ROME — Pope Francis is already a celebrity, one of the most popular and talked-about figures in the world. So it’s fitting that he could officially become a movie star, playing himself in an upcoming film titled “Beyond the Sun.”
AMBI Pictures, a Luxembourg-based international production company, announced Monday that the pontiff has agreed to play a small role in an upcoming family adventure movie, based on his own suggestion to filmmakers to find imaginative ways to tell the Jesus story to children.
However, the Vatican is disputing the characterization, saying that no scenes were shot for the venture, and the pope isn’t an actor.
Monsignor Dario Vigano, the head of the Vatican’s communications operation, acknowledged that he couldn’t exclude that the filmmakers got hold of some clips of the pope. But in comments broadcast on Vatican Radio on Tuesday, Vigano disputed the press release claiming that Francis would “play himself” in the film.
He said: “The pope is not an actor.”
Assuming Francis does appear in the film in one way or another, it wouldn’t be a papal first; he’ll following in the footsteps of his predecessor Pope Pius XII, who made his own cinematic cameo almost 60 years ago.
“Our excitement and gratitude toward His Holiness, Pope Francis [for] participating in this film is beyond words,” Andrea Iervolino, co-founder of AMBI, said in a statement. “This is not just a movie for us, it’s a message, and who better to have on your side to deliver an important societal and spiritual message than the pope.”
The 27-year-old filmmaker, who started his career at age 15 and has produced 50 films in the past 12 years, said revenue from the pope’s movie will be used to support worthwhile causes, reflecting Francis’ own priorities. Profits will be donated to two Argentine charities, El Almendro and Los Hogares de Cristo, both of which help at-risk children and young adults recovering from drug abuse.
“This message and cause are very dear to the entire AMBI family and we are honored and inspired by the level of collaboration from the Vatican,” he said.
The film company said the movie will be an inspirational story based on the Gospels, told in several tales so children can learn and follow Jesus’ parables.
In the movie, children from different cultures will emulate the apostles while searching for Jesus in the world around them. According to the production company, the film “will be uplifting and is intended to spiritually engage and encourage audiences of all ages to transmit Jesus’ words, to understand them and integrate them to live a better life, to make good choices and to help others.”
Argentinian Bishop Eduardo Garcia, a former auxiliary bishop of Buenos Aires who lived with the future pope for a decade, will be a consultant for the film. Filming is slated to begin in Italy early this year.
AMBI Pictures’ recent credits include:
- A remake of Christopher Nolan’s “Memento.”
- “Lamborghini — The Legend,” a biopic on automaker Ferruccio Lamborghini.
- “Septembers of Shiraz,” starring Salma Hayek and Adrien Brody.
- “This Beautiful Fantastic,” starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Tom Wilkinson.
- “In Dubious Battle,” starring James Franco, Nat Wolff, Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris and Bryan Cranston.
The Vatican works hard to control the pope’s image, enforcing tough copyright restrictions on all visual media, and Vigano’s reaction to the announcement was a clear sign that the Vatican didn’t appreciate the hype. But Francis has been known to go his own way on several occasions, allowing friends to shoot video of him to convey messages to private gatherings: He delivered such a message to the Argentine Jewish community and to a gathering of American Pentecostals.
Vigano’s comment that he couldn’t exclude that the filmmakers had some footage of the pope suggested that they might have secured some video of him in the privacy of his hotel reception rooms.
When and if the papal movie eventually hits theaters, Francis will become the second modern pope to play himself on screen.
In 1958, Pope Pius XII agreed to play a small role in a movie called “Embezzled Heaven,” which tells the story of Teta Linek, a cook for the noble Austrian family of Argan, who thinks primarily of ways to get to heaven.
If the past is prologue, the pope’s participation may not mean a critical free pass on the movie. A 1959 New York Times review, after “Embezzled Heaven” had been dubbed into English, praised it as “inspiring” and “thought-provoking,” but also called it excessively “verbose” and “cumbersome.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.