Premiered at the Rome Film Festival, the film "Francesco", by Oscar-nominated director Evgeny Afineevsky, will begin streaming globally on Sunday 28 March on Discovery+ channel, following an opening in virtual cinemas.
“It is an honor to host the global premiere of Francesco on Discovery+, spotlighting an intimate look at one of the world’s most beloved and influential leaders, Pope Francis”, said Lisa Holme, Group SVP of Content and Commercial Strategy for Discovery, Inc.
Relating his film on Pope Francis to his previous films, and in particular the one on Syria, the Afineevsky told Vatican News: “In my two previous films, I realized that humanity was in a crisis and I saw how movies and my visual storytelling could help bring attention to the important world issues of today’s world and create a call for action. I could see how my films were able to bring innocent and important voices of people from all over the world to the big screen. After Syria, I decided to do something that could bring hope, light, spread humanity and love, inspire change on many hot-bottomed world issues we are surrounded by. I later learned about Pope Francis and his remarkable humanitarian actions he is conducting towards all human beings on the planet, tasking actions and bringing attention towards all-important issues of today. So, I took the first step towards my own healing, as well as to present a road towards hope for our humanity, by presenting Pope Francis as the vehicle to inspire unity for all humankind”.
“Francis, as the head of the Catholic Church", the director says, "has always encouraged bringing people together from different walks of life. His recent brave trip to Iraq is a proven action and a humble example on this front. That is something we are missing these days. I also realized that I wanted to bring more attention to the many other global and important issues that we as humans have created in these tumultuous times and Pope Francis as someone, who can demonstrate a tremendous amount of humility, wisdom though his life lessons and generosity towards all of us, and though his actions, that we can replicate or learn, can help us build a bridge to a better future and thrive as a global community”.
The director, from a Jewish family, declares himself to be a non-religious person. “I’m a cultural Jew”, he says about himself. “I was born Jewish, my family is Jewish. I respect religion. But I am not a religious person. And my movie is not a about the Catholic Church. It’s about a man who leads an important institution, it’s about understanding, faith, and something much bigger than the Church. It’s about us, about humanity, how we’ve created disasters all around us. It’s about a humble human being trying to show us a path to the future… especially now when the pandemic has created this red line separating us from our past and our future”.
“I feel I have to thank the Pope for his patience with me", Afineevsky says. "He’s very humble. You don’t feel any sense of superiority around him, you feel comfortable next to him as if you were sitting next to a relative or a friend. He likes to listen. So that you feel as he is here for you. He has a great sense of humor, he’s also a big sports fan. He has a great spirit – he’s always positive. What I admired most was how he brings people together; and the transparency he is bringing to the Church, the women empowerment with his calling women to work into the Holy See, in high positions”.
The director also explains how the pandemic changed the film: “I think pandemic completely reshaped my idea of the documentary. And as you can see, it’s all about this red line that forced us to realize what we need to reevaluate… what we need to leave behind in our past and what actions we need to take towards our future. That opening scene of the Pope walking to the lectern in the empty St Peters Square makes you to be shaken to the core of your soul. This scene to any person can be looking like the end of the world and possibly an end of the human race if we as society and humans do not stop for a moment and reevaluate all what we are doing”.
The film also tackles the issue of sexual abuse and power in the Church. And the director states that this is the part of which he is most proud: “The sexual abuse and abuse of power in the Church is a microcosm of abuse in various communities. Pope Francis is doing a lot to combat against sexual abuse and corruption in the Church. Showing how it happened and how the Pope is working hard to correct the wrongs of the past, is tremendously important and powerful. Change takes time. What I’ve witnessed, what Juan Carolos Cruz has witnessed and what other victims witnessed, is that pope Francis is taking the right steps in the right direction to clear this institution of corruption. It can’t be changed overnight, but we can see and witness in the film that he is doing a lot to change the situation and is on the right path”.
A passage in the film on gay couples caused much discussion immediately after its presentation at the Rome Film Festival. The Pope spoke about civil legislation, about the possibility of regulating homosexual civil unions, as happens in some countries, without assimilating them to the sacramental marriage between a man and a woman; about the need to protect persons from all kind of discrimination and about the right of gay children not to be excluded from their original families, inviting parents to understand and welcome them. “From the words of the Pope that I included in the film", explains the director, "personally I understood that he, as a priest, simply wants to protect every human life, no matter of color of the skin, religion, or their sexuality. This is why he wants gay people to be protected against any kind of discrimination”.
“This film", Afineeysky concludes, "is a love letter to the Earth and its people and will be there as a strong reminder of what can happen when we stop ‘loving one another’. May we all follow the simple mantra and beautiful actions of this incredible man - Pope Francis. I hope that it will bring attention to the important global issues portrayed in the film; and that we can come together to effect change in the world and preserve it for the future. With Pope Francis as the central figure in the film, it is a testament to the power of one person to make a difference. And an inspiration to the viewer to do the same”.