Meeting the Catholic producer helping an agnostic make a film about a saint

A new film about a 20th-century saint is being directed by a self-described agnostic and produced by a devout Catholic.


“I thought it would be a fantastic challenge to give 40 million dollars to a Hollywood director who is agnostic and leftist to tell a story about a Catholic saint,” said Ignacio Gómez-Sancha, the producer behind the upcoming film, “There Be Dragons.”


“There Be Dragons” tells the story of St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of the Catholic organization Opus Dei (Latin for “Work of God”).


Gómez-Sancha is producing the movie with director Roland Joffé, who calls himself a “wobbly atheist.”


In the 1980s, Joffé's films, “The Mission” and “The Killing Fields” earned him Academy Award nominations for best director.


“The Mission,” which starred Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons as Jesuits in 18th-century Latin America, was later named by the Vatican as one of 45 “great films” about religion.


In a recent interview with CNA, Gómez-Sancha said, “The reason why I decided to leave my life behind and dedicate two years of my life to this project is basically that ... I fell in love with the project and with Roland's idea on Josemaría.”


Gómez-Sancha, who is a member of Opus Dei, described how Joffé came to the project. The London-born director became fascinated with the Spanish saint in the wake of the bestselling book, “The Da Vinci Code,” which was later made into a movie.


“The Da Vinci Code” presents a lurid vision of Opus Dei as a militant secret society in the Church.

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Controversy over the book and movie led Joffé to read the writings of St. Josemaría  Escrivá. And though an agnostic, Joffé was captivated by the saint’s vision of heroic Christian faith and holiness.


After seeing the screenplay Joffé wrote, Gómez-Sancha decided to give the director a chance. He gathered together investors to create a film fund and raised money for the project.


He calls his efforts an expression of his faith. “It is very important to do movies in a profitable way with a good message,” he said.  


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The story told in “There Be Dragons” is set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. However, Gómez-Sancha said that “the dramatic center of the movie is not actually the war, but what (are) called the 'dragons'.”


“The dragons,” he explained, “are anything that makes you suffer, the situations that life puts you in,” such as guilt, hatred, jealousy and betrayal.


Gómez-Sancha stressed the importance of having “an agnostic like Roland” telling a story with “a message that is absolutely universal.”


“The Spanish Civil War split families apart, split the society totally, and we are in deep need for an act of reconciliation,” he said.


The film, he added, will show people “what a priest can be; what priesthood can be for society, in a moment where priesthood, in a way, is under scrutiny.”


“There Be Dragons” is being filmed in Argentina. It will be released internationally in Spring 2011.

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