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Simple Courage:: An Historical Portrait for the Age of AIDS

This film ocuments the efforts of Belgian Father Damien to ease the suffering and raise the dignity of leprosy patients on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai.

Genre - Documentary

Director(s) - Stephanie Castillo and Daniel Marra

Cast - Terence Knapp

Blue Rider's Role - North American distributor

Distributor(s) - Blue Rider Entertainment, Filmmakers Library

Release Date - 1992

Synopsis - This powerful documentary chronicles the treatment of leprosy victims in Hawaii in the 19th and early 20th century, when more than 8,000 sufferers, mostly native, were banished to an isolated peninsula on the island of Molokai and practically abandoned. One man, however, in a simple act of courage, took it upon himself to bring comfort to these hopeless people. He was Father Damien, a Catholic missionary from Belgium, who spent 16 years caring for the "untouchables" until he himself succumbed to the disease. He transformed their prison into a place of decency and respect. Using archival footage and moving interviews with survivors from the '30s and '40s, Simple Courage shows the emotional pain of banishment from their ancestral homes added to the ravages of the disease.

Awards and Festival Screenings for Simple Courage
Simple Courage won the Hawaii International Film Festival's Film and Videomakers' Award. It also won a 1994 National Educational Film and Video Festival honor and a 1993 EMMY Award. It screened at the 1993 San Francisco Asian American International Film Showcase and the 1993 Dreamspeakers Festival in Alberta, where it won the 1992 Cine Gold Eagle Award.

Mary Adamski, Honolulu Star-Bulletin: "Public fear and horror generated by the modern epidemic of AIDS often has been compared to the stigma attached to leprosy. Stephanie Castillo made that link in the 1992 Emmy-award winning documentary, Simple Courage, which she co-produced with Hawaii Public Television.

Paul Groesbeck, executive director of the Life Foundation: "Father Damien stands to this day as a profound example of someone who was willing to fight through the ignorance, fear, stigma and conventional wisdom. You can see there are ready comparisons between leprosy and AIDS. Where leprosy patients were forcibly removed from their homes and lives, with AIDS it happened emotionally. Because of fear born in ignorance, people found their friends turned against them, their family ostracized them, their employers, landlords and other people turned against. Some people might have well been isolated."

Cast and Crew Credits and Awards:
Co-Producers Walter Josten and Jeff Geoffray together have produced more than 50 films, including Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story (narrated by Robin Williams), Around the World in 80 Days and Back in the Day. Josten won an Emmy for The Incredible Mrs. Ritchie.

Stephanie Castillo (produced and directed An Untold Triumph: The Story of the 1st & 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments, U.S. Army; for Simple Courage she won the Hawaii International Film Festival's Film and Videomakers' Awards; she also produced, co-directed and co-wrote Uncommon Kindness: The Father Damien Story). This is the directing debut of Daniel Marra.

Stars Terence Knapp (Othello, The Valiant).

Director's Quote
Stephanie Castillo:
"We don't tell a horrible story; we tell a triumphant story in the midst of the horrible conditions. Father Damien always has been a universal symbol of extraordinary courage and compassion. He stood up to unfeeling criticism frm his church.

"Terence Knapp provides the voice of the priest in the film. There are scenes from Kalaupapa, where Damien served, and interviews with Hansen's disease patients Richard Marks, Bernard Punikaia and Olivia Breitha.

"Damien's story is well-known in Hawaii, especially since the 1995 celebration of his beatification by Pope John Paul II, a step toward being named a saint by the Catholic Church. But this 50-minute film includes something new, even for Damien fans. There is 1936 vintage film taken when Damien's body was disinterred from its grave at Kalawao. The historical footage, from the archives of Damien's religious order, shows the crowds that gathered and the ceremonies accorded the priest's body as it was returned to Belgium, his homeland. The bones of the missionary's right hand were returned to the Kalawao grave after Damien was beatified.

"There is a procession from Antwerp to Louvain. It shows you how great he was in his day. People from all over Europe were honoring him. We wanted to establish how big he was around the world, even though he's not too well known in the U.S.

"Our film has a virtual ban on the word "leprosy" in favor of the accurate medical term "Hansen's disease. Patients Bernard and Olivia talk about how hurtful it was to them to be called that. So we had to struggle with creative change everybody's words and edit the offending term. The word leper, with its connotation of shunned outcast, was in common usage in Damien's time and still is used widely today."

Release Data:
Simple Courage aired as a PBS documentary in 1992.

Internet Movie Database entry for Simple Courage

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