Picturehouse will release its new film Fatima, in theaters and on demand on Friday, August 28. It is a re-telling of the story of the Blessed Mother’s appearances to three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, among the most popular private revelations in the history of the Church.
The film opens in 1980s Portugal, as author and skeptic Professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel, The Irishman, The Piano) visits a convent in the riverside city of Coimbra, where octogenarian Sister Lúcia (Sônia Braga, Aquarius) recounts the Blessed Mother’s visit to her in Fatima 70 years before. In a flashback, we meet a young Lúcia (Stephanie Gil, Terminator: Dark Fate), who is visited by the guardian angel of Portugal in a cave; she has a vision of her brother fighting in the First World War, and the angel teaches her a prayer.
Later, while tending sheep, Lúcia and her younger cousins Jacinta (Alejandra Howard) and Francisco (Jorge Lamelas) are visited by another apparition, this time of the Virgin Mary (Joana Ribeiro). The “Lady of the Rosary,” as she calls herself, tells the children they must pray and suffer in order to bring an end to the Great War. She also asks them to return to the same spot every month for six months.
Lúcia encounters difficulties with her devout mother (Lúcia Moniz, Love, Actually) who doesn’t believe in the apparitions, and the secular and progressive town mayor Artur (Goran Višnjić, Beginners), who tries to suppress the apparitions. The story culminates on October 13, 1917, the date when the Virgin promised a grand miracle to prove the authenticity of the apparitions. A final vision includes images of the third secret of Fatima, revealed by Pope St. John Paul in 2000.
The film features the original song “Gratia Plena” (“Full of Grace”), performed by Andrea Bocelli and composed by renowned Italian composer Paolo Buonvino. The director is Marco Pontecorvo (Pa-ra-da, Game of Thrones) from a script by Pontecorvo, Valerio D’Annunzio and Barbara Nicolosi.
Pontecorvo noted that he was familiar with the story of Fatima from his upbringing in Italy. He said, “I didn’t know any of the details of Lúcia’s life or about Portugal in that era, so I had to jump into the history. Because it took place at the height of the First World War, the politics were an important element, but I focused primarily on the relationships, particularly between the mother and the daughter, and Lúcia and the Virgin Mary. The triangle is quite interesting.”
His character of Mary is a “flesh-and-blood woman,” he continued, and “the children see her in a way they can understand and not be afraid: the figure of a mother.”
Dick Lyles is a producer of the film and a practicing Catholic. He spoke to CWR about the production.
CWR: There are many books and a 1952 movie about the story of Fatima. Why did you want to make this movie, and why at this time?
Dick Lyles: The 1952 movie, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, was great, but was rather “Disney-esque.” Its characters were caricatures, and it makes light of the story and what happened at Fatima in 1917. We wanted to tell a more realistic story through the eyes of the shepherd children, particularly Lúcia. We wanted to demonstrate how these children had courage, heroism, and faith.
CWR: Tell me the process about developing your script and casting your actors.
Lyles: It was a long process, taking more than a decade to produce the film. We were blessed with an excellent director, Marco Pontecorvo, who comes from a long line of filmmakers in Europe. His father, Gillo Pontecorvo, was one of the most famous directors in Italy in the past 50 years. Marco Pontecorvo is an experienced cinematographer, who had worked with children before who loved the story and was impressed by what happened at Fatima.
Our three shepherd children were cast out of Spain. They are very talented, and carried the film. Stephanie Gil, our Lúcia, did an incredible job. Joana Ribeiro, our Mary, was stunningly beautiful. We were lucky to get a cast perfect for their roles, and a script that told the story the way it happened.
Additionally, we talked about what was happening in Portugal at the time. The 1952 movie made little mention of it. It was towards the end of World War I and the Portuguese were in the midst of a civil war. This gives the story a more realistic context.
Bocelli sang our theme song, which made for an amazing soundtrack.
CWR: Is the movie true to the original events that happened in Fatima?
Lyles: Yes, and the Shrine of Fatima acknowledged as much. The shrine declared, “Through his artistic choices, director Marco Pontecorvo conveys with dignity and integrity the actions of those who experienced the Fatima event. The film leads us to reflect that 100 years later, the light of God that the Virgin Mary shined upon Francisco, Jacinta, and Lúcia still lights the way for those who commit to a life of faith in the Gospel.”
When we screened the finished film for them, they said it was the best movie about Fatima ever made.
CWR: The film was shot entirely in Portugal. Tell me about the process of finding your locations and shooting at these sites.
Lyles: It was a movie involving many people, including 2,500 extras, 75 cast members, and 250 crew. Almost everyone was from Portugal, and had a personal connection with Fatima. You’d hear things like, “My grandfather was there!” They were all excited about being involved with the movie.
Filming in Portugal was a challenge. Our apparition scenes, for example, were filmed in a wild game preserve about halfway between Fatima and Lisbon. At night, boar and deer would eat our equipment. We had to build an electrified fence around it at night and take it down in the morning.
We had to create two swimming pools to create our rain scenes. Each time we did a take, we’d have 2,500 people in costume, we’d rain on them, drench them and then yell “cut.” They’d go and change into new costumes so we could do additional takes. During the second take, we’d wash and dry their clothes for a third take.
It was also hot, nearly 100 degrees. Each of our three shepherds had a person assigned to them with a water spray bottle to cool them off, and an umbrella to shade them from the sun.
The children spent a lot of time on their knees, so during rehearsals we’d have them kneel on a pillow, and during takes we put knee pads under their clothes.
Everyone did a magnificent job.
CWR: The pandemic delayed your release.
Lyles: Yes. We were scheduled to open on April 24, but with the theaters closed, we had to move our start date to August 28. We will be in over 1,000 theaters that weekend.
We are hoping we have a strong showing in the first couple of weeks, which makes it much more likely we will have a wider distribution and stay in the theaters longer. It is only available now in the theaters, so we encourage everyone to turn out. Some might even consider “buying out” a theater showing and then bringing family and friends.
CWR: Who should see this film?
Lyles: We made it as a “crossover” film, so it could be enjoyed by people of all backgrounds. It is a compelling story, exciting, with courage and heroism. Anyone can enjoy the film, even those who are not devotees of Fatima. During our test screenings, the film was enjoyed by people of all ages and every faith background.
CWR: Mel Gibson’s 2004 The Passion of the Christ was a hugely successful religious film. What success have religious films had in the years since?
Lyles: Some do well, some do not. We’re optimistic that Fatima has the production values, story, and message to be a blockbuster.
• Readers can visit www.FatimaTheMovie.com for the latest information on where and how to watch the movie.
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