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VATICAN CITY – “Beyond the Sun,” a simple but effective English-language children’s adventure film in which Pope Francis plays himself, premiered Wednesday at the Vatican, signaling a clear attempt by the pontiff and his communications advisors to use movies as a medium to spread the Catholic message to the young.

The pic, in which Francis appears for roughly six minutes, marks the first time that a pope has appeared in a motion picture.

Shot in Patagonia and Vatican City, “Beyond the Sun” is about five kids who run away from home after catechism class and take to the woods to look for Jesus in a hilltop sanctuary. The multi-ethnic cast features child actors Aiden Cumming-Teicher, Cory Gruter-Andrew, Emma Duke, Kyle Breitkopf, and Sebastiάn Alexander Chou.

Co-directed by Graciela Rodriguez (pictured), an Argentine psychiatrist whose rapport with Francis goes back a long way, and Charlie Mainardi, who has shot commercials for Coca Cola, the pic screened for an audience of Vatican and Italian officials in the 50-seat Vatican Cinematheque. Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” premiered late last year in the same intimate setting.

The pope was expected but did not attend the screening because of the Mexico earthquake, according to producer Andrea Iervolino.

Rodriguez, who collaborated with Francis on social work projects when the pope was Jose Maria Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, said the film stems from his desire to communicate the message of Jesus to children through film.

“Pope Francis always says that he has to reach everybody with his message. He is a very modern person,” she said in an interview with Variety. “He knows that kids see movies and they are very visual,” she added.

Before “Beyond the Sun” went into production, Francis read the script, which Rodriguez wrote with input from Argentine bishop Monsignor Eduardo Garcia who, like her, worked with Bergoglio in Argentina for many years.

“The question I asked him [for the final scene] was: ‘How and where can children talk with Jesus?’” Rodriguez said.

The answer, in short, provided in the film’s unscripted finale in which Pope Francis talks to the kids, is: “By reading the Gospels.”

Iervolino said that setting up the Vatican shoot, including arranging cameras amid extensive security, took a day. “The pope’s part was just one scene and it was great,” he said, adding that it was “done in one take.”

Iervolino and Monika Bacardi, who financed and produced “Beyond the Sun” through their Los Angeles-based Ambi Media Group, are planning a small self-release of the film in the U.S. on Dec. 1 on roughly 150 screens, followed by an North American outing on other platforms, including TV, VOD and DVD, around Easter, Iervolino said.

The film will also get a tiny December theatrical release in Italy via Ambi after launching as special event from the Alice in the City children’s film sidebar of the Rome Film Festival in early November. Several deals are in place with unspecified distributors in other countries.

All proceeds from “Beyond the Sun” will go to Argentine charity El Buon Samaritano.

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ISOF_THR

Taron Lexton’s sentimental road movie recounts a formative real(ish)-life vacation for screenwriter (and voice of Bart Simpson) Nancy Cartwright.
An idealized coming-of-age memoir in which a young woman’s disability-grade innocence doesn’t keep her from making the most of a solo sojourn across Italy, Taron Lexton’s In Search of Fellini speaks to and for women raised on cinematic fairy tales. Inspired by the experiences of Simpsons star Nancy Cartwright, who before creating the voice of Bart went off hunting the auteur of La Dolce Vita, it marks the thesp’s first screenplay (cowritten by another newbie, Peter Kjenaas). But however much its sentimentalized innocence stretches credulity, the overall production remains polished, and young dreamers who come across it in limited release may well embrace it.

Ksenia Solo plays Lucy, a blonde waif raised by a mother (Maria Bello’s Claire) who protected her from nearly every harsh reality life has to offer. Claire fails to protect Lucy from arthouse cinema, though: Upon stumbling into a screening of La Strada, Lucy sees a kindred spirit in sacrificial lamb Giulietta Masina. She falls hard for Fellini, gathering a stack of VHS tapes (the year is 1993) and absorbing the weird circus of his worldview.

The newly devoted fan picks up a phone, asks for directory assistance in Rome, and is connected to Fellini’s office. Is it impossible to believe she is offered a personal audience with il maestro at 3pm the following day? Perhaps. But we’ve already made it through a scene in which Lucy submitted a job application on which she drew a unicorn where she was supposed to write her name and address, so let’s roll with it.

