First-time movie writer-director reflects on film’s Vatican premiere

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Not everybody gets the movie script they wrote produced. Nor does everybody get the chance to direct the film that they’ve written, especially a first script and a first directing opportunity.

And an even smaller percentage of them have the good fortune to have their movie screened at the Vatican. Oh, and what about the chances of having the pope appear in the film?

This cinematic grand slam of sorts happened to Graciela Rodriguez Gilio, whose maiden voyage in the film world, “Beyond the Sun,” was screened at the Vatican last year with Pope Francis in attendance.

“It was such an honor to be able to premiere the movie at the Vatican,” the Buenos Aires-born Rodriguez told Catholic News Service May 29 in response to questions emailed by CNS. “Pope Francis sent me a letter that said, ‘I hope that this movie could be like the grain of mustard.’ It was such a blessing, and a wonderful experience.”

This is a poster from the movie “Beyond the Sun.” The film, which tells the story of four young people who leave home to look for God, was written and directed by Graciela Rodriguez Gilio. (CNS photo/Grace Hill Media)

“Beyond the Sun” tells the story of four young people who leave home to look for God. While Rodriguez said she has written before, including a theatrical play, this was her first film script.

Getting the pope to appear in the movie would be considered by many to be enough of a coup. “Pope Francis loves children. He always wants to connect with them, to tell them about Jesus, and to share God’s love with them,” she said. “He’s an incredibly smart man who understands how powerful and impactful movies and video are to the young generation.”

Rodriguez added, “When I approached him about a movie that will inspire children, and hopefully strengthen their faith, he was not only incredibly supportive, but I was blessed to have him participate and appear in the film to deliver the message of God and love.”

She boasted that her film was the first time a pope has agreed to appear in a movie. With a theatrical release date of April 20, she beat Wim Wenders’ documentary, “Pope Francis: A Man of His Word,” by four weeks.

Writing is Rodriguez’s second profession. “I have been a psychiatrist for over 30 years,” she noted. “My profession and my collaboration with Caritas Argentina has enabled me to meet and hopefully help people, particularly children, in need. It’s important for children to feel loved, and to know that God loves them unconditionally.”

“Beyond the Sun,” she said, was “written to bring hope and encouragement to all children. I want them to be inspired by Jesus, and to know in their hearts that God is always present, and always loves them. I feel faith and a relationship with God can be a big help for children, especially in times of need.”

Rodriguez speaks from experience. “My family struggled with poverty, but we were strong in our Catholic faith,” she recalled. “To this day, I remember going to a small church near my house and praying the rosary with my grandmother every day. My upbringing helped me to understand how important it is to have Jesus, and faith in life.”

“Beyond the Sun” doesn’t star any high-profile actors — and Pope Francis plays himself — but there are a pair of brother-sister duos in the cast in Kyle and Kaelyn Breitkopf and Emma and Sam Duke.

Profits from the movie are sent to two Argentine charities: Los Hogares de Cristo and El Almendro. Both provide aid to at-risk children and young adults.

Bishop Eduardo Garcia of San Justo, Argentina, “battles constantly with injustice in Argentina. We have a huge problem with drugs in our country — and in all the world,” Rodriguez said. Drugs have put many people at risk, especially young people. We wanted to support charities that help these at-risk children and young adults. These are charities that Pope Francis is also familiar with and are very close to his heart.”

“Beyond the Sun” is available for purchase across multiple platforms including iTunes and Amazon.

Catholic News Service is the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' news and information service.

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