Showbiz Plays Up Papal Opportunities

TV series, re-releases of themed pics plus an Italy vs. Argentina match in the works

ROME — What’s in a new pope’s name?

The recent election of Pope Francis is prompting a flurry of showbiz opportunities, including the launch of “Francesco,” an English-language skein about St. Francis of Assisi to be helmed by Liliana Cavani (“The Night Porter”) and shopped at next week’s MipTV mart in Cannes.

“When I heard that the new pope had decided to call himself Francis, there was an immediate exchange of phone calls between myself, Liliana and the head of drama at (pubcaster) RAI,” said Italo TV producer Claudia Mori (pictured above), who had a  project about the saint set up that suddenly gained more impetus.

RAI head of drama Tinny Andreatta and a sales exec for Mori’s Ciao Ragazzi shingle will be seeking international co-producers at Mip for “Francesco,” which is currently casting.

Plan is to start shooting late summer in the Assisi area and the outskirts of Jerusalem.

“Every 20 years comes a new generation who doesn’t really know who St. Francis was,” said Cavani, who calls the saint “the world’s first real revolutionary.”

Cavani certainly knows her material. This is the third St. Francis biopic for the helmer whose 1989 “Francesco” starred Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter and competed at Cannes.

But the impact of former Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio becoming pope is reverberating in the global entertainment arena in several different ways.

Knowing he is a soccer fan, the Italian soccer federation has invited Argentina to play a friendly match in Rome, in hopes that both teams will get a papal audience and a ratings boost. In Argentina, Disney is capitalizing on a native pope with a Franciscan bent by re-releasing local helmer Pablo Trapero’s “White Elephant,” about priests tackling poverty and gangs in Buenos Aires slums.

In New York, the pre-election papal saga prompted IFC to re-release Nanni Moretti’s “We Have a Pope,” about a newly elected pope who bows out due to an existential crisis, while  iTunes in the U.S. added Moretti’s pic on its movies page.

Meanwhile, back in Rome, Ridley Scott is about to mine a more intrigue-filled papal angle with the pilot for Showtime and Sony’s “The Vatican,” toplining Bruno Ganz, now prepping for a six-week Eternal City shoot.

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