'Francesco' director receives film award in Vatican Gardens

Screenshot 2020 10 22 at 180702 Director Evgeny Afineevsky, center, receives the Kineo Movie for Humanity award in the Vatican Gardens Oct. 22, 2020. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

The director of a new documentary about Pope Francis received an Italian film award in a ceremony in the Vatican Gardens on Thursday, amid international controversy over his documentary on the life and ministry of Pope Francis.

Filmmaker Evgeny Afineevsky, the director of "Francesco," was presented with the Kinéo Movie for Humanity Award Oct. 22. 

Now in its 18th year, the award is given to those who promote social, humanitarian, and environmental issues in cinema.

Accepting the award, Afineevsky said "I'm so proud that finally 'Francesco' is on its way to the world to change hearts and minds."

"I'm happy that I can bring the voices of the Rohingya refugees, refugees from Syria, voices of victims of sexual abuse, voices from different points and from different corners of the world. Something that Pope Francis really cares [about] and something that is really deeply in my heart," he stated.

Afineevsky said that, while the pope cannot bring attention to those issues through papal travel at the moment, due to COVID-19, he was "so proud that today the movie can continue this mission."  

The Vatican press office has not given any public statement on the film, which made international headlines on Wednesday for including a line from Pope Francis in a video interview calling for the passage of civil union laws for same-sex couples. 

Francis' statement seems to depart from the position of the Vatican's doctrinal office and the pope's predecessors on the issue. 

Vatican officials were present at the award ceremony, including Paolo Ruffini, prefect of the communications dicastery, and dicastery secretary Msgr. Lucio Adrian Ruiz.

The officials were not available for questions after the award was presented.

Rosetta Sannelli, the award's creator, said in a press release that "every trip of Pope Francis to various parts of the world is documented in Afineevsky's work by images and news footage, and reveals itself as an authentic glimpse into the events of our time, a historical work in all respects."

The Kinéo movie prizes are usually awarded at a ceremony in Venice, but Sannelli told EWTN News the Vatican was "the right place" to hold the ceremony recognizing "Francesco," because "there is the spirituality of the place, of the location that you cannot find anywhere [else]."

She said that she chose the documentary after seeing a lot of submissions, calling it "the sum of humanity in a movie."

"There is the pope... There is a person who fights against the problems and differences and tragedies of our times," she continued. "I think that it's a movie to open our look on the world, not from a Catholic point of view, but from a real point of view. There is a religious, spiritual base, but then you work on the base and you go into real themes of our century."

The pope "faces real problems" of today, she said.

"Francesco" premiered at the Rome Film Festival Oct. 21, and is due to have its North American premiere on Sunday.

The film chronicles the approach of Pope Francis to pressing social issues, and to pastoral ministry among those who live, in the words of the pontiff, "on the existential peripheries."

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