Bringing St. Augustine to the Big Screen

An Interview with Ignatius Press' Tony Ryan

A few years ago, Ignatius Press began partnering with various European production companies to obtain the licensing rights to distribute European-made films in North America. That partnership has resulted in high-quality made-for-television Italian films such as Claire and Francis, Padre Pio: Between Heaven and Earth, and St. Giuseppe Moscati: Doctor to the Poor being made available on DVD in the US. I spoke today with Anthony Ryan, director of marketing with Ignatius Press, about their latest film and effort - allowing organizations to host sponsored-theatrical screenings of their newest film, Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine. Ignatius had the film professionally edited so that it can be shown at theaters in the US. The film has its official US premiere at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show in Arlington, Texas next week.

How did Ignatius Press first get involved with Restless Heart?

Ryan: While in Rome on a business trip a few years back, we had a meeting with the Italian production company Lux Vide. We’ve worked with them licensing some of their films. During that meeting, one of their representatives told us they were planning to do a film on St. Augustine. We let them know that we were interested in it.

The film was originally produced as a two-night television special. What did Ignatius have to do to the film to adapt it for theater?

These films are often 200 minutes. When we decided to make this a film that could be released to theaters, we spent a lot of time and money editing it. We hired a professional Hollywood film editor, John Laus. Laus is a gifted film editor and a solid Catholic. He loved the project, and was able to get it down to about 128 minutes. We’re really pleased with it. It flows well. It’s shot in high definition, and it’s in English. It’s epic-looking. The producers spent $20 million making this.

Ignatius Press is primarily a book publisher. Why pursue a film project like this?

We’ve already licensed a number of films and released them on DVD. Why we decided to do this on a bigger level is because we understand the importance of films for impacting the culture in modern society, and the importance of evangelizing the culture through the film medium. Catholics need to get on board with that. The Protestants have done a better job at that than we have. We decided that if we were ever going to try to work with groups to bring a movie to theaters, this was the perfect movie to do it with.

Why with this particular film?

St. Augustine’s story is timeless and well known because of his Confessions. I think it will impact men especially because the temptations with which he grappled mightily, and for a long time, are the same temptations that men of today wrestle with – the temptations of the world, the devil, and the flesh. St. Augustine had a long spiritual battle before he was able to overcome these temptations. Men today have these same struggles against the temptations of the flesh. That’s why this is a great story for today.

It’s also a story that will appeal to the wider Christian market. Protestants love St. Augustine.

The film is not having a typical theatrical release, but as I understand it, parishes, organizations, and individuals can sponsor a showing at theaters near them?

Yes. We’re not a studio and don’t have the budget to do a regular theatrical release, so we have a license agreement that will allow organizations to sponsor screenings at their local theater. Theaters do this all the time. It’s not hard to do. It’s the first of a three-phase distribution plan we have for the film.

Phase 2, which will begin in November, will allow parishes to sponsor screenings in their parish halls. We did something similar with the film The 13th Day. Parish-based screenings will be the only way for people to obtain the DVD until it’s officially released to the public during Phase 3, next Easter.

What I love is how excited organizations are getting about this. There hasn’t been much in terms of films with Catholic themes. Groups see an opportunity to work with us to have a local event to evangelize the culture. Some are using the film as a fundraiser. This is a great tool to help promote the upcoming Year of Faith. In addition, Ignatius Press released an Ignatius Critical Edition version of St. Augustine’s Confessions. It features the best translation, by Benedictine Sister Maria Boulding, and was edited by a Jesuit Augustine expert at St. Louis University.

How can people learn more, or bring the film to theaters near them?

They can learn more, or book a showing through the website.