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Pope Francis Movie in the Works? + Pope Movies

Pope FrancisPope Francis

Pope Francis movie in the works?

Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story is the working title of a projected English-language biopic about the recently elected pope, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Buenos Aires. According to the National Catholic Register's Joseph Pronechen, German-born producer and Catholic convert Christian Peschken (listed on the IMDb as Chris Peschken) decided to make a movie about the first American pope (as in, from the Americas) after watching Pope Francis appear on the balcony at the Vatican on the day of his election.

The National Catholic Register report states that an “European investment group has already approved a $25-million budget” for Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story – which doesn't even have a screenplay ready. AMG Films, a company that specializes in Catholic-themed movies, would handle sales.

Peschken has invited Spanish filmmaker Antonio Cuadri, whose best known effort is probably the social drama The Heart of the Earth (2007), starring Catalina Sandino Moreno, to direct and write Friend of the Poor. Another potential behind-the-camera talent is three-time Oscar-winning Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, Warren Beatty's Reds, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor).

Additionally, Sergio Rubin, author of the Jorge Bergoglio biography The Jesuit will supposedly act as the project's “script consultant.” Possibly, so will author and Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli, among whose books is the just-released Francis: Pope of a New World.

And finally, in a comment posted on April 26, Peschken says he has spoken with “Italian veteran film producer Enzo Sisti, producer / line producer / executive producer of major motion pictures such as The American, The Nativity Story, Mission: Impossible III, Ocean's Twelve and The Passion of the Christ, and also has worked on films such as Gangs of New York, Kundun, The English Patient, Cliffhanger and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I plan to work with Enzo to supervise the entire production.”

Filming would commence in early 2014, at Rome's Cinecittà studios and in Argentina. Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story's initial screening would be held at the Vatican on Dec. 17, 2014, Pope Francis' 77th birthday.

'Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story' to be 'authentic and truthful'

Now, having said all that, Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story remains a movie project like thousands of others. There's no screenplay, and the report doesn't mention any signed contracts. The “European investment group” with $25 million to spare goes unnamed.

Also worth noting is that those expecting an impartial look at Pope Francis / Jorge Bergoglio will likely be disappointed if Christian Peschken's project ever comes to fruition.

In the National Catholic Register, Peschken says he wants his movie “to be authentic and truthful about the life of Jorge Bergoglio / Pope Francis.” And what exactly is that truth? Although Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story is not to be perceived as “a Catholic movie per se,” the producer wants to “portray [Pope Francis] as who he is: a person who constantly points to Jesus and the message of Jesus – of love, of responsibility to neighbor – a person who puts Jesus first and everything else second.”

The National Catholic Register report adds that Peschken sees Friend of the Poor as “a powerful evangelization tool,” whose production, much like that of Mel Gibson's highly controversial blockbuster The Passion of the Christ, would be “very much driven by prayer and the Holy Spirit.”

In other words, don't expect Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story to delve into the controversial aspects of Pope Francis' life as Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, including his referring to gay marriage (which, much to his dismay, is legal in Argentina) as “an anthropological step backward”; accusations that he remained silent while priests committed sexual abuse in Argentina; and the filing of a complaint by an Argentinean human rights lawyer charging Bergoglio with complicity in the 1976 kidnapping of two liberal jesuit priests during the bloody rule of that country's far-right military junta. (Bergoglio denied the charges.)

Christian Peschken movies

On his website, Christian Peschken describes himself as a “professional film cameraman[,] … TV producer, film editor, and [I] wrote 2 screenplays.” Peschken adds that he has been in the entertainment business since 1974, and lived in the Los Angeles area from 1989 to 2009. As of 2012, he was based in Wisconsin.

As an executive producer, Peschken's credits consist mostly of minor thrillers featuring actors in the twilight of their careers, among them Jon Purdy's Dillinger and Capone (1995), with Martin Sheen as the former and F. Murray Abraham as the latter; Steve Railsback's The Flight of the Dove (1996), with Scott Glenn and Theresa Russell; and (as an associate producer), Tony Randel's Assignment Berlin (1998), starring Sammi Davis and veteran Cliff Robertson.

On his site, Peschken says he and “a financial advisor […] are in the final stages of securing funding for 3 motion picture projects.” There's no mention of Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story.

[“In Pre-Production: A Pope Francis Movie?” continues on the next page. See link below.]

Anthony Quinn The Shoes of the Fisherman pope moviesAnthony Quinn in 'The Shoes of the Fisherman'

Pope Movies

Now, do we need another Pope Movie? Well, actually there haven't been that many. Most notable among the Pope Movies of decades past are Michael Anderson's widely lambasted The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968), with Anthony Quinn as what one pundit called “Zorba the Pope,” and Nanni Moretti's widely acclaimed comedy-drama We Have a Pope, with Michel Piccoli as a cardinal who reluctantly is elected chief of the Catholic Church.

Here are a few more: Rex Harrison hammed it up as Pope Julius II to Charlton Heston's equally risible Michelangelo in Carol Reed's The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965); Liv Ullmann played the title role in Michael Anderson's critically massacred Pope Joan (1972), about the alleged medieval female pope; and Finlay Currie reverentially incarnated the official first pope, St. Peter, in Mervyn LeRoy's dreary (and immensely successful) Quo Vadis (1951). (Needless to say, Quo Vadis belongs to the non-reverential villains: Peter Ustinov's Nero and Patricia Laffan's Poppaea.)

Also worth mentioning is another poorly received pope movie directed by Michael Anderson, The Jeweller's Shop (1989). Starring Burt Lancaster, the film isn't about a pope, but it was based on a play written by (a future) one, Karol Wojtyla a.k.a. Pope John Paul II. More interesting, however, is a radically different kind of “pope movie,” Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part III, which features beautifully robed Vatican dwellers, stylish mafiosi (among them Al Pacino, Andy Garcia, and Talia Shire), and a murdered pope reminiscent of John Paul I. (See also: “The Big Questions About God on the Set of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.”)

St. Francis of Assisi movies

Though never a pope, St. Francis – the inspiration for Pope Francis' “pope name” – has been the subject of a handful of movies, among them Roberto Rossellini's free-flowing The Flowers of St. Francis (1950), with Nazario Gerardi as Francesco; Michael Curtiz's ponderous Francis of Assisi (1961), with Bradford Dillman in the title role and future Mother Superior Dolores Hart (the subject of the Oscar-nominated short God Is the Bigger Elvis) as St. Clare; and Franco Zeffirelli's flower power-ish Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1972), with Graham Faulkner as Francis and Clash of the Titans' Judi Bowker as Clare.

So, could Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story be next in line?

“I believe that the Holy Spirit will love [Friend of the Poor: The Pope Francis Story] and will help us to accomplish our mission,” Christian Peschken says. But not taking any chances, the National Catholic Register tells us the producer is “praying for the success of this movie with the help of St. Gabriel the Archangel, the patron saint of communication workers.”

Anthony Quinn in The Shoes of the Fisherman photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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