He was a sought-after adviser to presidents and popes. A diplomat who bridged political, ideological, and racial divides. A visionary. A leader. A faithful priest.
Hesburgh, a critically acclaimed documentary to be released nationwide on May 3, tells the story of Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. — reaching far beyond the borders of the Notre Dame campus to tell an epic American saga.
But the making of Hesburgh is very much a Notre Dame story.
Documentary filmmaker Patrick Creadon ’89 has a history of hiring Notre Dame students and alumni — and sought out no less than 19 of them to help create Hesburgh.
“I meet a lot of students from a lot of different film schools, and the Notre Dame film students are the best of the best,” Creadon said. “They are really good filmmakers when they come out of school, they’re really sharp, and they have great attitudes. I think the movie Hesburgh is a real tribute to that.”
Creadon and producer Jerry Barca ’99 were on campus in 2015, filming Catholics vs. Convicts for ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series, when they were inspired to create a film about Hesburgh, who served as Notre Dame president from 1952 to 1987.
“That was the year Father Ted died, so there was a huge outpouring of support and memorialization. A lot of people in the Notre Dame community were revisiting his legacy,” Creadon said. “In the midst of that, one of my friends said, ‘You should really think about making a movie about Father Ted,’ and the idea really struck me. Because even as an alum, I knew some of the key points, the headlines about him, but beyond those things it gets a little fuzzy. I thought his story could have a lot of potential.”
While many students became involved with Creadon and Barca while they were on campus shooting both films, Creadon and his wife, Christine O’Malley, regularly recruit from the University’s Department of Film, Television, and Theatre for their company, O’Malley Creadon Productions (OCP).
“Regardless of what project we’re doing or what story we’re telling, Notre Dame students and alumni really fit in nicely,” said Creadon, who has also directed the award-winning documentaries Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A., among others.
“They understand that they’re not necessarily going to be hired to direct or edit something right out of college, but they’re ready to learn the ropes. Before you know it, they end up taking on much greater responsibility, either with our company or with others.”
The alumni connection
FTT major Caroline Clark ’16 was a senior in Ted Mandell’s documentary film course when she began interning for Creadon on the 30 for 30 project.
After graduation, she moved to L.A. to join O’Malley Creadon Productions as an associate producer for the Hesburgh film.
“Ted connected us with alumni throughout the semester, giving us chances to meet real-life filmmakers and get that hands-on experience,” she said. “You never know how much your alumni connection will contribute to your career, and Pat does a great job of hiring Notre Dame students and keeping us all connected in Los Angeles. I’m so grateful for that.”
That Notre Dame network has continued to serve her, as she joined forces with fellow OCP employees Nick Andert ’10 and Daniel Clark to create Behind The Curve, a documentary about the small but growing contingent of people who believe in a conspiracy to suppress the truth that the Earth is flat.
“In some ways, that’s the ultimate goal for us when we hire people,” Creadon said. “We look to hire talented filmmakers, to show them the ropes and give them the tools they need to make their own movies and tell their own stories. And the flat-earther project is a great example of that.”
Andert, who edited Hesburgh with William Neal ’14, also connected to Creadon through Mandell’s documentary film class — when he chose OCP as the subject of his first short documentary.
“We did a doc about people who make docs — it was a little meta-doc,” Andert said. “I knew I wanted to move to L.A. after graduation, and filming Pat and Christine was a nice chance to be there for the first time.”
He was hired at OCP as an assistant editor and has been involved in every project they’ve done since.
The faculty and coursework in FTT — particularly in Mandell’s documentary class — prepared him well, he said.
“Ted is very good about teaching doc editing technique and how to approach the genre,” Andert said. “If you don’t have that academic background, it can be a lot to understand because you have different concerns and considerations than other filmmaking. Having that background from Notre Dame was really valuable.”
Andert, who launched Delta-v Productions with Caroline Clark and Daniel Clark in 2017, also relies on his broader Arts and Letters education in his filmmaking.
“In documentaries, you’re working on diverse subjects, and you have to have some familiarity with a lot of different topics or have the ability to become familiar with them very quickly,” he said.
“And a liberal arts education teaches you how to learn — it gives you the tools you need to explore and understand new subjects quickly, to think critically, and to investigate things further. And that has been invaluable.”
Building a network
Moira Hamilton ’17, an American studies and FTT major, worked as a production assistant on the film as an undergraduate and now serves as outreach coordinator, creating awareness of the film in markets where it is screening.
“The distribution process has been very educational for me because I was focused on production as a student, and I never saw this side of it,” she said. “Many people don’t really understand how these films get into movie theaters or how they find their audience. Going forward, I hope to direct one day and work on independent films, so it’s really valuable to see all the work that goes into this.”
For Hamilton, who also worked as a production assistant on Catholics vs. Convicts, American studies was the perfect complement to her FTT coursework.
“I felt that film allowed me to be creative and to gain insight into my future profession, while American studies gave me context for the stories I wanted to tell,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to tell stories about the margins and bring them to more mainstream audiences.”
As she prepares to move to Los Angeles this summer, Hamilton is grateful for the contacts and experience she has gained through the Notre Dame alumni network.
“Most people don’t think ‘film school’ when they think of Notre Dame, but the program and the network are awesome,” she said. “As a student, it was great to see these alums only a few years older who are already successful in the industry — and are building connections with current students.”
Barca, a journalist and author who first worked with Creadon on the Catholics vs. Convicts film, joined the Hesburgh crew as a writer before becoming a producer. Creadon, he said, is not only an incredible resource in recruiting Notre Dame graduates, but is also a talented leader and mentor for them.
“Pat is an extremely skilled filmmaker,” Barca said. “There’s a level of knowledge and confidence he has from his experience that gives everyone else the confidence to do their jobs better. He has a commitment to excellence and, at the same time, a relaxed, fun exterior that really empowers people around him, including me in the role he’s put me in, to do well and to flourish under his leadership.”
For Creadon, whose father and grandfather both attended Notre Dame, telling the story of Hesburgh with his crew was a tremendous honor.
“The story of Father Ted is really the story of what the Notre Dame community aspires to be — a force for good and for positive change in the world,” he said.
“What I hope viewers will take away is that we need more Father Teds in the world — whether you’re a priest or a layperson, a man or a woman. We need more people who find value in building bridges between people of differing viewpoints.”