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Battle of the Pope Francis Biopics Begins With Two Films Shooting In Buenos Aires

ROME — A battle between rival Pope Francis biopics has just kicked off, with shooting starting this week in Buenos Aires on two feature films about Jorge Mario Bergoglio, both toplining Argentine A-list actors as the former Jesuit priest and tracing the path to his groundbreaking papacy.

Thesp Rodrigo de la Serna, who played alongside Gael Garcia Bernal in Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries,” is playing the former Buenos Aires bishop, a son of Italian immigrants, in Italian director Daniele Luchetti’s “Call Me Francesco.” This roughly $12 million pic is being fully financed by prominent Italian producer Piero Valsecchi, who is planning a theatrical and a made-for-TV version. Luchetti’s credits include past Cannes fest contenders “Il Portaborse,” “My Brother Is an Only Child,” and “Our Life.”

Dario Grandinetti, who stars in Argentina’s current foreign-language Oscar contender “Wild Tales” and also appeared in Pedro Almodovar’s “Talk to Her,” is the star in “Francisco,” being directed by Argentine vet Beda Docampo Feijoo, known for drama “Camila,” and for romancers “Los amores de Kafka” and “Crazy Loves.” “Francisco” is being co-produced by Buenos Aires-based Pablo Bossi and Spain’s Gloriamundi, while FilmSharks Intl. is handling international sales. Disney will distribute “Francisco” throughout Latin America and in Spain.

Both Francis biopics are being shot in Spanish to tap into their primary audiences in Latin America and Spain, but both also have worldwide distribution ambitions.

Interestingly, the two competing papal pics are also both based on books written by reporters at the same newspaper, Buenos Aires daily La Nacion.

The Italian “Francesco” film is based on bestselling book “Francisco. El Papa de la gente” (Francisco, the People’s Pope) by Evangelina Himitian, La Nacion’s former Vatican correspondent. Producer Valsecchi is producing the Italo pic via his TaoDue shingle, which has close ties to Silvio Berlusconi’s Medusa/Mediaset, which will distribute the film and TV versions in Italy.
Velsecchi is selling his pic internationally himself.

Argentina’s “Francisco” film is based on “Francisco: Life and Revolution,” also a besteller, by La Nacion’s current Rome-based international and Vatican reporter Elisabetta Pique. Published in the U.S. by Loyola Press, Pique’s book has been hailed in Argentina as the most complete portrait of the pope to date.

So which of the dueling Francis films will hit screens first?

Producers for Argentina’s “Francisco” are touting a July 2015 world preem, while Italy’s “Francesco” is planned for a November 2015 theatrical release. Still, producer Valsecchi claims the Italo pic will be the first to hit global theaters. Time will tell.

As for storylines, “Francisco” will follow a Spanish journalist, played by hot Spanish actress Silvia Abascal (El Lobo), as she researches Bergoglio’s journey from the discovery of his calling as an adolescent to his election as pope. The pic directed by Docampo Feijoo will describe his work in the slums and not-so-well-known struggle with Argentina’s military dictatorship.

“Francesco,” which will have a more straightforward narrative, is being tubthumped by Luchetti as being about “the human and spiritual adventure” of the pope’s “vocation” from his formative years with the Jesuits through the very tough experience of dictatorship and his pastoral mission amid the poor in Buenos Aires, prior to his pontifical election.

Dueling papal biopics are nothing new, at least not in the TV field. In 2005 ABC beat CBS to the punch, time wise, by airing its shorter skein “Have No Fear: The Life of John Paul II” three days before CBS’ four-hour miniseries “Pope John Paul II.”

John Hopewell contributed to this report.

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