Friday, March 31, 2023

In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis: A Message of Hope

By José Alberto Hermosillo

It is a profoundly moving, cohesive, inspirational, and transcendental work. “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis” is a recompilation of The Holy Father’s global trips to connect with people and groups marginalized by society at the center of political turmoil, natural disasters, poverty, war, migration, and many other human catastrophes in the past nine years of his Pontificate.

Regardless of our religion, we must recognize Pope Francis’s efforts to reach the vulnerable, build bridges, and reconcile with other religions, faiths, and world leaders. With honesty, His Holiness asks everyone, “What would humanity do without faith?”

Pope Francis is one of the most progressive popes in history. As a leader of the Catholic Church states, “Never think that your struggles down here are completely useless. And above all, hold on to your dreams. Do not be afraid to dream of a world that cannot be seen yet but will certainly come.” 

The documentary opens with a powerful “narrative hook” of a communication tower in Italy exchanging SOS messages with African and Middle Eastern immigrants who were traveling on a precarious boat in the middle of the night in the Mediterranean Sea. The tragedy took a toll of 250 lives. Addressing those critical issues, the Pope begins his pilgrimage around the world.

Lampedusa, 2013
Pope Francis prays for the immigrants who found death instead of finding hope and asks parishioners, “Who cries for those lives lost? We are a society that has forgotten how to weep.”

Brazil, 2013
Upon His Holiness’s arrival to the South American Country, on his pathway from the airport to the city, people in poverty and the army were on the streets. At a radio station, the Pope reaches out to the masses. Then, at the favelas, he encounters the people in need inside their tiny houses. In clear Portuguese, he tells them, “You’re not alone.” More importantly, he emphasizes creating a culture of solidarity. 

Wildfires’ destruction of the Amazon was another catastrophe besides poverty, happening simultaneously.

IN VIAGGIO: THE TRAVELS OF POPE FRANCIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. ©Archivo Vatican Media. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Cuba, 2013
From the Revolution Square to La Habana Vieja, the Pope at the cathedral tells the youth in Spanish, “Open up to the capability of dreaming, and if you do your best, the world will be different.”

USA, 2015 
From the White House to addresses to the US Congress in precise English, phrasing Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis refers to the capacity of dialogue and how money can help others. His speech focuses on climate change, immigration, and poverty.

Then, the Pope calls for time for reflection and mentions that all the responsible people involved in the sexual abuse of minors by the priests and their families would be held accountable.

Chile, 2018
At the women’s jail, His Holiness refers to their lost dreams and hopes by adding, “Dignity doesn’t touch. No one can be deprived of grace and Dignity because it generates unworthiness of the human spirit.”

It is essential to mention that Chile is a highly educated country where a high percentage of its population graduated from college. So, they went out to the streets to protest against the Pope’s visit and for not addressing the acts of rape by church members appropriately. Neglectfully, the Pope said he needed proof of the abuses. Later, back in Rome, Pope Francis admitted he was wrong.

Philippines, 2015
When Pope Francis decided to travel, it was to listen to the people. Listening makes him feel good, and it helps him make decisions. The decision comes from within, like a ripe fruit, and is a long process. That is why he decided to meet silently with the people of “The Pearl of the Orient Seas.”

Central Africa Republic, 2015
On his tour to Africa, His Holiness asks to stop the violence, vengeance, and hate in the name of religion. In this republic, 50 percent are Protestant, Christian, and Catholic, 35 percent belong to indigenous beliefs, and 15 percent identify as Muslim. 

Kenya, 2015
Pope Francis claims that refugees and migration are due to environmental degradation. Therefore, “Many lives are lost, and we have no right to let the migrants die in the middle of nowhere,” he said.

Israel, 2014
At the Wailing Wall and the memorial of the Shoah, the Pope prayed for the victims of the Holocaust.

IN VIAGGIO: THE TRAVELS OF POPE FRANCIS, a Magnolia Pictures release. ©Archivo Vatican Media. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Palestine, 2014
At the border wall with Israel, he prays for peace. Then, the Pope meets with the Orthodox leaders at the Holy Sepulcher in one of the most transcendental actions of his Pontificate.

Cuba, 2016
The historic meeting with the Russian Orthodox leader ended one thousand years of war between the Catholic and Orthodox churches.

Mexico, 2016
At the border town of Ciudad Juárez (where hundreds of women disappeared and were killed near the maquiladoras, also known as “Las Muertas of Juárez”), His Holiness went to the women’s prison and comforted those in need of hope. At that place, the Pope said, “Our biggest worries should be the people’s lives. The insecurity problem is solved by going to the roots of the problem, not incarcerating people.” Then, he went to the border wall to pray for the immigrants and the humanitarian crisis as a global phenomenon. 

Armenia, 2016
The celebration of the centenary of the Metz Yeghérn/The Great Evil and the tragedy of the genocide in Armenia. The Pope’s recognition created a diplomatic difference between the Vatican and Turkey. 

