Wim Wenders hadn’t entertained the notion of an audience with the Pope when the Vatican wrote him to ask if he’d be interested in helming a documentary on the current incumbent Pope Francis. But the prospect was intriguing, he told Deadline at our Cannes Studio ahead of the film’s festival premiere, especially when they explained their conditions. “We just want to instigate this,” they told him. “We want to throw this idea at you and if you like it, you’re going to have to do it yourself. You’re going to independently have to produce it. You’re going to have to fund the production. You’re going to have to write it, edit it. We’re going to keep out of it.”
So Wenders set to work, conducting a series of interviews with the Pope and following him around the world. In the film, Pope Francis speaks directly to the camera, espousing a philosophy that Wenders found himself agreeing with. “I like his choice of name so much, and thought it was so gutsy when he first stepped up because to choose his name is quite an obligation,” Wenders said. “St. Francis, even if he lived 800 years ago, stood for a number of things that are very much needed today.”
No topics were off-limits, Wenders said. “He got very angry sometimes, not at my questions, but in his answers,” the director noted. “Child abuse, he got so furious talking about it, and you felt he would love to do so much more. You realize in his anger, how much he felt these issues were pressing and urgent and needed to be approached right away.”
Wenders has a long history with the Cannes Film Festival, but he described Pope Francis: A Man of His Word as an “antithesis to cinema. And then again, it’s not. Cinema, in many ways today, understands it has a new role. In a world that is going berserk, cinema has to present truth and facts and honesty. Even if A Man of His Word is almost the anti-film towards a film festival, I think it has a solid place today.”
Its title alludes to the faith he found in Pope Francis as he practiced what he preached. “The news has become so beaten down by this whole approach of fake news and truth has become such an endangered species, I think in cinema it has a better chance than out there.”
For more from Wenders, watch the video above.