Claire tells Lucy she can’t accompany her to Italy. Lucy doesn’t know what Aunt Carrie (Mary Lynn Rajskub) has sworn not to reveal: Claire is dying of cancer, and hopes this solo voyage will get her daughter used to the idea of surviving outside the nest.

The pretty American fares much better than a world traveler who does this many things wrong has any right to expect. She winds up in the wrong city not once but twice, losing all her luggage, but falls in with glamorous companions and is wowed by lushly-photographed sights. She meets an approachably handsome artist in Verona and is tastefully deflowered; she is sold rum bonbons by a shopkeeper who suggestively boasts, “it is said that I have the sweetest balls in Verona.”

The only really bad thing that happens to Lucy in Italy, in fact, occurs during a cross-cut montage that seems to inadvertently hint it is just a figment of her ailing mother’s imagination. Where the final minutes of the movie suffer from clumsy storytelling, most of what precedes them sits well within the romantic finding-oneself comfort zone, and Solo, while not able to imbue her character with Amelie-like spark, helps keep things from getting treacly.

By the end, the movie’s prefatory “based on a (mostly) true story” claim has come to sound like more of a stretch than usual, but such is memory. The transformational vacations that didn’t kill us or leave us with herpes can feel more charmed than they were after a couple of decades have passed. Especially if they involved plentiful pasta and a first encounter with 8 1/2.

Production company: Spotted Cow Entertainment

Distributor: AMBI Media Group

Cast: Ksenia Solo, Maria Bello, Mary Lynn Rajskub

Director: Taron Lexton

Screenwriters: Nancy Cartwright, Peter Kjenaas

Producers: Nancy Cartwright, Peter Kjenaas, Monica Gil, Michael Doven, Taron Lexton, Nathan Lorch, Milena Ferreira

Executive producers: Nancy Cartwright, Kevin J. Burke, Maria Bello, Monika Bacardi, Andrewa Iervolino

Director of photography: Kevin Garrison

Production designer: Todd Jeffery

Costume designers: Sienna Kay, Catherine Buyse Dian

Editors: Alexa Vier, K. Spencer Jones

Composer: David Camptbell

Casting directors: Lisa London, Catherine Stroud

R, 103 minutes

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MOS_THR

Robert Pattinson and Woody Harrelson will join this year’s Deauville Film Festival as honorees, with Pattinson picking up his award after canceling last year and Harrelson on hand to present his latest film, The Glass Castle.

They will join director Darren Aronofsky and actors Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern and Michelle Rodriguez in receiving honors at the weeklong festival.

This year’s lineup highlights independent films, festival organizers noted, with five being debut films. Online video players are also well represented, with Netflix’s Sweet Virginia, Amazon’s The Only Living Boy in New York and E-Cinema’s The Bachelors among the selections.

It will also be heavy on French premieres, with Tom Cruise’s American Made, Mandy Moore’s 47 Meters Down, Shirley MacLaine’s and Amanda Seyfried’s The Last Word, Jessica Chastain’s The Zookeeper’s Wife, Halle Berry’s Kidnap and Anronofsky’s Mother, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Michael Radford’s The Music of Silence, starring Antonio Banderas, Terry George’s The Promise, Damiane Harris’ The Wilde Wedding and Alexandre Moors’ The Yellow Birds are also among the premieres.

“The competition reflects an America that is breaking apart, a troubled America, one in which the youth is in search of both its roots and its future. Sometimes violence clashes with morality and hope. The premieres often illustrate an America in which illusion looms larger than reality,” said festival organizer Bruno Barde.

David Lowery’s A Ghost Story, starring Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara; Kurt Voelkler’s The Bachelors, starring J.K. Simmons and Julie Delpy; Matt Spicer’s Ingrid Goes West, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Aubrey Plaza; Mark Webb’s Gifted, starring Chris Evans; and Jamie Dagg’s Sweet Virginia, the tale of an aging rodeo star starring John Bernthal and Imogen Poots, are among the competition titles.

Chloe Zao’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight winner The Rider is also in the running, along with Wayne Roberts’ young waitress story Katie Says Goodbye, Eliza Hittman’s bisexual coming-of- age story Beach Rats, Daryl Wein’s Chicago shooting drama Blueprint, Joshua Z. Weinstein’s Brooklyn Yiddish, about a single father in Hasidic Brooklyn, and Justin Chon’s Gook, about unlikely friends set against the 1992 L.A. riots are also among the titles.

