Pope Francis’s screen debut in a narrative feature film gets its first official showing on Wednesday night at the Vatican, before the film’s Christmas release.
Starring as himself, the head of the Catholic Church has a cameo role in Beyond the Sun, an evangelical story about children searching for God. He is expected to attend the screening. A copy of the film has already been sent to him.
All the film’s proceeds will go to charities for disadvantaged children in Argentina, the country of the 80-year-old pontiff’s birth.
The film’s producers include Andrea Iervolino, an Italian-born Hollywood film-maker. He told the Guardian that, for devout Catholics like himself, the pope is “God on Earth” and filming him was an overwhelming experience.
He said: “We make eight to 10 movies every year with big movie stars … This is not just a movie. This is something special.”
Iervolino made his first film aged 15 with the help of his local church, which lent him costumes, a horse and a filming location. “Now I have the opportunity to do a movie with a special appearance of the pope for charity. For me, this is the most important thing that I can do with my life,” he said.
The pope is on screen, in the middle of the film and again at the end, for around six minutes.
The film shows him as a “man of the people”, Iervolino said. He appears in a scene with the children, urging them to talk to Jesus and to read the gospels.
He tells them: “Don’t think of [the gospels] as a huge book … The gospels are small. But you have to read them slowly, bit by bit. And you should be with someone who can explain whatever you don’t understand.
“I recommend people who are adults to always carry a small gospel with them in their pockets, in the woman’s purse, because – on the subway or on the bus, or waiting at the doctor’s, who knows – you can read a little. Or you keep it at home.”
He continues: “Speak to Jesus … Tell him what’s happening to you. What happened today? Tell him the things you saw and you disliked, or in the school or out in the streets, or in your family … Jesus is waiting for you, and he is looking for you, and you don’t realise … Look for him, and that’s how you will find each other. Dare to do it.”
His footage was shot in a single take, and the pope’s part was unscripted. “He did his own speech,” Iervolino said. “We only explained to him the story and the compass. He’s not an actor. He’s himself. So he’s real, which is important.”
Setting up the shoot, including arranging the cameras within the Vatican amid extensive security, took about a day. But filming the footage of the pope was done quickly.
Afterwards, the pope’s parting words to Iervolino and the crew were: “Please pray for me.”
Iervolino said: “We’re doing this for charity. He’s doing this to help. This is very special thing. He’s an amazing man. This is another way to help the world.”
Iervolino has produced, funded and distributed more than 60 feature films, including The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino. In partnership with Monika Bacardi, he founded AMBI Group, which develops, produces and distributes films worldwide, from comedies to thrillers. Forthcoming productions include an animated family epic, Arctic Justice: Thunder Squad, with John Cleese and Alec Baldwin