Loyola University Chicago

School of Communication


Loyola screens Flannery O’Connor documentary

Loyola screens Flannery O’Connor documentary

Dr. Elizabeth Coffman at the screening of her new documentary, “Flannery.” Photo By Sydney Owens

By Sydney Owens

Flannery, a documentary about the American writer Flannery O’Connor, was recently screened at Loyola as part of the Catholic Imagination Conference.

The film was co-created by filmmaker and School of Communication film professor Dr. Elizabeth Coffman, and the Rev. Mark Bosco, S.J., who is also a former Loyola faculty member. Coffman’s partner Ted Hardin contributed as the Director of Photography.

The film was created through support from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Mary Flannery O’Connor trust, Emory University and Georgia College and State University, according to the film’s website.

O’Connor was born in 1920s Georgia to a Catholic family. She wrote short stories, novels and essays regarding racism, classicism, religion, disabilities and crime. Her works are often categorized as grotesque or as questioning morality and ethics.

Her writings include the novel Wise Blood and a short story collection titled A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Coffman, who also co-produced One More Mile: A Dialogue on Nation Building and Veins in the Gulf, said that Flannery was difficult to visualize since the Mary Flannery O’Connor trust prohibited the filmmakers from using “dramatic reenactments with actors.” O’Connor hated television and was only filmed once, resulting in very little footage to work with for the film, Coffman said. However, Coffman enjoyed this limitation since it required her to think of alternate ways to represent the writer such as through voice actors and motion graphics.

“Besides,” Coffman said, “dramatic reenactments can get a little cheesy at times.”

After the screening, film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum shared his thoughts on the movie.

Rosenbaum, who was the head film critic for the Chicago Reader for several years, agrees with Coffman and praised the documentary for many reasons, including its clever use of motion graphics and voice over.

“Most literary biopics and docs about writers fail, in my opinion, because they tend to exclude or at least minimize the writing, but of course the writing itself is the key element that defines why we care about the writer,” Rosenbaum said. “This is the challenge faced by Flannery: in using creative images with writing without permitting those images to compete with or detract from the writing; a formidable challenge and one that is met with varying degrees of success in each case but with a great deal of ingenuity and creativity. At least it arguably gives the prose an opportunity to breathe inside a cinematic space which is already to my mind a rare achievement.”

Coffman closed the event by thanking the audience for attending as well as noting the fact that many audience members had some role in creating the film whether it was as producer, editor, or even archival researcher.

Flannery also will be screened during the New Orleans Film Festival as part of the Documentary Features Competition on Oct. 21-22 and is expected to be shown at several other film festivals this year.