He is an experienced filmmaker: a nine-time Cannes Palme D’Or winner and renowned representative of the 1970s German New Wave cinema. He is also known for his deeply spiritual films such as „Wings of Desire“, „Faraway, So Close“ and „The Salt of the Earth“. Still, Wim Wenders was not expecting to make a film about the most spiritual man of our time – the Holy Father. In this case, it was not his own idea but of the Vatican. The Vatican proposed to make film on Pope Francis “how filmmaker thinks he would want to do it”. Wenders understood his responsibility and did not missed this once in a lifetime opportunity. We spoke to the German film director after the premiere of his film “Pope Francis – A Man of his Word” during the 71st Cannes film festival.
Mr. Wenders, how did this project happen?
In March 13, 2013 Jorge Mario Bergolio was elected as the Pope. He is the first Jesuit to take this position: the first representative from the American continent and the first who chose his name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, the famous saint and reformer of the Catholic church, who dedicated his life to protect interests of the poor. In the same year I received a letter. The Vatican invited me to discuss a new project. I was interested in the Pope Francis, if only for the reason that he had the courage to choose such a name. Not in my wildest dreams I was thinking about making a movie with him.
Pope Francis is quite a celebrity. How is he as a person?
The first time I reached Vatican I was very nervous. For our first shoot we were ready days and hours in advance. We were more than ready. I told my team: “He is not an actor, not wearing any make-up, we won’t be able to have several takes. We need to be ready for everything”. And so he arrived alone and started shaking hands with the first person on his way, with everybody, without making a difference if there is producer or technician. Everybody, who was in the room, had a chance to look him in the eyes and to ask him questions. He had the same presence for everybody without pretending anything. I knew a lot of famous people, politicians among them, I can tell if person is acting or not, but Pope Francis was not acting. He was a genuine person who truly loved people. I asked him a question of how he is dealing with thousands of people he has to meet. He answered: “It’s the worse part of my job because I don’t see faces anymore. These days I only see thousands of smart phones and tablets. But when I see a single face I immediately try to connect to it.
How to choose most important themes out of the big footage?
I felt if I already have the privilege to talk to the Pope four times, each time for two hours I should not miss to cover the most important themes: poverty; climate changes; violence; immigration; human relationships and others. There was not a single question he refused to answer. No subject he would want to escape. After every question, he looked with the same courage and honesty. By some of the questions, like one about pedophilia he got extremely annoyed, though he tried not to show his anger. But it came from realizing that he would want to change much more if he only could do things by himself not with help of the huge machine, often working against him with a lot of resistance.
Why out of all filmmakers Vatican chose you to make this film?
I am sure they knew what they were doing because request came from the minister of communication Dario Edoardo Viganò, who studied cinema. He wrote his PhD on that subject. As a young man he used to have a film club and he reminded me visiting this club long ago. Maybe he liked that my movies have certain spirituality and that I only make movies on the topic I personally like and want to share. Maybe he preferred that I am not in a critical mood. Viganò probably wanted to have not a critical, but a loving mind. I am sure that the age of criticism is overrated. Nothing is easier than to rip apart, what is created by others. When I was young I used to write reviews as a film critic. I always refused writing about movies I did not like. I thought it was a waste of time. I only wanted to write about films I liked. Maybe it’s against the Zeitgeist, but maybe it was the reason the Vatican picked me.
Did the film make you re-think your own relationship to religion?
Well, I think I am a spiritual man. Maybe I am not a very faithful catholic; even-though I attended catholic school. I am afraid of the rigidity of institutions because they take themselves more serious than the ideas they represent. Pope Francis is a very humble person. He is being courageous for doing things that have not been discussed for a long time. He incarnates things he preaches. He did not move to the palace. Every day he takes a bus to work and not a personal car with a driver. For ten years, he wears the same shoes. He is the one who believes that everyone of us can live with less, for all of us to become richer. When you look at him it’s not an office behind him but a man in this office who is trying to change the institution, to move it forward into the 21st century.
Why do you think we need to be reminded about the simple values?
I think in 21st century we needed to be reminded about everything what we have been taking for granted for a long time. In the constitutions say that all people are equal, but no government in the East or West takes their constitution serious anymore. Our industries create conditions in which we keep excluding people, rushing after the holy cow of growth. So, it is extremely urgent to be reminded today, that families built on time spent together; that the parents have to play with their kids; that it’s important to reach peace in the family every day before going to sleep. He asked me if I take a day of rest and I don’t. So I needed to be reminded that for mental health it is necessary. Ever since he has spoken to my camera about surviving with less I start questioning my behavior. I realized about my own addiction. Every week I buy 20-30 CDs because I want to be informed about music. But many of these disks I listen just once or only the first tracks and I put it away. And all of us are living due to the same pattern to get more and to give less. Our governments need to be reminded about fraternity and equality; about simple, social justice. This political message is necessary because have been governed by moral dwarfs, which have no rights to represent us.
We always think about cinema as an entertainment, but entertainment can be very political. Movies are starting to take responsibilities, which many other medias do not do anymore. I wanted this film to be a message. Not a critical one, because it does not matter, because today it’s more important than before to keep hope.