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Director Wim Wenders on the new movie about Pope Francis

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The audio:

05-18hhs-wenders

The transcript:

HH: That’s Patty Smith singing Those Are The Words. It’s a song that concludes a magnificent new movie, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word, a beautiful film that is in theaters now. I am joined by its director, Wim Wenders. Mr. Wenders, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you on, congratulations.

WW: Good morning. Thank you so much.

HH: I went to see Pope Francis: A Man of His Word the first night it was in the theaters. Focus had sent me a [screener]. I wouldn’t watch it on a computer. I wanted to see it on a big screen, and it’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. It actually captures the potential of the papacy. But what I want to ask you is first some technical stuff. How many hours did you spend with His Holiness?

WW: We had four afternoons, and each time spent a good two hours with him over the course of two years.

HH: That’s pretty remarkable. And of all of the shots, and there are some amazing shots. I’ve been in the favelas of Brazil. I have been in various places in Israel. Which was the most difficult to shoot?

WW: Well, he, his journeys took him, really, everywhere all over the planet. And I didn’t shoot all of this. Sometimes, he was accompanied by a crew of two young cameramen from Vatican TV. Some of it is preceding my involvement. So we had access to the entire archive of the Vatican, and some of these amazing shots from all sorts of places all over the world are not shot by ourselves.

HH: Well, you’re very humble. Some of them obviously are your work. If anyone’s seen Wings of Desire of Buena Vista Social Club…

WW: Yeah.

HH: Of those that you shot, which was the most difficult?

WW: Well, I’ll tell you the truth. The most difficult was not so much the Pope. The most difficult was the reenactment of St. Francis. And for a movie that was really supposed to be a poor film, we didn’t have many means, in order to do justice to the Pope’s message, to get away with less, so we had a small budget voluntarily. And to recreate the 13th Century around St. Francis with no means was indeed quite a challenge.

HH: Oh, that was great, especially when he went to see the…I mean, that’s very well done. I didn’t know that. So you were trying to imitate in the making of the film the Pope’s message about material wealth?

WW: Yes, we tried to incorporate that into the making of the film. He’s so, I mean, he’s really pleading that all of us, we could do with less and maybe not grow so much and not, and let others who have less catch up with us a little bit at least, so we figured we’re going to prove with our movie that we can make also a movie with less.

HH: Oh, very well done. Now my friend, Archbishop Chaput, who by the way, he’s a saint, he has a small little part of your film. He’s in the frame where you’re at the prison in Philadelphia. He has said that you, “weave an ongoing intimate

WW: Oh, yes. Yes, I know.

HH: …”interview with the Pope through the film.” It’s hugely effective, said the Archbishop. One has the sense that Francis is looking directly at speaking directly to the individual viewer. Was that the point?

WW: Yeah. That was the point. When I realized I had this unbelievable privilege to be face to face with Pope Francis. I figured that is exactly what I would like to share with the audience. I want everybody in the movie theater put in my space and be, and have that face to face experience with the Pope. So we shot it in the way that the Pope is actually, while looking at me with the help of a reverse teleprompter, so to speak, where he of course doesn’t see his text, but he sees my face while I was delivering the question, and while talking to me, this camera is shot through this teleprompter. So now, he’s really talking to each and everybody in the audience, and that is what I really wanted to share with the people that come to the theater.

HH: Oh, it comes through. Oh, I, my background, I did a “Searching For God in America” series for PBS 22 years ago, and I had to interview the Dalai Lama. And it’s so hard to let the individual speak to you, because the cameraman that surrounds.  How did you create the intimacy with him? How did you keep the noise from overwhelming the conversation?

WW: Well, we chose quiet places to begin with, and then we set up the set so the Pope really only saw me. He didn’t see any other person.

HH: Ah.

WW: He didn’t see any sound guys or any camera person. He just saw me on the screen, and we created a very intimate surrounding, because you, this wasn’t supposed to be a so-called interview with the Pope. It was, we wanted it to be one on one, and wanted to put the audience into that position of looking him in the eye.

HH: That is so telling. So he was not surrounded by all the flotsam and jetsam of movie making or television making when he talked?

WW: No, no. No, he only saw, we were, it was as if he had been alone.

HH: That is remarkable. It’s very effectively done. Now let me talk to you about a couple of things that he said. First of all, no movie is not going to be met with some criticism. I have one question which is sort of a critique, I’ll be honest with you. At the end, you have a beautiful shot of the Pope with President Obama. Then, you show Putin. Then, you show President Trump. What’s your message there, Mr. Wenders?

WW: Well, he met, he meets all these people in power, and you also see the Turkish president, and he also see and meet Peres and Abbas, at the time both still president of Palestine and Israel. So he meets…

HH: Shimon Peres, yeah.

