The holiday season always brings into question and conversation the existence of God. Filmmaker Sean Bloomfield has traveled to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzogovina several times, but this time, he embarks upon a very different journey with seven unique individuals. Medjugorje is known to the world for sightings and communication with the Virgin Mary. In Bloomfield’s film, “Apparition Hill,” some of the participants are believers, others want or need a miracle in their lives, and two are athiests—a true cross-section of people. Bloomfield carefully chose these participants from a pool of hundreds and the conclusions of this adventure surprised even him. I had the chance to catch up with Bloomfield and Mark Swoboda, one of the atheists, to discuss the film and where it has lead them.
RHR (Reel Honest Reviews): Why did you choose this topic?
SB (Sean Bloomfield): It’s one of the biggest mysteries happening right now in the world… people might write it off as a religious hoax. Millions of people go there including scientists [and] doctors…and studied it. There’s really been nobody that’s been able to say it’s a hoax. There’s so many people that go there and experience what I would call a change of heart. But even bigger than that, the peace that people find there, it’s something that almost everybody reports.
We invited people to enter a video contest and say why they would like to go [to Medjugorje] for the first time. We’d love to get skeptics there and people who don’t believe in it. And also a diverse cast of people who had never been there to make it as objective as possible. The film presents their stories and really lets the audience decide for themselves. We didn’t want to impose anything on the audience.
RHR: Was it difficult not to voice your views?
SB: Our biggest concern was making a film that was true to each of the stories. I believe in what’s happening in Medjugorje, but I would hate to make a film that imposes belief on people.
RHR: Were you raised in a religious environment?
SB: I’d been baptized as a baby…but after that I can’t ever remember being in a church. I wasn’t raised with any raised with any religion or spiritual guidance.
RHR: When did you first go to Medjugorje?
I had gone there about 15 years ago when I was 20 years old. It was really an eye opening experience for me. I ended up going back a few times before I realized there’s definitely something to this. For me, I didn’t want anything to do with the religious aspect of it. I remember hearing people praying the rosary and all excited about going to mass. It seemed all very strange to me because I wasn’t used to it. [But] I really just felt something there [and] it kept me going back. Something powerful is happening there. It lead me into faith, it lead me to embracing my Catholic roots. Really learning so much more about christianity and Catholicism. It wiped away all the preconceptions that I had . I had a lot of bad thoughts about the entire church and everything it represented. This place lead me to a new outlook on faith. It changed my life. I’ve devoted a lot of my career to capturing what I can of this place. It’s either the biggest hoax of mankind or the biggest miracle since Jesus walked the Earth. It’s something that big.
RHR: What do you hope viewers will take away from this?
SB: Live every day like it’s your last because we never really know when it could be. Whether or not you believe in God, that’s a really good philosophy in life [because] it makes you cherish these really short moments that we have on this Earth. And it makes you treat others with respect and more dignity. Really Cherish your loved ones. If you are a believer, then you believe they’re a gift form God. That’s easy to take for granted whether you’re a believer or not. The underlying message of Medjugorje, of faith, and of our film is love, pure and simple.
RHR: If every film could do that, what a world we would live in!
SB: If it changes even just one heart, it’s worth all the effort we’ve put into it.
RHR: Thank you Sean. Now Mark, given that you’re an atheist, how and why did you apply to go?
MS (Mark Swoboda): I learned about this trip through my wife. My wife being very, very Catholic. She has long wnated me to go to Medjugorje. She actually prayed that I would go during our wedding. I actually left for the trip on our wedding anniversary 7 years later. She sees it as a prayer that came true. She’s always wanted me to go because she wants conversion.
She actually did the first video to nominate me. Then when I had enough votes, then I had to do the video myself so they could hear from me directly.
RHR: Did you have any reservations about actually going through with this?
MS: No, for me I’m pretty easy. I’m really laid back and I’m also very much a people person. As long as I don’t have a language barrier…I’m happy anywhere, just being around people. The only difficulty was being away from my family for that long.
RHR: What are your thoughts now that you’ve returned?
MS: It’s just been a very unique experience. I don’t think the story involves me nearly as much. I told Sean…that you can leave me on the cutting room floor. This is Holly’s story. That’s what you need to hear.
RHR: Holly’s story is the most pivotal part of this, but what would you like people to take away from YOUR part of the film?
MS: Pete and I, Pete was the other atheist, he and I both just wanted people to see just because you’re [an] atheist doesn’t mean you’re anti-religion. We’re not militant in our non-belief. We both realize that faith is a powerful thing. Faith is a good thing for people. It just doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t make sense to me. A lot of people have a preconceived notion when they hear the word atheist like we’re against them. But that’s not the case. People frequently ask when they find out my wife is a Catholic and I’m an atheist, ‘How does that work? You guys are opposite.‘ You see, we’re not opposite. If I worshipped the devil, we’d be opposite. In this case, I just don’t have a horse in the race. I share many many similar values of people of Catholic or Christian faiths, and that’s what I think a lot of people see in the film…. You’re seeing that we have shared values. We both want to be good to other people. We all want to be a better person today than the one we were yesterday. We’re all just trying to be better and be respective of others and treat everybody with dignity and respect, but I don’t think you need faith in order to do that. I think that’s something we can do on our own.
RHR: Why go back to Medjugorje if your beliefs haven’t changed?
MS: It’s nice to just unplug and go to such a peaceful environment. Another reason I wanted to go [back] was to reconnect with people from the film because our schedule was so hectic when we were there for filming. I didn’t know when we came back exactly how [everyone] had been affected…I didn’t have a chance to do a debrief and get what their experiences were. We wanted to get back and sit down with them without having a camera following us every minute and just reconnect.
RHR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
MS: If you’re a person of faith you should go to Medjugore. It’s not about the apparitions or any other supernatural phenomenon that occurs there. It gives you the opportunity to live your faith. For me and any other non-believers, I think you can watch the film without being spiritual and take a lot away from it because the film really touches on the human condition. Sean grabbed so many personalities that we all know somebody in one of those pairs of shoes. So different people resonate in different ways to those that are watching it….especially with Holly. If you’re a parent…it’s very visceral watching that unfold. And that’s a great reminder that we take too much for granted and we need to appreciate the time that we have and not lose sight of that. It’s a great reminder of what we have and what we should be thankful for.
To listen to the review in its entirety go to archive.org