Build a house and “Build a bridge”

At 45, Julián buried his 39-year-old wife and told God he would like to live to be 50, but no longer. He is now 90 years old and most of his seven children have left their home in Mexico for the United States and have started families and lives of their own. One of his grandchildren, filmmaker Iliana Sosa, tells Julián’s story in the crystal clear, emotionally deep and poetically resonant documentary “What we leave behind.

For decades, Julián’s life consisted of long bus rides between his ramshackle home in Mexico and El Paso, Texas, where most of his family lives. But the bus company thinks he is now too frail to make the trip alone, so Sosa accompanies him to his village of San Juan del Río where he is engaged in the construction of a new house. He says the project is for his blind son Jorge, with whom he shares a room in their stolen home (in a sort of memento mori, Julián passes the time crushing parasites), or maybe it’s for his children or grandchildren, or whoever wants it. The house, it seems, has moved from the realm of concrete aspiration to elusive metaphor.

Not that it’s not hard work. Julián helps as much as he can, lamenting his failing abilities. The workers pile up cinder blocks and work at the minimalist structure at a leisurely pace while Julián good-naturedly denounces their slowness and lethargy. (“These workers are so patient they don’t do anything,” he grumbles.)

Meanwhile, Sosa, off camera, questions his grandfather, and sometimes his uncle Jorge, about their lives. She asks the kind of questions a child might ask – deceptively simple, provocative and profound. How did Julian feel when his wife died? She is puzzled that he does not express grief. How did his photo end up on an American worker’s ID card along with his brother-in-law’s name? The answer reveals some of the hard truths about Julián’s youth working as a migrant laborer after World War II. Was he afraid of death? “There is more time than life,” he said resignedly.

Sosa’s style seems, at first glance, as basic and no-frills as the construction of Julián’s house but is actually more elegant and subtle. In one sequence, she recalls a story Julián told her about a woman who told her suitor that to win her hand he would have to build her a house with a hundred doors. He does and they get married. Sosa narrates this in voiceover while holding a long shot of a ruined mansion, presumably the story’s house, with Jorge standing in front. Then she goes to her grandfather’s house, which is still under construction.

It is a melancholy image, perhaps a symbol of the ruins of the past and dreams of the future.

What we leave behind screens as part of the DocYard series at 7 p.m. May 9 at the Brattle Theater. The filmmaker will participate in a Q&A after the screening.

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conversion therapy

Directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post and produced by Martin Scorsese, “Building a Bridge” (2021) is in part the story of two Catholic activists and their antithetical approach to one of the main challenges of the Church – how to meet the LGBTQ+ members of the community.

Both had epiphanies regarding the matter.

Michael Voris, on his own, had lived a sinful life as a gay man in Detroit where he worked in broadcasting. His devout Catholic parents loved him but did not accept what they and the Church saw as sinful and evil behavior. Then his mother had cancer and his brother died. Faced with these presentiments of mortality, Voris reconverted to faith. He started a media company called Church Militant and showcased his now homophobic views on a podcast called “The Vortex,” “where lies and falsehoods are trapped and exposed.”

The other subject of the film, Reverend James Martin, SJ, actually had two conversion experiences. He, like Voris, had been involved in a strictly secular profession, making money in the world of finance as a self-proclaimed yuppie. Then he read “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Thomas Merton’s spiritual autobiography from 1948 about how he took on the life of a Trappist monk. Inspired by the book, Martin shocked his friends and family by joining the Jesuit order. He worked as co-editor of America magazine, wrote several popular books including “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life” (2010) and became an avid gardener.

That relatively quiet life was disrupted when he encountered his second Damascus Road moment: the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub, in which a gunman murdered 49 people. What particularly dismayed him was the Church’s silence in the face of the tragedy and its indifference towards the victims and their families, many of whom were Catholic.

So he wrote a book about it in 2017 called “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.” To his surprise, it was a bestseller, and he quickly became the spokesperson and advocate for LGBTQ+ souls seeking inclusion in the Church community.

Mascagni and Post alternate the activities of the two men as they make public appearances, go about their daily lives (Voris drives a Jeep and plays with his adorable dog; Martin grows flowers and visits his worried mother who asks him to he has a gun), and appear on the media espousing their messages. Martin is reeling from the relentless hate he receives both online and in person, some of which is inspired, directly or indirectly, by Voris’s fulminations.

Could a bridge be built between the two? Martin agrees, but Voris seems determined to tear down the bridges.

“Building a Bridge” will be released on VOD on May 3, followed by a launch on AMC+ on June 21 and premiering on Sundance TV on June 26.

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Peter Keough can be reached at [email protected].

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