‘Pandemic made us more creative’: Movie studio puts faith in getting ‘Fatima’ to audiences any way it can
When a studio wants its movie to find an audience, it sometimes holds a promotional screening in a theater. But what do you do when you can’t show your movie in theaters?
Set up a drive-in — in Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Anyway, that’s what Picturehouse did. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, the independent movie studio was gearing up to release “Fatima,” a faith-powered historical drama about three children who, in Portugal in 1917, see and communicate with a vision of Mary.
The movie, based on true events, debuts Friday in select theaters around the country, including Schubert’s Hartford Theatre and the West Bend Cinema. It’s also available on premium video-on-demand through cable television and online services; for outlets, go to fatimathemovie.com.
Picturehouse was eager to get the movie to audiences, especially after having seven drive-in preview screenings, including one in July at Soldier Field. Picturehouse President Jeanne R. Berney was on hand for the Chicago screening, and dressed for the occasion — she wore a Packers jersey.
Born and raised in Green Bay, Berney’s been a Packer backer for life. Her father held down markers at Lambeau Field, and her grandfather was an early shareholder.
Holding a movie screening in a football stadium is the kind of audible that filmmakers are having to call these days.
“Releasing a movie in a pandemic made us more creative,” Berney said in an interview.
Although “Fatima” is available on demand, Berney, a marketing and film festival veteran, and her husband, Picturehouse CEO Bob Berney, were committed to getting the movie into theaters. They first saw it in Cannes last year, during the 2019 film festival.
“Fatima” follows the story of a 10-year-old shepherd and her two young cousins, who report seeing visions of a woman in white who gradually reveals herself as Mary. Although their stories are met with skepticism and hostile opposition from Portugal’s secular government, they also attract thousands of pilgrims hoping for a miracle, in a time when their country is going through the horrors of World War I.
Filmed in English, the movie boasts an impressive international cast, including Joaquim de Almeida, Goran Visnjic, Stephanie Gil, Sonia Braga and Harvey Keitel. It’s co-written and directed by Marco Pontecorvo, a cinematographer whose résumé includes TV’s “Game of Thrones” and “Rome.”
“We felt it was so beautiful and cinematic,” she said. “People would feel they’d been out to a movie.”
And, “we are in the business of delivering movies to theaters.”
They had been geared up to do just that, with a nationwide release scheduled for April 12. Then came the pandemic.
Because the Fatima story already had a built-in audience — its core audience, Jeanne Berney acknowledged, is Catholic moviegoers, but “it’s not preachy … it’s a different kind of movie” — the movie already had “a huge fanbase on social.”
So Picturehouse began creating “digital tent pole events,” like a virtual pilgrimage to the real Fatima shrine in Portugal.
And, Berney said, fans responded, urging the movie be shown in theaters as soon as it was safe to do so.
“With a movie like this,” she said, “people love to go in groups. They are ready. They want it now.”
Berney believes the movie’s theme of belief is well-timed.
“This movie shows how pilgrims traveled to Fatima. They didn’t go in with skepticism,” she said. “The message — pray for peace — is a human need and want.”
Meeting that need in the pandemic means getting movies to audiences by any and all means necessary, including via on-demand services, even if you believe in theaters.
“I think there’s room for a lot of ways to get content to audiences,” Berney said. “COVID is hastening every change.”