Gianfranco Rosi on How His Doc About Pope Francis’ Travels ‘In Viaggio’ Is a ‘Map of the Human Condition’

Master documentary filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi, whose “Sacro Gra” won the Venice Golden Lion in 2013, is back on the Lido with “In Viaggio,” a doc about Pope Francis’ travels in which the director creates a counterpoint between archival footage and images that Rosi shot himself.

In the first nine years of his pontificate, Pope Francis made 37 trips visiting 53 countries, focusing on his key issues: poverty, migration, the environment, solidarity and war.

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Intrigued by the fact that two of Francis’ trips – the first to the refugees landing in the Sicilian island of Lampedusa; the second in 2021 to the Middle East – so closely mirrored the itineraries of the director’s “Fire at Sea” (2016) and “Notturno” (2020), Rosi decided to delve into hundreds of hours of footage of papal travels with the intention of providing through them a “map of the human condition,” he says.

How did you first intersect with Pope Francis?

My first direct contact with the Pope was immediately after I made “Fire at Sea” and he saw the film. He invited the child [in the film] to a meeting to thank us for it.

It seems like the two of you have been on parallel journeys. What prompted you to want to make this doc?

‘In Viaggio’ was born from two fundamental stages of my work: “Fire at Sea” and “Notturno,” which coincided with two very important trips the Pope made, respectively to Lampedusa [the island of the coast of Sicily where many refugees seek asylum] and to Iraq. Right after I just finished ‘Notturno’ I did an interview with [Vatican newspaper] L’Osservatore Romano, which was one of the best interviews I have ever done. Subsequently I asked the paper’s director Andrea Monda to see footage of the Pope’s trip to Iraq. That was the jumping off point.

Eventually, I started imagining this Pope constantly on the move, who takes us outside the walls of the Vatican and therefore outside the Church, with all the intricacies of politics, of new conflicts, and animosities. How the Pope turns into a pilgrim. And in the film he becomes a pilgrim in the world. He goes to the most distant corners of the world, to the places most affected by the dramas of our times. I just thought that through these trips a map of the human condition could be built.

How did you sift through all the material and manage to make a film that so clearly has your stamp?

The challenge was to transform this archive material into a cinematographic language and above all to find my point of view. There were something like 800 hours of material viewed by the great editor Fabrizio Federico [Rosi did not work with regular editor Jacopo Quadri on this project]. He did a gargantuan job of subtraction because I would never would have been able to see it alone; I would have gone mad. It took Fabrizio a year to browse through the material and split it into various narrative blocks that allowed me to find my point of view.

Simply put, what is your view of the Pope?

As a layman, as a non-believer and as an agnostic, I find that he is the only man who can speak to everyone, believers and non-believers, in a universal language, and that knows how to speak at different levels. I was fascinated by his different tones of voice. He has become a great communicator. When he speaks to the people he uses his eyes, his caress, and the smile that needs to be there. Then when he speaks to reporters it is a different language. And when he speaks to the bishops his tone is again very different.

Do you think Francis will see ‘In Viaggio’?

I’ve been told that the Pope never sees films about himself because he considers it an act of vanity

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