Everyday Heroes, written by the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, David Naglieri, is a welcome antidote to the barrage of bad news which assaults us all day long. This documentary balances the prevailing dark view of humanity by focusing on the lives of fourteen ordinary men whose deep faith in God motivates them to love and serve selflessly. In the opening segment of the documentary, Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and the executive producer explains:
There’s a real crisis of heroism in our culture but it’s certainly not for a lack of everyday heroes. If we look carefully, we can see there are heroes all around.
Throughout history, people have searched for heroes and saints to look up to and to emulate. This multi-layered film fills that same need subtly and artistically, by informing, inspiring, and entertaining all at the same time.
An Interview With David Naglieri
David received a fellowship to study the influence of religion on contemporary global affairs. He earned a Master’s Degree in International Relations at Boston University and a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Marist College. His 2016 feature-length documentary, Liberating a Continent; John Paul II and the Fall of Communism won five Emmys and was praised by First Things magazine as a “documentary masterpiece”. I recently spoke with David.
Melanie: What inspired you to write Everyday Heroes?
David: I had the remarkable opportunity to profile individual Knights of Columbus who truly represent the essence of authentic heroism. These were initially shorter individual documentary series to be promoted online. However, while these were disparate stories we wanted to bring them together and create a richly woven tapestry that would bring to life the character and virtues that make up an “everyday hero.” In that sense, we set out to be both educate and inspire.
We feel powerful stories are the best way to distill ancient truths. In the example of the courageous and virtuous Knights featured in this film, I found myself inspired to be a better Catholic, father and husband myself. I certainly hope the film will have the same impact on others.
We hope viewers are inspired to follow these examples and to become “Everyday Heroes” in their communities, and among those they influence. In the Catholic faith, we have Saints for a reason. We need these models of heroic lives to remind us of God’s call in our own lives to strive for greatness, not measured by material success but by how we treat our neighbor.
Melanie: What would you say is the main message of Everyday Heroes?
David: I would say this film has two central messages. First, that heroism lies within our grasp. It is attainable and something we can and should aspire to. Secondly, there are heroes all around us. They just may not be who the ones we imagine. Oftentimes we look to the celebrity world for our heroes. But being a celebrity is not the same as being a hero.
We need to rediscover an appreciation for the heroic characteristics of courage, truthfulness, self-sacrifice, and concern for others. When we demonstrate courage & determination, when we selflessly serve those in need, when we lay down our lives for others we are becoming heroes. These are the character traits we seek to bring into stark relief against the values oftentimes presented by contemporary pop culture.
Melanie: I was impressed with the way you reinforced your theme without words. The technique of slowly transforming the first and last shot of each hero into a drawing unifies the segments but also conveys your main thesis that ordinary people are heroes worthy to be immortalized in art. These hidden people should be commemorated and their memories kept alive. Can you expand on this?
David: The credit for this artistic device really goes to my editor and co-director Marc Boudignon. Marc had the vision to utilize, in our own small way, the power of what a great portrait can bring: telling the story of a person, a life, through simple pencil or charcoal lines. Often these types of pictures can be more evocative than high definition video or still photography. And while our animated illustrations do indeed speak to the timelessness of great, heroic action, I like to think it also lets their humanity — even their normal human frailty — shine through. These men and women are heroes not simply because of what they do, but because of who they are. A sketch of a person in a moment in time often gets to the core of a person quicker, and more convincingly, than a hundred other images.
Melanie: I liked the quickly changing images of scenes from each person’s life; it keeps viewers interest, drawing people into the documentary without overwhelming their senses.
David: There’s always a balance that goes into telling a story in a visual way. You want to convey the richness of a particular scene by making sure you’ve covered it from lots of angles, but you also don’t want to wear out your welcome by staying on it for too long. As a filmmaker, you need to always keep the audience in the front of your mind. That has only increased with all the digital distractions we are now competing with. The other thing you have to consider is the changing aesthetic of the modern audience: quicker cuts, faster pacing. So it’s ultimately a balancing act – giving them enough fresh visuals to keep their interest piqued, but dwelling on your scenes long enough to imbue them with authentic emotion and thematic gravitas.
Melanie: I would like you to share the story of one of the men depicted in the film. Why did you choose him? What is his message to the viewer?
David: One of the individuals we profiled was Joe Reali, a handsome, popular star football player from New York who impacted every life he touched with his heart of service and passion for his Catholic faith. His joy and evangelical zeal were so extraordinary that when he passed away tragically at the age of 26 more than 3,000 people turned out for his funeral. Joe’s ability to harmonize his Catholic faith and commitment to living a moral life, with being fully immersed in the world represents a powerful witness to all young people seeking to integrate their Catholic faith into their lives.
Melanie: In what ways do these videos capture the mission of the Knights of Columbus?
David: At the Knights of Columbus, we are proud of our commitment to charity which is our first principle. Last year we set a record with nearly $200 million in donations and 75 million hours of service. But sometimes lost within those numbers are the individual stories of the Brother Knights who are committed to charitable service, and of the lives they touch through their efforts.
The Knights run many important charitable initiatives such as the Ultrasound initiative, coats for Kids, Food for Families, a partnership with Special Olympics, Christian Refugee Relief, the Warriors to Lourdes pilgrimage, and many others. We thought a video series sharing the personal experiences of individuals who are immersed in these programs would be a great way to share with the world the positive impact each of us can make in our communities.
For six weeks starting on May 19th, ABC is featuring this new documentary, Everyday Heroes. Air times and TV listings will be posted on KofC.org/heroesfilm as soon as they become available.
David has produced more than a dozen films since 2006, four in collaboration with Jim Caviezel as narrator (John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace (2018); Liberating a Continent (2016); Face of Mercy (2016); Guadalupe: The Miracle and the Message (2015)) and hundreds of TV programs, corporate videos and national TV commercials. His films are noted for their combination of extensive and original historical research, emotive and forceful storytelling, and fearless conviction.