Bringing St. Augustine to the Big Screen

Catholic Publisher Unveils Sponsored Screenings

(photo: Courtesy of Ignatius Press)

ARLINGTON, Texas — The first feature-length theatrical motion picture on the life of St. Augustine has its official U.S. premiere in Texas next week. The film’s distributor, Ignatius Press, hopes to bring it to screens across the country using a hosted-screening program.

The official premiere of Restless Heart: The Confessions of Augustine takes place Aug. 29 at the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show, which is being held in Arlington, Texas. Many Catholic leaders and retailers will have an opportunity to see the film there for the first time.

Restless Heart, originally titled St. Augustine, was directed by award-winning Canadian director Christian Duguay and was co-produced by Italian, German and Polish production companies. It originally aired as a two-part television program in Italy in 2009.

American Catholic publisher Ignatius Press has repackaged the film and will not only be distributing the DVD in North America, but has also developed a program that allows parishes, organizations and individuals to bring the film to theaters in their locale.

For the past few years, Ignatius Press has worked with European production companies to secure North American licenses to release saint films on DVD. When the company heard that a film was being made about St. Augustine, it expressed interest in obtaining the North American rights.

“We are thrilled to bring Restless Heart to the big screen,” said Mark Brumley, president of Ignatius Press. “St. Augustine is one of the first doctors of the Church. His story is inspiring and compelling, and his writings are among the most respected in the world, even today.”

“We’re doing this on a bigger level because we understand the importance of films for impacting the culture in modern society and the importance of evangelizing through the film medium,” said Anthony Ryan, director of marketing with Ignatius Press. “We decided that if we were ever going to try to get these films in theaters, this was the perfect movie to do it with.”

The film draws largely from the Confessions of St. Augustine to tell his story. Unlike many saint films, it does not shy away from telling about his less-than-saintly early life and his conflicts with his mother, St. Monica.

Born in North Africa, St. Augustine led a hedonistic lifestyle and ignored the advice of his Christian mother before his conversion and baptism in Milan, Italy, at the age of 33. His Confessions and the City of God are two of the Church’s great spiritual classics. Augustine was declared one of the first doctors of the Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1295.

The film has drawn praise from many who have seen it.

“This film brings the words of the Confessions to life by enabling us to more fully understand the relationships and the culture that shaped Augustine and to better grasp his talents and ambitions, sins and struggles and, ultimately, his sanctity,” said Cardinal Francis George, archbishop of Chicago. “Restless Heart draws us to appreciate the magnitude and the totality of Augustine’s conversion of mind and heart.”

“As the life and times of this saint for all ages are beautifully re-created before our eyes, we understand better than ever the danger of being ‘in love with love,’ the insatiable void of a life defined by secular pursuits,” said Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine, Fla. “Appealing to the restless heart in each of us, this film of faith and hope is sure to become a spiritual classic.”

It has even received praise from Pope Benedict XVI.


Papal Praise

Pope Benedict XVI saw a shortened version of the three-hour film in September 2009. He praised the film for its depiction of man’s search for truth.

“This (is) the great hope that it ends with: We cannot find truth by ourselves, but the Truth, which is a person (Christ), finds us,” said Pope Benedict. “We hope that many who watch this inspiring human drama will allow themselves to be found by the Truth and in return also find Love.”

The Pope has said that his own thinking was inspired by the saint and theologian. As a young priest in 1953, the Pope wrote his doctoral thesis on St. Augustine’s teachings, and his first papal encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) owes much to the thought of St. Augustine.

While the film depicts the destruction of St. Augustine’s city of Hippo, “his message has remained, and, even as the world changes, that message lives on because it is based on truth and guides charity, which is our common destiny,” said the Pope.


Bringing the Film Locally

According to Victor Pap, vice president of marketing and outreach with the Maximus Group, a public-relations firm helping Ignatius promote the film, dioceses, educational institutions, parishes, charitable organizations, a Catholic bookstore, colleges and Knights of Columbus groups have already booked screenings across the country. Pap said there has even been interest among Protestant groups, such as some Lutheran churches and Baylor University.

One organization that’s organized a showing is Denver’s Augustine Institute, a graduate school for Scripture and theology. The Augustine Institute is hosting the film as a fundraiser at the Landmark Theater in Greenwood Village, Colo., on the feast of St. Augustine, Aug. 28, at 7pm.

Interest in the film was so great that they sold out the Landmark Theater’s largest theater and had to rent a second theater for those who want to see the film. They’re expecting more than 350 people.

“The director was first inspired to make this film because the Holy Father had lamented that no one had taken the really interiorly great people of history and made films of their lives,” explained Tim Gray, president of the Augustine Institute. “We wanted to host a showing because we’re an institute for evangelization, and Augustine is our model.”

The film is having several national premieres across the country. In addition to the showing at the Catholic Marketing Network event, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado and the Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colo., are sponsoring a showing as a fundraiser. The film will premiere in Rochester, N.Y., and Cincinnati’s Parkland Theater Aug. 28, Sept. 1 and Sept. 2. The other premieres include St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church’s sponsored showing in Washington on Aug. 29 and St. Dominic Catholic Church’s sponsored showing at Silverado 16 Theater in San Antonio, Texas, on Sept. 1.

Individuals interested in learning more or hosting a local screening can find information at the website.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to launch the Year of Faith and engage in the New Evangelization,” said Ignatius’ Ryan. “There hasn’t been much in terms of films with Catholic themes. This gives people an opportunity to evangelize the culture locally.”

Tim Drake is the Register’s senior writer.