Focus Features is jumping into documentaries in a big way. First they scooped up Morgan Neville’s Sundance breakout profile of Fred Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” for June release. Now they’re opening Wim Wenders’ latest documentary, “Pope Francis — A Man of His Word,” for May 18. (This date suggests a likely global debut at Cannes.)
Producer Alessandro Lo Monaco worked closely with the Vatican on Gianfranco Pannone’s documentary about the Vatican’s Swiss Guard. The Vatican approached him about co-producing a documentary about the outspoken Pope Francis, who seeks to communicate directly with the people. Lo Monaco turned to three-time Oscar nominee Wim Wenders (“Buena Vista Social Club,” “Pina,” and “Salt of the Earth”).
When world sales agent Cinetic Media brought together “A Man of His Word” and Focus Features, chairman Peter Kujawski jumped on board. The documentary delves into the Pope’s relationship to his namesake, reformer and ecologist Saint Francis of Asissi, Kujawski said, as well as what Pope Francis is doing in the world today. “We want to be doing documentaries at Focus,” he said. “When we do, we want them to feel like this, big cultural events that drive meaningful conversations of impact and actual real dialogue in the world.”
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Intended as a personal journey with Pope Francis, rather than a biography, Wenders uses a direct-to-camera visual and narrative concept to engage the audience face-to-face with the pope, creating a dialogue between him and a cross-section of humanity as he responds to questions from farmers and workers, refugees, children and the elderly, prison inmates, and those who live in favelas and migrant camps.
The Pope addresses his audience directly, answering questions on life, death, social justice, immigration, ecology, wealth inequality, materialism, and the role of the family. The film also shows the pope on his trips around the world, showing footage of his speech at the United Nations, addressing the Congress of the United States, mourning with those gathered at Ground Zero and at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. He speaks to prisoners in correctional facilities and to refugees in Mediterranean camps. We see him travel to the Holy Land of Palestine and Israel as well as to Africa, South America and Asia.
Universal Pictures International will distribute internationally. “Pope Francis — A Man of His Word” is produced by Wenders with Samanta Gandolfi Branca, Lo Monaco (“The World’s Smallest Army”), Andrea Gambetta, and David Rosier (“The Salt of the Earth”). The film is a production of Célestes Images, Centro Televisivo Vaticano, Solares Fondazione delle Arti, PTS Art’s Factory, Neue Road Movies, Fondazione Solares Suisse, and Decia Films.
Focus Features is on a roll, with six Oscar nominations each for Best Picture nominees “Darkest Hour” and “Phantom Thread.” Coming up is Jose Padilha’s “7 Days In Entebbe,” starring Rosamund Pike and Daniel Brühl; Jason Reitman’s new comedy “Tully,” starring Charlize Theron and written by Diablo Cody; Lenny Abrahamson’s thriller “The Little Stranger,” Joel Edgerton’s coming-of-age and coming-out drama “Boy Erased,” starring Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, and Russell Crowe; “Mary, Queen of Scots” with Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth I; “On the Basis of Sex,” the real-life drama of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg staring Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer; Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre’s directorial debut “Mustang,” and Spike Lee’s new film “Black Klansman.”