WW: And he does a lot of diplomatic, yeah, Shimon Peres. So he meets people in power, and it just appears in a montage, basically. And he does say the more power you have, the more you’re responsible to be humble. And I think that goes for really all people of power today, that they are, that this call to humility, and that is the only purpose of that montage.

HH: Okay, because I took away from it that perhaps Director Wenders is saying President Obama good, Putin and Trump not good.

WW: No, we didn’t do that. No, we…

HH: Okay.

WW: …refrained from that. We said people in power, he says be careful what you do, because you have the obligation to, the more power you have, the more you’re obliged to be humble, and the more you are responsible for people’s lives.

HH: Now how, tell me about your faith position, both before you began the film and afterwards, and whether the GPS of Wim Wenders’ faith has changed through the making of the movie.

WW: Well, the GPS of Wim Wenders’ faith was incredibly impressed by the Pope’s clarity and his humility and by the incredible optimism he radiates, and by this contact he makes with everybody, and by his love for people. So I mean, I’m a Christian, and in America, I was in a Presbyterian community and in Germany, I was raised Catholic. And I try to be an ecumenical Christian. So I have friends in all denominations, and I go see the various services. And I live the life of being raised Catholic and then sort of becoming a Protestant. And now, I try to be both in one person.

HH: That’s what I do. I go to Mass on Saturday, and with my wife to the Presbyterian church on Sunday. So I…

WW: We have the best of both worlds.

HH: We do. That’s one river, two banks. That’s what I tell people. But do you believe…

WW: Can I use that quote?

HH: Oh, yes.

WW: Now…

HH: Absolutely. One river, two banks.

WW: Thank you.

HH: Now about him, the most extraordinary thing he said that made me stop, he said “Never proselytize.” Wim Wenders, the “Great Commission” is all about proselytizing, so I’m thinking about this. What did he mean, do you think?

WW: I think he means that we are really truly have to take it seriously that we are brothers, and we have a common father in Abraham, and that we don’t really have to try to convert each other, but respect each other. That’s what he meant in that context.

HH: All right, my last question goes, I read everything about, being a serious Catholic, I’ve read Ross Douthat’s biography. I’m reading Marcantonio Colonna’s work on him. He has his critics on a number of fronts, on the abuse scandal in Chile…

WW: Yeah.

HH: …on the Vatican bank. He’s passed over Archbishop Gomez to be cardinal, and that man should, I think [Archbishop] Chaput should be a cardinal as well. Did you, were you aware of those criticisms when you made the movie, or did you just focus on the person of the Pope?

WW: I focused on what he stands for. And of course, I could make, could have made a film with a certain critical dissonance and look at things, but that’s really, that would have been a different movie. And I just wanted to explore what is it today that the Pope calls, takes on the name of Francis and what that stands for, and the connection with a saint who lived 800 years ago and who was a true reformer and a visionary, especially in terms of our relationship to nature, to mother Earth. And for a pope to take on that name, the first one to dare to do it, and this one was also the first from the Southern Hemisphere and the first from the American continent. That, to me, was the focus of the film, and I didn’t want to go too much into Church politics, because that would have clearly been a different movie. And somebody will have to make that, but that was not my purpose.

HH: Well, I think what you’ve succeeded in doing more than I could have is to show every future pope what can be done. It’s actually about the possibilities of the papacy if you will go among the poor and you will take, whatever message you’re taking, if you’ll do it that way, Wim Wenders, you’ve done a beautiful thing. How is it being received? I mean, Archbishop Chaput loves it, and not because he’s in it. No one would spot him except for me. I know the guy, and the Franciscan…

WW: I saw him, too.

HH: Yeah.

WW: I know where he is.

HH: I know where he is. No one would know it if you weren’t looking, but what do you hope for the movie to do?

WW: I think it has a very great message of hope for today in that we are able to do the very simple thing, the most simple things that the Bible called us to and that our constitution is also calling us to do, by trying to realize that we are equals, and by making that happen, and by excluding less and segregating less, and by really being more brotherly again, because our societies and our economies all over the world, they separate us more and more, and they separate the ones that are, the ones that were to do more and more for those that fall along on the wayside.

HH: Consumption is a subtext of this. Last question…

WW: Yes.

HH: The scene of the garbage pickers, I’m not going to ever forget that scene. Was that yours? Did you film that?

WW: No, that’s terrifying. We filmed that, and the terrifying thing is, and that was the culture waste that Pope Francis is talking about, is not really the garbage itself. It’s not the plastic in our oceans. It’s really the people that are also discarded, and that’s his message. The culture of waste concerns both all the garbage we produce, but also the people that we turn into garbage, so to speak.

HH: Well said, well done, a beautiful movie, Pope Francis: A Man Of His Word, in theaters everywhere. Wim Wenders, thank you for joining me.

WW: Thank you so much, Hugh.

End of interview.

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