THE VATICAN FILM LIBRARY
A TREASURY OF CINEMATOGRAPHY
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Claudia Di Giovanni – responsible for the Vatican Film Library, operating at the Papal Council for Mass Media
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: - What is the main purpose of the activity of the Vatican Film Library?
CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI: - The Vatican Film Library deals with searching, archiving and preservation of film materials concerning the history of papacy, the Church and its works in the world, as well as films of high artistic and humanistic value. Undoubtedly, the movie invention in 1895 created a new way of communication and documenting the world and the human activity. Moving pictures became one of the most characteristic elements of the contemporary world, although it was not earlier than in 1980 when UNESCO acknowledged the movie as the good of culture being a part of human heritage. It is necessary to protect this fundamental element of the heritage of the XX century culture from destruction and passing it to the next generations was the main reason of establishing film libraries. Also the Vatican Film Library has been engaged in searching, preservation and promoting film materials for years, especially the valuable ones, although they are not always well-known. The collection of the film library is unique on the world scale. It can be said that we keep a small part of the cultural heritage, which consists of films showing the history of the Church.
– When did the ‘adventure’ of popes with movie start?
– Very early, a year after the birth of movie. In 1896 Leon XIII, as the first of popes, appeared on the screen, which gave the beginning to a new era. It concerns the film ‘S.S. Papa Leone XIII’, recorded on Lumier’s tape by a Turin photographer Vittorio Calcina, which lasts only for 60 seconds and consists of three acts: in the first act we see an armchair, next the Pope who appears in the field of view of the camera, sits down, smiles and gives his blessing –the first ‘media’ blessing in history; in the next scene we can see two horses pulling a carriage of the Pope who gives another blessing from the vehicle; in the last scene we can see Leon XIII who gets out of the carriage, takes off his hat, takes off his glasses, sits down, touches his forehead, arranges his hair and gives his third blessing. These 60 seconds mean entering of the Church into the movie world – the Pope blesses the movie audience, but in some sense he also blesses a new tool of communication, which will have such a great influence on the society.
The same scenario will repeat in the case of Benedict XV, who will be filmed also in the Vatican Gardens when he is giving his blessing.
– The church discovered not only the film before, but also the next new means of communication – radio….
– That’s true. 12 February 1931 is a historical moment in the media evolution of the Church. On this day Pius XI and Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of the radio, are inaugurating the studios of the Vatican Radio, and the whole ceremony is filmed. The Pope was interested in science and who was a careful observer of technological development, sensed what kind of possibilities can be offered by the radio station and the Holy See. Thanks to the radio, Pope’s voice reached to millions of believers, and during the Second World War, the papal radio station became a valuable tool of information. The movie camera accompanies Pius XI, when he blesses radio equipment and gives a speech, and in this way, perpetuating the opening up of the Church to new technologies.
– Today media are especially interested in the Catholic Church during the conclave – the last conclave, which was held in Vatican, was attended by thousands of journalists and photographers. When was the first time the conclave was filmed?
– It was a conclave, during which cardinal Eugenio Pacelli was elected a pope Pius XII on 2 March 1939. The film ‘Conclave and election’ of pope Pacelli shows the beginning of the pontificate which – from the point of view of media – was very modern in some aspects. Pius XII was also the first pope who allowed for being filmed. This is the film entitled ‘Pastor Angelicus’- ‘Angel’s Pastor’. The title refers to the prophecy of Malachi, an Irish bishop of 12th century, who just gave this title to the 260th successor of St. Peter, that is, Pius XII. In spring 1942, the Catholic Cinematographic Centre receives a consent to make a film in Vatican, which becomes a special movie plan with one, a very special ‘actor’. Cameramen start making the film under the supervision of the film-maker Ronaldo Marcelli, who is mentioned by Ennio Flaiano – work on the film is going to take eight months. In this way, the film biography of the still alive Pope becomes a kind of an audience in the open air. Certainly, Pius XII agreed to be filmed for pastoral reasons, and, in order to show his closeness to the Catholics all over the world suffering because of the war.
– Is it possible to watch such films as ‘Pastor Angelicus’?
– In 1992, 50 years after the first projection of the film, the Vatican Film Library decided to make a digital record of the film and organized its public projection. Apart from that, we also made a video, so that people could learn about this special historical document. As a result, our Film Library started receiving – not only from Italy, but also from all over the world – many requests for its projection.
– The pontificate of John XXIII, the successor of Pius XII converges with the era of television…
– When John XXIII took over his post at the Holy See, the television had already been popularized. The Public Italian Television (RAI) documented every journey of the Pope outside Vatican. And it was thanks to the television that people perceived the Pope as somebody very close to them. But John XXIII is, first of all, the Pope of the Second Vatican Council. On 25 January 1959, nearly three months from the beginning of the pontificate, John XXIII announces the summoning of the Vatican Council, but we should remember that in the same year, on 16 November, the Pope establishes the Vatican Film Library, in order to gather film materials about life and the history of the Church.
– It is not accidental that one of the first documents of the Vatican Council is a decree about media ‘Inter mirifica…’
– Certainly. Paul VI recognized a salvific function in media, in the work of the human genius, as well as he noticed their possibility of teaching about God’s Word, encouraging the Church to use them. It was the year 1963, and in the next years the Pope made a decision that every year, in all dioceses of the world, a special day would be celebrated in order to make believers sensitive to the issue of media. Starting with the first World Day of Mass Media on 7 May 1963, every year popes prepare a special speech on a particular issue concerning mass media.
– John Paul II is regarded as the most medial pope in the history of the Church. His whole long pontificate was filmed and documented by media…
– That’s true. If we were to use old film reels, we would need enormous rooms to keep the film documentation of the pontificate of John Paul II. But technology turned out to be helpful for us and today we can collect hours of the filmed material on smaller data storage devices of a perfect quality. But I would like to recall John Paul II as a founder of the Vatican Television Centre in 1984.
– Finishing our interview, I would like to ask how much film material is kept in the Vatican Film Library?
– We have about 8 thousand catalogued films, recorded on various data storage devices, depending on time of their appearing: film reels, VHS cassettes, U-Matic, DVD and others, which were once used, but are not popular. The whole material on film reels is being digitalized now so as not to damage originals – we make copies in the DVD format, which can be easily watched and processed.