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Catholic Life

Local priest cast in Cabrini film

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The Ellicott Square Building on Main Street is transformed into a scene from a century ago for the new film on the life of Mother Cabrini.

Cue the priest.

Father Charles Slisz has joined 700 other locals as an extra in the Mother Cabrini movie currently being filmed in downtown Buffalo. Set in the turn of the 20th century, the film tells the story of Mother Frances Cabrini, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

Father Charles Slisz in costume as “wealthy American” on the set of the Mother Cabrini feature film being shot in Buffalo.

“I’ve been cast as a wealthy American,” Father Slisz explained. “There’s a whole slew of us, men and women dressed up to the nines in appropriate fashion. We are put into scenes walking down the streets, sitting here and there, doing this and that, as background for the real action of the movie.”

He has shot several scenes already, mostly around the Ellicott Square Building and UB City Campus, but there’s no telling what will end up in the film and what will wind up on the cutting room floor. Often many takes are shot from different angles with the director and editors picking the right shot months later.

“They’ll take any number of shots of one little thing,” he explained. “One scene that I was filmed in was coming down the steps while Mother Cabrini was having a difficult encounter with some guy at the bank, so I just come down the stairs carrying a suitcase and walk to the side. We practiced it a bout 30 times and ran it about 20 times and it may or may not even be in the film.”

Father Slisz has been acting with Niagara Regional Theater Guild for some years now. The playhouse they use is the former St. Edmund Church in Tonawanda, where Father Slisz served from 2006-2015. He has also worked with Rocking Horse Productions and Aurora Players.

“I am loving it,” he said. “We’re still filming. It has given me a whole new insight into the film industry. If you walk around the city, you see all that they have done – the sets that they built and the costumes.”

Small shanty towns have been built, and buildings have been transformed into the look of New York City 100 years ago. 

A typical day involves a lot of “hurry up and wait.” One day Father Slisz had to report to the costume center, formerly the Buffalo China warehouse, at 6 a.m., then get dressed, go to hair and makeup, get on a school bus to come downtown. The crew waited and waited. They received the mandatory lunch at WNED studios. Then began working at 4 p.m. on a shoot that lasted until to 10 at night.

“It’s a lot of just sitting down and waiting. But, I’ve found it to be a great way to practice patience,” Father Slisz said. He also found a way turn it into an evangelization tool. When the other extras found out he was a priest, they began to approach him to talk about things they wouldn’t normally discuss.

The film is described as the “taut, timely story of a pioneering social activist who championed the empowerment of women and the rights of immigrants – at a time when women were second-class citizens, and the immigrants she served were considered barely human. Along the way, Mother Cabrini proved herself to be among the greatest entrepreneurs of the 19th century – a woman who began with nothing and created the largest charitable empire the world had ever known … truly an empire of hope.” It stars Cristina Dell’Anna from HBO’s “Gomorrah,” John Lithgow and David Morse.

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