In making his latest work, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,” which screens at this year’s Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, German director Wim Wenders was inspired by qualities that seem rare among leaders in today’s world.
“He’s an extraordinary man – at this moment one of the few men on the planet, it seems, whom people can trust,” he says. “He’s utterly courageous and fearless and extremely honest.”
Francis appeals strongly “not only to Christians but to all people of common sense,” Wenders adds. “He represents the common good like nobody else at this moment.”
The filmmaker says he was very excited when Francis was elected Pope “because he’s the first Pope from South America, he’s the first Jesuit and mostly because he picked the name Francis, which I thought was quite promising, because no Pope had dared to take on that name and the legacy attached to it. So I was full of hope.”
Upon his election as Pope in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, as he was previously known, chose Francis as his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, saying he had done so because he was especially concerned for the well-being of the poor.
In his film, Wenders explores the connection between Francis and his namesake saint, opening the film with a shot of the Italian village of Assisi. He also recounts the story of Saint Francis in black-and-white vignettes throughout the film, shot on a hand-cranked 1920s Debrie camera.
Wenders says the Vatican gave him “carte blanche” on the project. The Vatican first approached the filmmaker about making a documentary in 2013 and Wenders quickly agreed. “We met and I was soon really convinced that it was worth it. … The Vatican was incredibly generous.”
The film was not an expensive production, Wenders stresses. “It had to be, so to speak, a poor film, because as he speaks so convincingly of a poor church for the poor, I figured we couldn’t make a movie that would contradict that.”