FATIMA through the eyes of the shepherd children
New movie tells the story of the famed Marian apparitions
by Lori Hadacek Chaplin
Unlike previous movies about the Fatima apparitions, a new movie, simply titled Fatima, provides a more realistic retelling that delves into the humanity of the seers. The film, which opens in theaters on August 28, 2020, and is available through a variety of live-streaming services, reveals the depth of their suffering — particularly 10-year-old Lucia played by Stephanie Gil. The three shepherd children embody authentic faith and courage in theface of rejection and adversity.
Natasha Howes, one of the producers of Fatima, told Catholic Digest, “We chose to tell the story in a way that enables people to identify with the key characters. I think it’s a fertile place for audiences to truly recognize and work through questions like, “Do they believe the children?’
Dick Lyles, also a producer of Fatima, told Catholic Digest, “We wanted this to be a story about the shepherds and what they went through and not a lesson in Fatima theology.”
Fatima is filmed from Sr. Lucia’s perspective and follows two timelines: the apparitions in 1917 and Sr. Lucia’s life as a cloistered nun in 1989. In the later timeline, professor Nichols (Harvey Keitel) is a skeptic who is working on a book about the apparitions. He visits Sr. Lucia (Sônia Braga) in the convent, and during the interview, the nun’s story unfolds in flashbacks.
FILM ‘CONSISTENT WITH WHAT HAPPENED’
To maintain the integrity of the story, the production team relied heavily on the two volumes of Sr. Lucia’s memoirs titled Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words, and they worked closely with the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal (Fatima.pt/en). The shrine’s historians and theologians reviewed the script. After an early screening of the movie, the shrine endorsed the film. “Inspired by the story of Our Blessed Virgin Mary’s appearances to three children, the movie Fatima shows why it is still possible for humanity to believe in divine intervention, even in our contemporary world,” the shrine said. “The film leads us to reflect that 100 years later, the light of God that the Virgin Mary shined upon Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia still lights the way for those who commit to a life of faith in the Gospel.”
The Fatima film takes artistic license to make the film flow and to appeal to a broader audience. The movie is not precise, but it doesn’t change the heavenly message.
“Everything in the movie is consistent with what happened and could very easily have happened,” said Lyles, a committed Catholic. “We wanted a movie that would not only satisfy believers, but that would also cause people who aren’t believers —skeptics —to say, ‘Wow, this is a true story? I want to find out more.’”
OUR LADY OF FATIMA
In 1917, in Fatima, Portugal, 10-year-old Lucia Santos and her two cousins, 9-year-old Francisco Marto and his 7-year-old sister Jacinta Marto, were tending sheep when the Virgin Mary appeared to them. Mary —who referred to herself as “Our Lady of the Rosary” —appeared to the three shepherds six times from May 13 to Oct. 13. Among other requests, she asked them to pray the Rosary and to do penance for the conversion of sinners.
The children were met with unbelief and persecution by family members and many of the villagers. Still, thousands came to Fatima because of faith and curiosity. Pope Francis canonized Francisco (1908–1919) and Jacinta (1910–1920) on May 13, 2017. Sr. Lucia (1907–2005) is being considered for canonization. Sr. Lucia was declared a Servant of God on Feb. 13, 2017.
10 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Getting a genuinely Catholic film made is challenging. Lyles said that the project took 10 years to produce because there were so many obstacles in the way of making the movie. Origin Entertainment —where Lyles is CEO —didn’t begin filming Fatima until 2018 because it was difficult to find a director and actors willing to act in a profoundly Catholic film.
“This is a stunning project. It’s a beautiful story that’s well presented. The production values are phenomenal, and we had actors turn it down because they were afraid it would ruin their careers because it was too Catholic,” he explained.
Origin Entertainment —whose goal is to make movies that show heroism —planned to have the film finished by Fatima’s centennial in 2017, but the biggest obstacle was financing. Origin is a small independent production company, and the production budget on Fatima was around $17 million, according to Lyles. (By comparison, The Passion of The Christ, released in 2004, had a $30 million budget.)
Origin refused to compromise and make a lesser movie. “Unfortunately, that’s what happens with a lot of Catholic-themed movies when getting the money is difficult,” Lyles said.
Howes —who credits Our Lady of Fatima for bringing her back to her Catholic faith —produced The 13th Day, another film about Fatima, released in 2009. “There’s no pre-established financial mechanism that is Catholic-supported to help fund films that speak directly to the values of the core Catholic audience,” she said.
The producers put the movie release date in God’s hands. “Every time we hit an obstacle and prayed, something even better happened,” Lyles said.
ANDREA BOCELLI’S VOICE
One of the wonderful blessings of having the film delayed was getting star tenor Andrea Bocelli on board. Bocelli sings “Ave Maria Pietas,” and “Gloria the Gift of Life” from his Si album as well as a new song, “Gratia Plena,” by composer Paolo Buonvinowho wrote the film’s entire soundtrack.
Bocelli told Catholic Digest, “[This] keen interest led to a collaborative relationship with the production team, with the intention to use a few songs from my album in the new film. The creative need for a new song arose when the soundtrack was being put together, and, as I had found the experience fascinating, I was delighted to accept to perform it.”
Bocelli sings “Gratia Plena” —a song about peace and universal fellowship —at the film’s ending credits. He calls the song “profound” and “imbued with genuine beauty.”
“And it goes so well with the other two tracks from my album,” he said.
A devotee to the Blessed Virgin, Bocelli said, “For Fatima, every breath becomes prayer. I experienced this in 2017 when I had the privilege of offering my contribution as a singer —as well as a worshiper —for the centenary of Fatima. As a Christian, as a practicing Catholic, I believe that the fundamental element in my life is faith. It is a gift that I always try to protect and enrich. I am happy that I have taken part in this project because the Marian presence is a sunny constant in my own life and that of my family.”
Bocelli believes that Fatima offers an edifying story for everyone —even for nonbelievers. “Anyone can glean the message of love that gravitates around the three young shepherds, the sacred apparitions, and what gave life to the Sanctuary of Fatima: love and beauty that are intrinsic to goodness,” he explained. “For believers, I hope that it may act as an incentive to cultivate emotion and to abandon the indifference that, at least in my area of the world, is a problem to be reckoned with and to be reflected upon.”
EARLY SCREENINGS PROMISING
Howes and Lyles said that early screenings of Fatima were encouraging. After the Shrine of Fatima viewed the film, a priest told Howes, “The movie breathes new life into an old story because you tell it from a human perspective, and it’s that … powerful.”
Howes said, “They laughed in all the right places, and they cried in all the right places during the screening. They just came out after seeing the movie, and they were truly invigorated and exalted it. It rekindled their experience of the story.”
Lyles added, “We fervently believe that this powerful and beautifully rendered story will help unite Catholics around the world, by showing them what it means to be faithful and heroically committed to the truth.”