions of their community whilst also growing up in high school. After interviewing many local students and sociology professors, scouting set locations, and researching the energetic culture that inhabits Salvador, we hope to return to Brazil later this year in order to shoot our film. I am extremely excited to see where this project goes, especially because it has so much meaning for the actual Brazilian youth living in Salvador, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

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