‘Francesco’ director Evgeny Afineevsky on Pope Francis’ healing message

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As a documentary filmmaker Evgeny afineevsky has spent years immersed in areas of turbulent conflict, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. His Oscar nominated film 2015 Winter on fire: Ukraine’s struggle for freedom, put him in the middle of the Ukrainian revolution.

“I have witnessed positive things [in Ukraine]- the unity in Maidan Square in Kiev, the interreligious dialogue, which took place before my eyes, ”he notes. “But at the same time, in the 21st century, in the middle of the European Union, people are being killed by snipers in the streets, a horrific moment in history.”

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From there he turned his attention to the horrific civil war in Syria, directing his 2017 film. Cries of Syria.

“I have experienced what it is to be on the front lines of war,” he told Deadline, “what it is to be exposed to the darkness of the world today.”

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

After these two films, Afineevsky says he felt compelled to find the light, “to look for something positive, something that can bring hope, someone who can be a common thread through many problems that we have created, but also to show us opportunities, which we always have can change the bad for the good.

He found this inspiring figure in Pope Francis, the subject of his Oscar-nominated documentary Francois. The Vatican bureaucracy did not welcome his attempts to gain access to the pontiff, but the director overcame many obstacles to develop a personal relationship with the bishop of Rome.

“I was just last Saturday with him,” Afineevsky noted when discussing Francois in Los Angeles last week. “If I go back three years [to when he first met Francis] to be in his presence your heart beats like 200 beats per minute and you are sometimes speechless. But you realize that he is humble, that he has his feet on the ground… He comforts you, he gives you opportunities to speak and he listens to you.

The documentary explores the pope’s commitment to today’s most pressing issues, including climate change, poverty, the Middle East peace process, the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and the persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Pope Francis meets migrants and refugees at the Mytilene Reception and Identification Center on the island of Lesvos, December 5, 2021. - Credit: Vatican Media / Abaca / Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

Pope Francis meets migrants and refugees at the Mytilene Reception and Identification Center on the island of Lesvos, December 5, 2021. – Credit: Vatican Media / Abaca / Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

Vatican Media / Abaca / Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images)

The Pope visited Myanmar to urge an end to the bloodshed, the Central African Republic to end the conflict between Muslims and Christians, and the Italian island of Lampedusa and the Greek island of Lesbos, gathering points for refugees from the North Africa and the Middle East are trying to reach Europe. He made his second trip to Lesvos over the weekend, meeting other refugees mired in a camp.

“Please stop this sinking of civilization!” The Pope implored on Sunday, criticizing countries that refuse refugees. “Let’s stop ignoring reality, stop constantly shifting responsibilities, stop pushing the issue of migration to others.

With the rise of nationalism and populism in many parts of the world, Afineevsky sees the Pope’s message as vital.

“It shows me that there is still good in this world and that we still lack great leadership,” Afineevsky said. “I guess after four years of seeing what happened in a divided United States [under President Trump], seeing this good is really important, and that’s what I’m trying to convey in the movie.

Pope Francis and director Evgeny Afineevsky (in gray costume) at the Vatican, September 6, 2021 - Credit: Courtesy Francesco Docet Production

Pope Francis and director Evgeny Afineevsky (in gray costume) at the Vatican, September 6, 2021 – Credit: Courtesy Francesco Docet Production

Courtesy of Francesco Docet Production

The film made headlines around the world when it premiered at the Rome Film Festival, due to the pope’s comments endorsing civil unions for same-sex couples. Afineevsky believes that this was not necessarily a news flash – that in fact, it was consistent with the Pope’s emphasis on accepting human beings, regardless of their origin, and not having them. reject for narrow doctrinal reasons.

“He preaches humanity,” says Afineevsky. “I think it’s his religion. From day one when I first met him I realized he hates it when people put frames or labels on other people. For him, every person – religious or non-religious, or what religion a person practices, no matter what skin color or sexuality, every person is the child of God.

The director says that nothing was forbidden in his discussions with the Pope.

Director Evgeny Afineevsky shows scenes from Francesco to Pope Francis in the Vatican, September 2020 - Credit: courtesy Francesco Docet Production

Director Evgeny Afineevsky shows scenes from Francesco to Pope Francis in the Vatican, September 2020 – Credit: courtesy Francesco Docet Production

Courtesy of Francesco Docet Production

“It allowed me to solve all the problems,” Afineevsky said. “I was showing him different parts of the film … and I never had any restrictions or [objections]. He gave me all my respect as an artist.

Afineevsky devotes an important part of Francois the scandal of sexual abuse which seriously undermined the moral authority of the Catholic Church. Juan Carlos Cruz, who was sexually assaulted as a child in Chile by Father Fernando Karadima, speaks poignantly in the film of feeling hurt when Pope Francis in 2018 defended Karadima’s reputation. But, later, the pontiff sent two church officials to investigate the situation in Chile and the envoys found evidence to support the abuse allegations. The Pope ended up apologizing to Cruz and other Chilean victims of sexual abuse at church. In March, Pope Francis appointed Cruz to the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors.

Speaking during the discovery + TCA panel on Francois Last February, Cruz commented on the Vatican’s response to the sexual abuse scandal.

“This is by no means resolved,” said Cruz. But he praised the Pope: “What I see in him is the will to fight… For me, Pope Francis has a heart of gold, a soul completely given to humanity and to its challenges.

Juan Carlos Cruz in front of Saint Peter's Square, Rome, Tuesday April 24, 2018 - Credit: AP Photo / Andrew Medichini

Juan Carlos Cruz in front of Saint Peter’s Square, Rome, Tuesday April 24, 2018 – Credit: AP Photo / Andrew Medichini

AP Photo / Andrew Medichini

Cruz added: “Another thing I love about him is that he is in no way afraid to stand up to the powerful and when something goes wrong he talks – the equitable distribution of the Covid vaccine , immigrants, you name him, he’s not afraid to talk… He’s not afraid to disturb anyone and that’s what makes him the great man he is.

Afineevksy recently welcomed his first child, a boy he named Francesco in honor of the Pope.

“I think the whole trip with Francis helped me heal myself,” he observes. “Because after Syria, where I saw no hope at all, where I did not see love, humanity, I think that this trip mainly on the side of Pope Francis really gave hope for the future. “

Francois is streamed on the discovery + platform and is available to Oscar voters through the Academy’s Best Picture and Documentary screening portals.

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