Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Margaret Mead ’18: The Flying Friar

Father Zvonko Martić is a priest and ethnographer, who exemplifies the best of both callings in a land that could use his diverse skill sets. The Croatian clergyman has preserved the music and culture of Croatians, Bosniaks, Serbs, and probably other Balkan ethnicities. Ljiljana Šišmanović & Davor Borić profile the monastic priest and capture his efforts to rebuild bonds on community in their 50-minute documentary, The Flying Friar, which screens during the 2018 Margaret Mead Film Festival.

At one point, Father Martić greatly enjoys a performance of whirling dervishes—rather appropriately so, because he was dubbed with his titular nick name, because he is often such a whirlwind of activity. He developed an Evangelical interest in preserving the traditional dress and music of the diverse cultures that make up Bosnia and Herzegovina. His bishop not only approved—he sent Father Martić back to school to get his doctorate.

The good Father is not just a researcher. He also sponsors a regular calendar of traditional musical performances. He is clearly well versed in anthropology, yet he still talks movingly about his own faith. There is no question he walks the walk and still feels the spirit, so it is not hard to see why he moves so easily across religious and ethnic lines.

Šišmanović & Borić take a straight forward observe-and-then-ask-a-few-questions approach, but there is no need for distracting stylization when they have such a compelling and accessible subject. Spending time with him will give viewers hope—maybe even excessively so. Watching Flying Friar could give someone the mistaken impression Bosnia and Herzegovina has healed its divisions and is now totally unified. Alas, this film is unlikely to play in Srpska, but the kindly priest is surely praying for them.

Regardless, the film and Father Martić are a perfect fit for the Margaret Mead festival. General audiences should also appreciate a film that takes music, tolerance, and faith seriously, while remaining optimistic. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the Balkans and boots-on-the-ground cultural preservation, The Flying Friar screens this Friday (10/19) as part of this year’s Margaret Mead Film Festival, at the American Museum of Natural History.