Visual appeal

A recent week-long course in the Philippines sharpened the importance of film and photography as vital tools that elevate storytelling.


In the last week of July, a select group of Jesuits and lay collaborators from various provinces within the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP) came together for a specialised course in visual storytelling. The six-day training course, taking place from 24 to 29 July in Cebu, Philippines, was a unique opportunity for participants from Australia, Chinese Province, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia-Singapore, Myanmar, and JCAP Communications to enhance their skills in film language, storytelling and photography, by learning from experts in these respective fields.

Miko?aj (Miko) Cempla, who runs, the company that produces many of the multimedia productions of the Jesuit General Curia in Rome, led the workshop. Also contributing to the course were filmmaker and JCAP Communications head Ria Limjap, photographer and Jesuit Br Jeff Pioquinto SJ, and Fr Vivian Richard SJ, the Social Media Manager of Jesuits Global.

During the first three days, the participants were engaged in quality lectures and hands-on practical exercises focused on composition and the grammar of visual communication. They also delved into the art of plot development, lighting and sound setup for video interviews, and developing a photo essay from street photography.

Photo by Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific.

The participants spent an afternoon visiting some of Cebu’s historical sites, including the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the national museum, and the old Jesuit House, which dates back to 1730, for their photo essay project. Philippine historian and Jesuit priest Fr Rene Javellana SJ graciously guided the group during the walking tour.

Reflecting on the experience, Zach Matarona, the communications officer of Jesuit Mission Australia, said: “It’s been really practical for someone like me to go step-by-step through all the camera functions and lighting techniques. While I may not be able to carry extensive gear when working overseas, Miko introduced some creative ways to manipulate natural light, like using a white piece of paper to reflect light from behind, which was quite interesting to learn.”

For Woojin Agnes Chung of Ignatius Media in Korea, the sessions on film language proved to be enlightening. “I hadn’t studied composition or cameras before. When I make a video, I usually search the internet or seek help elsewhere, so learning about film language was extremely helpful for me,” she said.

Photo by Thang Ha SJ.

Fr Harry Setianto Sunaryo SJ from Indonesia found the experience of learning about cinematography and photography “refreshing” and emphasised the value of sharing knowledge and experiences among peers.

In the last two days of the programme, participants put their newfound skills to the test by collaborating on producing a short documentary, utilising the techniques they acquired during the course. The Society of Jesus hopes that by helping them master these skills, this diverse group of visual storytellers can help convey the Jesuit mission and spirituality in a compelling manner, touching the hearts of people from all faiths and walks of life.

Brother Jeff summed it up beautifully during his masterclass, saying: “Photography is praying with my eyes open. I hope I can teach people to also pray and see God with their own eyes through my photographs.”

The original version of this story was published as Learning the art of visual storytelling on the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific website.