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Hollywood meets Holy See: Making movies at the Vatican

ROME – In early May, dozens of movie extras dressed as cardinals milled around the streets outside St. Peter’s Square. One member of the film crew told The New York Times: “This is the dominion of Netflix.”

But when it comes to filmmaking inside the square or on Vatican property, only the Secretariat for Communication can claim pontifical authority.

Created by Pope Francis in June 2015 as a means of unifying the Vatican’s communications offices, the secretariat fields all requests from film producers for access to Vatican property and the pope.

The Vatican receives many requests for “images of the Vatican Gardens, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s,” said Msgr. Dario Vigano, the former prefect of the secretariat, who currently serves as a top counselor to the office. “We are the reference point for these requests from various international production houses.”

In 2017 alone, the secretariat reviewed and authorized production requests for about 90 TV and documentary projects focusing on the artistic, cultural and spiritual patrimony of the Vatican or the daily activities of Pope Francis, Vigano said.

A green light is given based on the quality of the proposed project, without preference for big or small budget projects, language group or country, Vigano told Catholic News Service May 17.

A Japanese made-for-television documentary called Michaelangelo’s Vatican, a German TV special on the 90th birthday of retired Pope Benedict XVI, and a French project highlighting women working at the Vatican are among the bigger projects Vigano’s office recently authorized.

Even the Netflix claim to “dominion” over a set in the shadow of the St. Peter’s colonnade was not absolute. The production company requested rights to archival images of the 2005 and 2013 conclaves from the Vatican for the film they are producing on the relationship between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis, he said.

Until the Wim Wenders documentary Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, which premiered in early May at the Cannes Film Festival, the current pontiff was never directly involved in any motion picture.

Francis often “told me that he isn’t an actor and doesn’t want to be an actor,” Vigano explained.

Read more at Crux. 

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