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Documentary Covers Opus Dei, Prominent Group in 'Da Vinci Code'

12 Apr, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

It's one of the most controversial elements of Dan Brown's bestselling The Da Vinci Code: the author's treatment of Opus Dei.

The Catholic sect was largely unknown outside church circles before the hit novel.

While there are many documentary DVDs centered on Brown's tale, none have focused specifically on the group until now.

April 11 BFS Entertainment released Opus Dei and The Da Vinci Code, an inside look that dissects Brown's portrayals of Opus Dei, many of them problematic, according to producers.

The organization granted producer Ray Bruce and his team unprecedented access. The doc features candid interviews with Opus Dei leaders, members and archival video footage provided by the group, mostly of its founder, Josemar?a Escrivá. (Pope John Paul II made Escrivá a saint in 2002; Brown's book came out in May 2003). The filmmakers also captured the first publicized shots of its $47 million New York building and its London location, which is highlighted in the book.

Bruce said his team approached Opus Dei leaders to convince them they were interested in doing a balanced piece. He's also a trained theologian with a resum? of religious-themed documentaries through CCTV in Britain. Opus Dei granted the filmmakers access after they agreed to a three-week training course on the group's history and beliefs.

The group's criticisms date back to its origins in the 1930s and '40s. Much of them came from the Catholic Church itself, specifically from another sect, the Jesuits, Bruce learned.

Bruce said having Mark Dowd host the program convinced Opus Dei that the filmmakers would be fair and knowledgeable about the church. Dowd is a well-known and often controversial British journalist who was once a Catholic friar.

“The most surprising thing people might learn [from this DVD] is that perhaps Opus Dei are not the bad guys that Dan Brown paints,” Bruce said.

Brown's novel portrays members of Opus Dei as power-hungry, secretive, wealthy, masochistic and often bloodthirsty. (Filmmakers invited Brown to comment, but he declined.)

The film reveals, for the most part, that Opus Dei's congregation of about 90,000 members worldwide simply wants to incorporate their faith into every aspect of their lives.

Bruce said viewers will appreciate getting a better look at the actual cilice, a barbed metal garter Opus Dei members wear on the upper thigh for several hours a day.

Dowd interviews a member about her cilice, which she shows him. The film talks about the idea of self-mortification as a way to greater faith. He even gets a cilice of his own and tries it out for a required two-hour period, showing cameras what it looks like and describing the feeling. The result is a far cry from the leg-bleeding Brown describes in his novel, he said.

“That was the issue that was most sensitive [for Opus Dei leaders],” Bruce said. “We knew we could not do a film on Opus Dei without showing the cilice.”

The film also shows Opus Dei's good works projects, such as a special inner-city program near Opus Dei's Chicago headquarters.

The filmmakers also looked at the opposite side of the coin, interviewing former Opus Dei members who claim the group's recruitment procedures are sketchy and prey too much on young, impressionable Catholics.

“In most organizations, there are some bad eggs, and there are critical voices in the film,” Bruce said. “I'm not whitewashing.”

Bruce hopes viewers come away with a more realistic, balanced perception of the Catholic group.

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