A monk spends 1,000 days circling Japan’s Mount Hiei, reciting sutras and reflecting on the past. A young woman in Uttar Pradesh, India uses the colourful Hindu spring festival as a way to start afresh and absolve her sins. Men in Louisiana’s Angola Prison who are serving life sentences turn to religion and become ministers, hoping to change in God’s eyes. These are a few of the faith-oriented stories captured by 40 teams of filmmakers from around the world. This documentary moves between several countries, examining a wide array of fascinating religious rituals
Sacred is a frequently arresting look at religion and spiritualism across the globe. Thomas Lennon’s film is organized loosely around the stages of human life, moving from coming-of-age ceremonies to the continued devoutness of senior citizens. The film does not always abide by this chronological order. Nevertheless, the doc benefits from parallelism, as themes and customs shared by different religions appear in a close proximity. For instance, a Jewish man’s pilgrimage to the Ukraine with the hopes of finding a wife appears shortly before a Japanese couple walks through a forest of phallic statues, hoping the visit will help bear them children.
As an 86-minute film that crosses through many places, Sacred is a film more concerned with the quantity of footage shown than the quality of the stories. The brief length of many episodes throughout only provides a taste of the subject’s journey, struggle, or spiritual bliss. Even the film’s most in-depth section – involving the aforementioned ministers in Angola Prison – only runs around eight minutes, and that section could have used further elaboration.
Two harrowing sections, in particular, needed more context. One involves a community in Sierra Leone where citizens struggle to keep their faith, believing that the Ebola epidemic that inflicted their families was due to God’s anger. The second is about an annual performance of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Philippines, where the main actor is actually nailed to a cross in an attempt to become closer with God. These episodes are startling in their emotional extremity, although they seem less substantial due to their shortened running time.
Nevertheless, Sacred is more than a globe-hopping montage of various faith-based stories. It is a film full of texture, depicted through intimate close-up, and wisdom. The consistency of its visual approach allows the details of celebrations and customs to flourish without making certain ones feel exoticized. This ensures a graceful balance and flow among the vignettes, even if some of the episodes are more powerful than others.