Internship with Stella Mar

By Emily Black

Now that the jetlag has dissipated and I have had time to reflect on the last few weeks, I’d like to share my experience of being an intern with Stella Mar Films.

First of all, some context.

When my mum, Ruth MacFarlane-Barrow, was nineteen years old she read that Mary the mother of God was appearing to a group of children in a town in Yugoslavia called Medjugorje.

Together, my mum, my dad (her boyfriend at the time), two of my uncles, three cousins and some acquaintances made their way to Medjugorje from Scotland.

So much has stemmed from that first trip back in 1983.

My grandparents converted their hunting lodge into a non-profit retreat centre called Craig Lodge Family House of Prayer and in 1992, my uncles Magnus and Fergus started an appeal for aid to deliver to war-torn Medjugorje. When they returned, more aid was waiting for them, so they made the journey again. This kept happening and eventually Scottish International Relief was born.

In 2002, SIR became Mary’s Meals, a school feeding charity dedicated to Our Lady. Today, this charity feeds over a million children in some of the poorest places in the world. The global headquarters of the charity is still the garden shed my grandad lent his sons for the first appeal back in 1992. It’s now known as ‘The Shed that Fed a Million Children,’ which is also the title of Magnus’s best-selling book.

My grandparents founded Craig Lodge in answer to Our Lady’s call to live a life of prayer and service. Made up of families and a group of young people who commit for one year, Craig Lodge Community ministers to anyone and everyone in search of a deeper relationship with God.

I grew up watching these endeavors unfold, these beautiful fruits of Medjugorje.

My love of film sparked when I was thirteen years old. Oddly, it was listening to an
audiobook of Wolf Brother, a young adult novel, that first inspired me. I could see the story in my head and I immediately wanted to make it into a film. My obsession grew from there and ever since I’ve aspired to become a filmmaker. Although I’ve never changed my mind, this goal has often seemed like a pipe dream. However, I recently got the chance to be part of the production of a truly amazing film.

In 2016, Stella Mar Films released Apparition Hill, and soon after began principle
photography for Cross Mountain; a documentary about the fruits of Medjugorje. This lead Sean Bloomfield and Cimela Kidonakis to Scotland to interview my family about Mary’s Meals and Craig Lodge in 2017. They also held a screening for Apparition Hill during their visit. At the time I was thinking to myself, these guys are real filmmakers, I have to make a good impression. But after watching their beautiful, moving film I was such an emotional wreck that I could barely introduce myself.

A few months later, and from the comfort of a keyboard, I contacted Sean and Cimela to express my interest in getting involved with Cross Mountain. When they offered me the chance to intern with them, I jumped at the opportunity.

Three days after submitting my Honours dissertation, I was on a flight to Orlando. I’d never left Europe before and I felt a little daunted; but from the moment Jessi and Cimela met me in the airport, they made me feel at home.

After my first ever Chick-Fil-A and a ten-hour nap, I found myself in their little studio. Just seeing the professional equipment and editing software was enough to have me sold – this was going to be fun!

That morning, Jessi and Cimela explained that they were currently concentrating on their other film, Where There is Darkness. The true crime docudrama, which is currently in post-production, follows the story of Fr. Rene Robert who was murdered in 2016. Their passion for their craft and their enthusiasm for sharing Fr. Rene’s story was infectious.

Over the first few days I helped with various bits and pieces: writing grant applications, marketing, and designing products for the Stella Mar website. All the while, the three filmmakers were busy editing footage from interviews and re-enactments. So, by the time we left for St. Augustine, I felt fairly familiar with the story.

St. Augustine is known as the oldest town in America and is where Fr. Rene lived and ministered before he died. The man who killed him, Steven Murray, also lived in the area at the time of the murder.

We travelled to St. Augustine to conduct the final interviews and shoot the last scenes for the film. Sitting in on the interviews with Fr. Rene’s friends and family was incredibly moving. We all learned more about his loving nature and his beautiful, merciful attitude towards life.

This was first time I’d been present during a proper film shoot and I was excited - to say the least. Sean, Cimela and Jessi encouraged me to jump in, grab a spare camera and practice filming alongside them. Just being present would have been enough for me, but instead they made me feel welcome to get stuck in and involve myself in the process. It was such a brilliant few days and I learned so much.

Back in the studio, Cimela gave me some footage from their trip to Scotland so I could practice editing and familiarize myself with the software.

I was the furthest away from home I’d ever been, sat in an air conditioned, darkened film studio as I edited footage of my grandad showing-off the Scottish countryside to Sean and Cimela and telling them stories about the Loch Ness Monster. It was bizarre, but also comforting – a little insight into God’s ever-mysterious ways.

During my time with Stella Mar I learned a beautiful aspect of this style of low-budget, crowdfunded filmmaking: any creative talent, skill or experience has utility. Although I was there to learn more about filmmaking, I could also use my writing and drawing abilities to help spread the word about the film and communicate Fr. Rene’s beautiful message of mercy.

Sadly, my time in Florida came to an end, but in another of God’s little surprises Sean and Cimela ended up coming back to Scotland with me!

On their last evening in Scotland we climbed the “Cross Mountain” behind Craig Lodge together and filmed the cross as it glowed in the setting sun. It’s going to look so beautiful on the big screen!

Being part of the team for even a few short weeks was so inspiring and I feel encouraged to continue striving towards a career in filmmaking.

Sean, Cimela and Jessi, I can’t thank you enough for looking after me and teaching me so much – and I can’t wait to work with you all again!


  • Mary Downie

    Dear Emily,
    What a beautiful adventure told with such love and enthusiasm. Thank you Emily I was deeply moved by your journey. Please God you will have a very bright future in film making. Much love Mary

  • Denise Roberts

    amazing story, beginning right here Ems and you are truly a star already in my eyes. God is good, all time….. love and prayers always 2knees :))))

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