Diana Wilcox, whose documentary debuts at Friday’s Morristown film fest, uses film to explore life transformations

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By Sharon Sheridan, MG correspondent

Seminarian Diana Wilcox is pursuing a call to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. Along the way, she’s also responded to a call to filmmaking as part of her ministry.

That calling will be on display Friday, at the Third Annual MorristownGreen.com Film Fest.

Wilcox submitted A New Day, a film documenting the transformation in the lives of young people from Morristown’s Church of the Redeemer, who joined youth from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown on a mission trip to help people in hurricane-ravaged Louisiana.

In keeping with film fest guidelines to use music from a local band, she set the film to Christine DeLeon’s song New Days.

Filmmaker Diana Wilcox, left, and Melissa Hall
Filmmaker Diana Wilcox, left, and the Rev. Melissa Hall. They chaperoned a youth mission trip from Morristown to Louisiana this summer. That trip is documented in a movie, 'A New Day,' that premieres at the MorristownGreen.com Film Fest on Friday, Aug. 20.

Wilcox started her filmmaking career when she went to Cameroon in 2007 with other members of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer to visit The Good Shepherd Home, an orphanage supported by Redeemer, the Community of St. John Baptist in Mendham and several other churches in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.

The convent and churches now use the film she produced, Sister Jane’s Children, to raise awareness and funds.

“My first film was when I went to Africa, and I went over expecting just to interview the children so we could come back and raise money for the orphanage,” Wilcox recalled.

“The next thing I knew, I was putting together more of a documentary. It took a long time to do. I was using filmmaking software, and I had to learn. I had to learn how to lay an audio track and blend.”

Other films followed. The Community Soup Kitchen asked for her help, not to produce a fund-raising film, but to document the stories of how the kitchen transforms people’s lives — including the people running the kitchen. The result was Community Soup Kitchen, Morristown: 25 years of Service.

“I like to tell stories through film that talk about changes in people’s lives: What changes them; what’s the impact of that,” Wilcox said.

Approaching a new project, such as one she’s working on now about diocesan Bishop Mark Beckwith’s visit to Newark’s companion diocese of Panama, she focuses on “what’s the message, what’s the story,” she said. “You can’t just slap pictures together.”

Friday’s film festival entry was challenging, Wilcox said, because filmmakers were asked to limit the length to about five minutes. She focused on “the transformative experience.”

“It wasn’t that they went down and nailed a couple of nails into a tin roof. It wasn’t about the four feet of debris . It was about what it did to them,” she said.

Going to Louisiana from the comforts of their homes in New Jersey, “they came back understanding just how fortunate they are and how much there is a world outside of them that they want to be a part of and they want to do more with it.”

Returning home, she recounted, one youth missioner kept shouting to people on the street: “Be thankful for your homes!”

“These kids were transformed by this experience,” Wilcox said.

a new day movie
Scene from 'A New Day,' a Diana Wilcox documentary that premieres Friday at the Third Annual MorristownGreen.com Film Festival.

Next month, she’ll be leaving Redeemer to become seminarian at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison. She also recently began work as Protestant chaplain at Montclair State University. She anticipates continuing to use her growing filmmaking skills, particularly as chaplain.

“Students are very visual. They’re very dynamic, and I’m hoping to engage them,” she said.

Among other things, she hopes to document the work of a campus nonviolence initiative that brings students on a learning experience in Nicaragua, she said.

At Grace, she’ll be involved with parish youth, she said.

“Who knows, there might be another mission trip that we can , or we can do something else. It seems to be something that pops up. I don’t necessarily go out and say, ‘I think I’ll do a  film on this.’ Something calls to me, and I do a film.”

On Friday, she’ll be eating pizza with some of the other Redeemer mission volunteers, then heading over to St. Peter’s to watch the film.

“The film is really their film,” she said of the youth. “It’s their story, and I think they’ll be excited to see the message is getting out.”

The film fest kicks off around 6:30 pm on Friday on the lawn of St. Peter’s. Admission is free. The kids band Boys Nyte will perform, with home-grown movies to follow at dusk. The audience will vote for Best Picture. If it rains, the show will move into the church hall.

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