Mark Myer’s My Friend Dahmer, about the infamous serial killer, Amman Abbasi’s Alabama-set drama Stupid Things, and Anahita Ghazvinizadeh’s teen transition story They round out the competition titles.

Oscar-winning The Artist director Michel Hazanavicius will head this year’s jury, alongside Benjamin Biolay, the singer who opened Cannes this year, actresses Emmnuelle Devos, Clotilde Hesme and Charlotte Le Bon, directors Axelle Ropert, Eric Largigau and Michel LeClerc, Carnage screenwriter Yasmina Reza and Mustang screenwriter Alice Winocour

The Revelation Jury, which selects from first films across any section, will be headed by Standing Tall director and Cannes best actress winner Emmanuelle Bercot, who will be joined by rapper Abd Al Malik, actresses Anais Demoustier and Leonor Varela, and actors Pio Marmai and Pierre Rochefort.

In the documentary category are Alexandre O. Philippe’s Psycho examination 78/52, Mark Kidel’s Becoming Cary Grant, Chris Perkel’s Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of our Lives, Eugene Jarecki’s Promised Land, Pacho Velez’s and Sierra Pettengill’s The Reagan Show, Jean-Baptiste Thoret’s We Blew It and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power will screen.

In the TV category, HBO’s porn drama The Deuce will screen, with producers Michelle MacLaren, David Simon and George Pelecanos presenting.

Stephen King adaptation Mr. Mercedes, with screenwriter and producer David E. Kelley presenting, will round out the TV category.

The festival runs Sept. 1-10 in Deauville, France.

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VarietyTPNews_pic

Country music star Shania Twain, Michael Madsen, and Kevin Dunn have joined the cast of John Travolta’s racing movie “Trading Paint.”

Principal photography launched this week in Alabama with shooting scheduled through mid-September at several Alabama locations. Toby Sebastian (“Game of Thrones”) will also co-star.

Karzan Kader, director of Tyler Perry and Doug Liman’s upcoming “The Year of the Great Storm,” is helming “Trading Paint” from a script by Craig Welch and Gary Gerani. Travolta portrays a down-and-out dirt track racing legend who is drawn back into the winner’s circle after his son, an aspiring driver, joins a competitor’s racing team, and incites an intense and dangerous competition between father and son.

Ambi Pictures and Paradox Studios are fully financing and producing the film. The producers are Andrea Iervolino, Monika Bacardi, Silvio Muraglia, and Alexandra Klim. AMBI Distribution is handling worldwide sales for the film.

Iervolino said, “It’s well know that dirt track racing is one of the most exciting sports in the world, and it’s also one of the most dangerous. Our story is rooted in that high-speed danger, but also very much character driven, and this is where having someone of John’s caliber and gravitas pays great dividends.”

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bdoml_news

Renee Zellweger, Common, Isabella Rossellini, Simon Baker, Taylor Kinney, and Gus Birney have joined the cast of Sarah Jessica Parker’s romantic drama “Best Day of My Life.”

Andrea Iervolino and Monika Bacardi’s Ambi Group is producing. Parker portrays a jazz vocalist in New York City after she receives a diagnosis that shatters her world and jolts her to her core as she prepare for an upcoming world tour.

Fabien Constant is directing the film from a screenplay written by Laura Eason. Parker will also serve as producer alongside Alison Benson, Iervolino and Bacardi. The movie is being executive produced by Phil Hunt and Compton Ross of Head Gear Films, who are co-financing the film.

Principal photography will begin this week in New York City. Ambi Distribution is handles worldwide sales. CAA is co-repping the film’s domestic sale.

“Best Day of My Life” is the second collaboration between Ambi and Parker, following the romantic comedy “All Roads Lead to Rome” in 2014.

“Sarah Jessica’s intense passion for this film is contagious, and enabled us to bring together such an extraordinary cast,” Iervolino said. “We’re very happy to be doing another movie with her, especially one as layered and poignant as this.”

Zellweger, Common and Baker are represented by CAA. Rossellini is represented by APA. Kinney is represented by Principal Talent. Birney is represented by CESD.

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