Can Cinema Be Catholic? Film Directors Disagree

«We Have Something to Propose to the World»

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ROME, DEC. 15, 2000 (
On the eve of the Jubilee of the World of Entertainment, an international congress held in Rome debated the possibility of having a genuinely Catholic cinema.

The theme of the meeting was «John Paul II and the Cinema: A Journey of Faith and Culture, Art and Communication.» It was organized by the «Tertio Millennio» Festival, and held over the past few days in the Department of Social Communication Sciences at the Pontifical Salesian University.

Directors Lilliana Cavani and Krzysztof Zanussi argued opposite points of view. Their debate was introduced by Archbishop John P. Foley, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who referred to the Pope as «an attentive student of the cinema, who looks for the spark of the divine in human experience and loves artists profoundly.»

«I come from a secular culture,» Cavani said. She is the director of the film «Francesco,» the life of St. Francis of Assisi, for which she has been labeled a «dissident Catholic.» Cavani revealed, however, that she once watched the film with John Paul II in a small, private auditorium.

«He wept during the film and, every now and then, embraced me,» Cavani disclosed. «He has been my most attentive and moved spectator.»

She continued: «I hope that no one will produce Catholic cinema; such labels must not exist. The Pope´s letter to artists comes to mind; it is most beautiful. He does not ask artists to be good in order to make good films, but to be themselves.»

Polish film director Krzysztof Zanussi disagreed. He believes Catholic cinema exists. «A Catholic artist runs into many closed doors and is regarded with skepticism by colleagues and at festivals,» Zanussi said. «I don´t complain. Let´s not deceive ourselves: We do not have many possibilities. However, we have something to propose to the world and we must do so, even if we know that this will isolate us.»

Among those attending the debate was Ferruccio De Bortoli, director of Corriere della Sera, the largest-circulation newspaper in Italy. De Bortoli pointed out that «the fundamental secret of communication is respect for the public. Like John XXIII, John Paul II has taught us to use the means of communication well.

«He has known how to use not only his learning and ascetic life but also his gifts as an actor. This is also communication: to make use all that one is in order to give the best.»

De Bortoli added, «John Paul II´s message during so many years of pontificate, his global and extraordinary communication, which is also understood by nonbelievers, is to pay more attention to man, by placing him at the center.»

This point was valuable, De Bortoli said, especially for «those who are on the margins, and whom we journalists also have difficulty in addressing, because they are outside the spotlight of a certain prevailing cultural dictatorship.»

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