Later, the Pope cleverly clarified that in his predecessor's notes, Pope Benedict XVI, it was the recognition of one genocide. Still, he rectifies himself by affirming that the Turks had committed those crimes against humanity three times.

United Arab Emirates, 2019
World peace is fundamental because war creates poverty.

Madagascar, 2019
In an elementary school in French and Italian, Pope Francis addresses the subject of child labor to more than 8,000 children and the authorities by saying, “Poverty is not inevitable.”

Japan, 2019
Footage of the atomic explosion and the thousands of children affected were combined in a montage. Pope Francis says, “The possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.’ He quotes Saint Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.”

Canada, 2022
In an introductory meeting with the native survivors, the Pope prayed for the lives lost at the Canadian residential school and the suffering of thousands of children taken away from their parents. They were abused and killed. Pope Francis asked for forgiveness for the cultural devastation of the indigenous tribes in the name of Jesus on the continent.

Vatican City, 2020
In one of the most challenging moments of his administration due to the COVID-19 deaths in Italy, Europe, and the entire world. On an empty Saint Pietro square, Pope Francis prayed alone for the end of the pandemic, the wars, and injustice.

Space Station, 2020
The crew of the International Space Station felt honored to talk live with the Holy Father and the advantage of working together without borders and a peaceful environment for a better future.

(Fifteen months after the pandemic, flights resumed).

Iraq, 2022
In front of the country’s leaders and people, the Pope urges Iraq to end military violence and religious strife.

Malta, 2022
On his most recent trip to the Mediterranean Island, regarding his first trip as Pope, His Holiness said, “Since the day I visited Lampedusa, I have not forgotten you.” He continues with “You are always in my prayers” and finalizes with “Every war is born from an injustice,” referring to the Ukrainian war.

In his Pontificate, Pope Francis made 37 trips to 59 countries. 

The Award-winning Italian documentarian Gianfranco Rosi (“Notturno,” “Fire at Sea”) accumulated over 800 hours of material condensed to eighty minutes in a stunning documentary on the Pontiff’s spiritual journey. 

In the documentary “In Viaggio: The Travels of Pope Francis,” the Italian filmmaker shows a pilgrim Pope in a “movement” who confronts the most significant problems and brings comfort and unity to those in need anywhere in the world.

Gianfranco Rosi and film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. FestivalinLA ©2023

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Monday, March 13, 2023

Navalny: The Russian Dissident Who Shocked The World

 By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Navalny” is an intense, astonishing, and shocking political thriller! A leading-edge Academy Award-winning jaw-dropping documentary, exceptionally made, with trustworthy first-hand information and unexpected twists and turns that follow the attempted assassination of former Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020.

Navalny’s ordeal started when he felt sick from drinking poisoned tea on an airplane from Moscow to Siberia and had to be diverted to Omsk. Navalny’s case continued under the reflector lights of the world’s newscasters to another hospital in Germany. 

While planning his return to Russia after 32 days in an intensive care facility in Deutschland, he recovered, regrouped, and started his quest to unmask the corrupt and anti-democratic Russian gubernatorial system.

Navalny needed more than a new Perestroika to win the elections against Putin and reform the country’s political system. His people supported him, but the Russian secret agents severely impacted his life and his family’s safety. 

Therefore, Navalny’s ideology vanishes before his eyes over his imperative need for survival. Nevertheless, starting with Alexei’s case, he organized the “Navalny’s Anti-corruption Foundation” to prosecute Putin’s agents who participated in disappearing adversaries, dissidents, and Loud protestors in and outside the former Soviet Union. The vicious internal acts of repression happened as a prelude to the Ukraine War in 2022.

Screening of "Navalny." Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. FestivalinLA ©2023

The investigation turns complex when documentarians follow the trends of the story before Navalny’s poisoning by the Russian secret service. At the same time, it parallels Navalny’s inquiries about the overwhelming evidence of his executioners over the phone, in real-time, and disclosing those incriminating testimonies with the proper authorities and on social media.

Director Daniel Roher., “Navalny.” Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. FestivalinLA ©2023

When Canadian filmmaker Daniel Roher (‘Once Were Brothers”) was working on a different project in Ukraine, he had to go to Vienna but could not return to Ukraine to continue his work. It was when his American producers brought up the subject of the Russian dissident. Daniel and his crew went immediately to Germany to interview Alexei Navalny and set the story right.

The documentarians gathered over a month of recordings, with 4,000 pages of transcripts, pictures, videos, and other materials. The first cut of the documentary ended as an extensive 15-hour project, the product of four cameras rolling simultaneously during the last interview. Before locking down the intense 1 hour 39 minutes final cut, they reviewed all the vital information and added it to the film’s final discussion. 

During the process, the crew communicated with the security code LP9 (Love Pushing 9) to not let any information be leaked to the Russian Secret Service.

