Jean Vanier has left us, may the joy live on!
Jean Vanier’s funeral is today.
”The great man has moved on to other shores. For those like me who have been lucky enough to rub shoulders with him, it is a moment of great sorrow. You feel like an orphan. Jean had the stature of a father, a founding father, a prophet of our time.”
You know how close our organization was to this great man. From 2011 to 2019, for almost 10 years, we had the pleasure of sharing magical moments with him.
The most beautiful harvest from this friendship is undoubtedly the film we dedicated to him: “Jean Vanier, the Sacrament of Tenderness“. Released on January 9th in movie theaters, it is still showing 5 months later, thanks to you all.
Jean particularly loved this film, because to his last breath he remained convinced of the need to convey a message of peace and love to as many people as possible. Production for this film began in July 2013, when Jean was already 85 years old, and it fulfilled a goal of giving forward such a precious inheritance, of a life gifted in full to serve and defend those who are smallest, who are rejected and humiliated.
This is clearly a testament film that illustrates the thought of a man who fought for justice his entire life.
In the last months of his life, Jean lost his voice because he was suffering from thyroid cancer. Our film was released in movie theaters at the same time. This gave him real consolation and reassured him that his message would continue to be heard. More than anything, Jean feared that the message would die with the messenger.
As you will be able to read in this retrospective, Le Projet Imagine continues to spread this wonderful message all over the world. Don’t hesitate to help us continue our mission.
From Trosly to Bethlehem, from the UN in New York to the National Assembly in Paris, how far we have come together!
In 2010, when Frédérique Bedos created Le Projet Imagine, she set out to meet the world’s Humble Heroes. One of them moved her very deeply, Jean Vanier, whom she considers to be a Mahatma (in Sanskrit, this means a great soul, like in Mahatma Gandhi). While she had originally come for an interview, their talks continued: they met, and became close friends! Between the two, a strange alchemy happened. Despite their nearly 50 years’ difference in age, they shared a keen sense of humanity and a deep joy that illuminated them. One day, Jean handed Frédérique a small sheep made of felted wool that came from a crèche made by the mentally deficient residing at l’Arche in Bethlehem. His blue eyes looked into her eyes, and he said “You have to go a step farther. You have to make a film that reflects the universal love that is given at l’Arche.” Frédérique understood that this film would take her much further than she ever imagined.
It would take her three long years to make what became a full-feature film, “Jean Vanier, The Sacrament of Tenderness”. With the help of teams entirely consisting of volunteers – may they be thanked once again! – she filmed whenever she could, whenever she had any budget: in Trosly-Breuil, in Paris, in Calcutta, in Bethlehem… In 2016, she completed an initial version of the film which she presented at the Colosseum in Roubaix during a big event organized in partnership with the association Le Souffle du Nord. Then began the search for a distributor, and this was a journey for a fighter because few companies dared to deal with a film on the topic of mental disability, with a hero who was nearly 90 years old!
Jean carefully followed the wanderings of his protégé, and Frédérique kept him regularly informed of her progress. Although Jean’s health was steadily declining, the bond between these two souls remained strong, and when the moment came when Frédérique was awarded the title of Knight of the National Order of Merit, it was only natural for her to turn to Jean: he would be the one to give her the Decoration.
A great institutional recognition, and so much emotion!
Three days after this ceremony, Jean had a heart attack. That was to be his last major public appearance.
“And now we all have work to do… Being peacemakers! I am moved by this film! It is up to each one of us to continue, wherever we are, to build peace, so that our world may become a world where there is more love and tenderness.” Jean Vanier
While Frédérique had just finished the initial editing of the film, the association Le Souffle du Nord offered to organize a major event at the Colosseum in Roubaix. The film wasn’t quite finalized, we just sent a simple newsletter to friends. 1,700 people scrambled to get into the theatre on that evening in January 2016! And the waiting list disappointed more than 400 people! The sheer enthusiasm that night was exceptional. For Frédérique, the evening had a special meaning because she was raised in Roubaix, and members of her adoptive family were present in the room. As for Jean Vanier who made the trip, he didn’t hide his emotion.
Then came the recognition from peers. In May 2017, the documentary was selected in the category “Best Positive Feature Documentary” at the Positive Cinema Week, during the Cannes Festival! This was great recognition for the film: The Positive Cinema Week highlights positively engaged cinema that changes our outlook on the world, alerts us and makes us want to act.
Because good news wants company, the distributor Jupiter Films came in on the adventure. On January 9th, 2019, the film was released in movie theaters in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Luxembourg. After 3 weeks it was awarded best documentary by the audience on AlloCiné, and 5 months later it was still playing, thanks to extremely positive word of mouth.
In October 2018, the film’s international premiere took place at the UN in New York. The crowd gathered that evening in front of the gates of the venerable institution, and the session, which was held in the largest hall at the United Nations, the prestigious ECOSOC Room (600 seats), was full. At the end of the screening, a standing ovation greeted the film and the immense work it highlights.
On April 2nd, on World Autism Awareness Day, MPs Beatrice Descamps and Anissa Khedher, Chairmen of the Handicap Inclusion Research Group, invited Le Projet Imagine to come, and present the film to the National Assembly in order to raise awareness about disability among MPs.
The political and not-for-profit world was well represented, with the presence of Céline Poulet, secretary-general of the Interministerial Committee on Disability (CIH), Luc Gateau, President of the UNAPEI.
Jean has left us, but his message of kindness will remain alive as long as we pay it forward. It is now our task to pursue his fight against “the tyranny of normality”. With all you friends of Le Projet Imagine, let us work tirelessly to “turn the violence that lives within us all into Tenderness”.
Thank you Jean!
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