Michel Petit and Christophe in the woods at Trosly in France. IMAGE: Patrick Duval

Jean Vanier’s life has been “a real witness to the Gospel” and a new documentary premiering in Sydney about the man and the community he founded will give you a fresh appreciation for your humanity, says his Australian friend Eileen Glass.

The director of fundraising and development for L’Arche Australia was the contact between the first L’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France, and Randall Wright, the award-winning director of Summer in the Forest.

Eileen Glass of L’Arche

Wright’s moving documentary not only explores the founding of L’Arche, French for ‘the ark’, during the 1960s by Vanier and two men with intellectual disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, but transmits something of its spirit by entering the lives of the current residents of the home in Trosly-Breuil.

Summer in the Forest is being released across Australia by Heritage Films with fundraising premiere Q & A screenings being hosted by L’Arche communities in capital cities and major regional towns.

Screenings will be ‘on demand’ and will rely on pre-sales for them to go ahead. “There have been many movies made about L’Arche and about Jean Vanier but what Randall set out to do that was different was to try and capture the experience at the heart of L’Arche which is the faithful relationship between the person with and without an intellectual disability,” said Eileen.

“I was really touched by how he succeeded in that because that is not an easy thing to do.”

The Swiss-born Vanier, now aged in his 90s, left a promising career in the British and Canadian Royal Navies as a young man and, influenced by his friendship with a Catholic priest Father Thomas Philippe, invited Simi and Seux to leave horrific conditions in institutions to come and live with him.

Related article: L’Arche shares the love in Sydney

Jean Vanier (centre) with friends at Trosly. Image: Patrick Duval

The radical experiment to remove people with disabilities from institutions and into communities of friendship paid off and today there are 154 L’Arche communities with 5000 members in 48 countries.

Vanier has spent the intervening years as an advocate for the poorest and weakest in society for which he has received numerous awards and been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Related article: Summer in the Forest review: A privileged glimpse of Jean Vanier

“Our community life is beautiful and intense, a source of life for everyone,” he says.

“People with a disability experience a real transformation and discover confidence in themselves; they discover their capacity to make choices, and also find a certain liberty and above all their dignity as human beings.”

Jean Vanier in Bethlehem. IMAGE: Patrick Duval

Eileen first met him when in her 20s and travelling through Europe, and was the first Australian vice-leader L’Arche International.

“For me Jean’s way of announcing the Gospel, coupled with the experience of living the daily life of the L’Arche community was something that touched me very deeply,” she said.

A special Sydney Q&A screening of Summer in the Forest will be held on 1 May at Dendy Cinemas Newtown.

Visit movieschangepeople.com for updates on screenings and to pre-book tickets.