Paul Lauer is credited with some very successful marketing campaigns to promote The Passion of the Christ, Narnia and other films among faith-based audiences.
He plans to bring similar methods to the new Roland Joffé film There Be Dragons.
It will be “much like the campaigns for The Passion and Narnia,” Lauer, founder of Motive Entertainment, said in an interview: “grassroots material, events, outreach and promotions highlighting the main themes of the movie: facing the ‘dragons’ (challenges) in our lives; healing unresolved conflicts that divide people, especially within families; pursuing holiness through one’s everyday duties.”
That last theme is one that should resonate with members of Opus Dei, the personal prelature founded in 1928 by St. Josemaría Escrivá.
The young Escrivá is, after all, a character in the movie. According to a plot summary on the film’s website, a young journalist named Robert Torres researches the life of Escrivá, and “uncovers hidden stories of his estranged father, Manolo. Torres “is taken on a journey through the dark, terrible secrets of his family’s past. Going back in time, we see that Manolo and Escrivá are childhood friends, and both face the hardships and injustices that are tearing Spain apart. But as young men, their paths diverge, and while Escrivá pursues a life of faith, Manolo is swept into the brutal and tumultuous Spanish Civil War.”
Joffé, who directed earlier box office hits such as The Mission and The Killing Fields, wrote and directed There Be Dragons, which is in post-production and is due out early next year. Charlie Cox plays Escrivá.
Opus Dei put out a press release the other day reiterating what it has said on earlier occasions: the film is not an Opus Dei project.
“The few members of Opus Dei involved in [the film] are acting in an entirely personal capacity,” the statement read.
One of them, producer Ignacio Sancha, emphasized the fact that a noted Hollywood director who is not connected to the Catholic Church “found a lot of value in Josemaría’s message…and at the same time he understood the adventure and struggles of the man as a man, the difficult path that lies ahead of anyone that struggles for sanctity.”
The film, Sancha said in an email, focuses on “how that message may impact modern man.”
The March 23 Opus Dei statement says its involvement in the film was providing “historical information and other audiovisual materials regarding St. Josemaría.” That is no different, it says, than what it has done with “similar requests for news stories, books and documentaries.”
The film does not appear, however, to present the kind of problem for Opus Dei that The Da Vinci Code did. That film adaptation of Dan Brown’s potboiler novel portrayed an Opus Dei “monk” who was both a hired assassin and an apparent masochist when it came to certain practices of self-mortification (whipping himself to the point of bleeding).
At the very least, There Be Dragons promises to present a less laughable picture of Opus Dei. Though the oft-misunderstood organization can provide a good vehicle for a story about intrigue, those who are familiar with it know that it doesn’t have “monks” in its ranks.
Brian Finnerty, U.S. communications director for Opus Dei, is encouraged by the fact that Joffé, in an interview posted on the film’s official website speaks sympathetically about the personal prelature.
“One of the things Roland Joffé found attractive about Josemaría Escrivá is his interest in finding God in everyday life,” Finnerty told me. “That goes to the core of our message.”
Last month, the New York-based Finnerty joined other Opus Dei spokespersons from various parts of the world for a London brainstorming session on ways to capitalize on the film.
“We don’t know how the movie will turn out, but we want to get ready for interest in Josemaría Escrivá,” he said. “We expect renewed interest. I expect a lot of people will ask, ‘Who is Josemaría Escrivá?’”
To that end, he said, Opus Dei is upgrading certain existing websites, “so when people do a search for information on Opus Dei, there will be an abundance of material they can get. We’ll be adding biographical material and video such as clips of Josemaría talking about various topics.”
There’s a YouTube channel for the saint, for example: youtube.com/josemariaescriva, and a general information website: josemariaescriva.info.
Meanwhile, to get a taste of Joffé’s forthcoming film, you can visit therebedragonsmovie.com. Lauer said the portrayal of Escrivá is “very balanced and fair.”
It promises to be, he told me, “mindful of his sanctity while at the same time showing the struggles he endured in the founding of Opus Dei.”