“Navalny” director Daniel Roher, cinematographer Niki Waltl, and Alexei Navalny

Finishing the film was an impossible mission because new events developed daily. Still, Daniel Roher was determined to follow the story until Navalny’s nine-plus years sentencing in a maximum security penal colony after being found guilty of large-scale fraud and contempt in the Moscow courthouse. 

In his acceptance speech at the 95th Academy Awards, Daniel Roher passionately stated, “Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, is in solitary confinement for what he calls Vladimir Putin’s unjust war in Ukraine.” The director wanted to dedicate the award to all political prisoners worldwide. 

Alexei Navalny is a politician with millions of followers on YouTube. He reaches the masses online through social media with his slogan, “Do not be afraid.”

Panel with "Navalny" director Daniel Roher. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo. FestivalinLA ©2023

Now, the young documentarian Daniel Roher can deliver more than a promise to Alexei Navalny, who was hoping to get an Academy Award nomination and, why not, an Oscar win. More importantly, the Awards are showing broadly in Russia and the world, and he knows that people in his country will be watching. That will keep his name and intention to become Russia’s next president relevant at the highest stage during the Awards ceremony, like a message hidden inside a Trojan horse. The award means the world to everybody – the director, the idealist, the family, and the followers.

Daniel Roher knows that his provocative documentary will not show in a multiplex in Moscow anytime soon. But the director’s dream is to show his project to Alexei in a movie theater in The Golden Domed City. That moment will be remembered as epic as winning the Oscar for Navalny’s cause.
"Navalny" director Daniel Roher & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. FestivalinLA ©2023

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

A House Made of Splinters: And the Shattered Children of Ukraine

 By José Alberto Hermosillo

A House Made of Splinters
A House Made of Splinters: And the Shattered Children of Ukraine

“A House Made of Splinter” is a powerful and moving documentary of extraordinary beauty made in Ukraine before the invasion. Emotionally devastating.

The documentary chronicles the lives of several Ukrainian children inside a shelter where they find a sanctuary during the madness of the external world. 

The mêlée in Ukraine occurs in the interior of every broken family, affecting the most vulnerable, the children. 

Things seem to be running smoothly in a refuge for children in East Ukraine. Outside the facility, people still feel the prelude of war and remain inside their homes. This story elapses a year or two before the Russian invasion and during other previous incursions. 

The facility’s principal describes the situation as overwhelming and challenging. The film juxtaposes her affectionate narration with distant images of the impoverished Eastern European country. She states, “Life was difficult, but the war worsened things. So many people lost their jobs. Now, every tenth door hides a broken family. When a family is broken due to alcoholism, violence, or homelessness, the social worker brings the children to our shelter.”

The Oscar-nominated docudrama exquisitely displays children actively interacting with their teachers and classmates. But the children miss their parents and still want to communicate with them, even if they know they are alcoholics and cannot be reached. The children experience the delights of friendship, their first love, then how their hearts get broken, loneliness, and hope.

The children narrate, in first person, their experience of domestic violence and physical abuse and even witnessed the murder of one of their parents. The unseen chaos living on the battlefields is brought inside their homes, causing anxiety, depression, and internal fights.

Transferring the children from the shelter to an orphanage or foster family is painful for some, mainly if they have siblings remaining in the center. Tearing families apart is always problematic and emotionally distressful for the little ones.

When the grandparents or one of their mothers visit or pick up one of the children, they become joyous, and their happiness is overpowering. 

The extraordinary camera work of the cinematographer/director Simon Lereng Wilmont reveals an intimate concealment where the shelter’s occupants can interact naturally. Mr. Lereng patiently waited for the right moment to show the children’s most affectionate moments as they opened up with honesty and courage in front of the camera.

In “A House Made of Splinters,” every child’s story has a similar behavioral pattern – Sasha, Kolya, Eva, Zhenyia, Kristina, and Polina – most of them need professional help because it is devastating for anyone to have that feeling that nobody wants them. Those memories will stay in their hearts for the rest of their lives. No human being deserves to feel unwanted.

When a girl grows up, she also could become a mother, and she will be an alcoholic and could give up her parents’ rights to a foster family. For Ukrainian children, their future is not promising.

El cuarto desnudo/The Naked Room
El cuarto desnudo/The Naked Room

Another profound and analytical documentary on children’s psychology with mental conflicts is “El cuarto desnudo/The Naked Room,” directed by Nuria Ibañez, in 2013, which has similar portrayals of children who undergo a psychological evaluation and special treatment in a hospital with naked walls in Mexico City.

“A House Made of Splinters” keeps the audience hooked and wondering about the future of these vulnerable children who are not precisely victims of their parent’s actions or their violent environment. Still, of the circumstances, they have to live in their place and time. 

The children must be loved as we all have to learn to appreciate the beauty and vitality as “hope does last.” The film closes with a lullaby, as we are left heartbroken, helpless, and powerless. 

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