A Redlands woman is hoping to take her first film to the Sundance Film Festival.

Cynthia Capen has spent the past 4 1/2 years documenting the post-Katrina work and life of the Rev. Tony Ricard, a Catholic priest in New Orleans.

The film's rough cut is due out Sept. 2 - and Capen has until then to raise about $6,000.

"My film is vocational - it's a documentary about a `cradle priest' who loves being a priest," she said. "There are a lot of things out there slamming Catholic priests Catholics deserve to see something like this."

She met Ricard when he spoke at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church on Olive Avenue Redlands in May 2005.

"I've always been faith-driven but I hadn't been to Mass in a few weeks because of family stuff," she said.

She was caring for her father, who was dying of Lou Gehrig's disease, and her mother, who had lung cancer. Capen herself had been recently diagnosed with colon cancer.

"On this particular Sunday, I went to afternoon Mass. I needed inspiration, I was kind of low that day," Capen, who is now cancer free, said.

"I wondered who was presiding that day, I saw this priest walking by. He had this certain swagger. So as he walked by, I was like, who is this guy?"

Ricard walked to the altar and gave the invocation.

"That Mass that day blew me away," she said. "It pierced my heart I felt I had the strength to go on."

She introduced herself afterward and asked if he had any tapes or videos.


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He said he did not.

The next morning she e-mailed him to ask if she could make a documentary on him. He answered three hours later.

"I just thought it was kind of cool that my life would be interesting enough to be told on a larger scale," he said in a phone interview Monday.

She flew to New Orleans on Aug. 22, 2005.

"I wanted to see him on his home turf," she said.

When she attended Mass at his church, there was a congregation of more than 500.

He introduced her to the congregation, and then to his mother, Rita, with whom Capen had a 15-minute conversation.

"She turns around and whistles to the back of the church - `Hey, Tony, you can trust her,"' Capen said.

She saw the rectory next door, the houses he grew up in, the rough - and historic - St. Roch neighborhood in New Orleans' Eighth Ward. The airline advised her to take an early flight home because a storm was approaching.

"I called him and he said, `Girl, we go through this all the time,"' she said.

She watched CNN and remembered the report talking about a Category 5 storm. She tried to call him again and could not get through. The day after the hurricane hit, she got a text message from him saying he, some family members and parishioners had evacuated to Camp Pelican, a camp he runs in Leesville, La., for children with lung disorders.

They took enough food and clothing for three days, and were there for 77.

"When I finally got ahold of him I said, `I guess we'll scrap the film now.' I could tell he was really tired. He said, `No, let's keep going - we need to tell about this journey."'

Capen began coming to New Orleans every two months, living in hotels while documenting Ricard. In 2008, she rented a "historic, shotgun house" on Bourbon Street and lived there for a year.

"So at any moment, I could trail Father Tony," she said.

She was recently awarded a $1,500 film grant from the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation

"It's the honor that's bigger," said Capen, who said grants are usually given to local people.

"When I applied I went to the Redlands post office, saw the envelope, dropped to my bottom and sat on the floor," she said.

To support Capen's "Father Tony" documentary, visit this link or mail donations to Capen Communications, P.O. Box 7241, Redlands, CA 92375.

Contact her at (909) 226-2941 or e-mail cjc557@msn.com.