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Brussels, August, 21st, 2017 (SIGNIS). In 1989, then-Secretary General of SIGNIS, Robert Molhant, wrote a review on the film Romero, produced by the American priest Bud Kieser. As part of the celebrations for the hundred years of the birth of Romero, patron of SIGNIS, we reproduce in full the text published in the magazine Cine & Media.
Selected for the official competition of the Festival of Montreal “Romero” is a film born of the determination of an American priest, its producer, Bud Kieser. Shot in Mexico, in spite of the opposition of the army, the film shows us a man of the Church, unassuming and shy, forced into courage and martyrdom by the sufferings of a people.
“I had decided not to use a Catholic script-writer for this film”, confessed Bud Kieser, the American Paulist who produced Romero. “The best life of a saint that I have seen in the cinema, A Man for all Seasons, was written by Robert Bolt, an agnostic. And the best life of Christ on the screen, The Gospel according to St Matthew, is the work of a Marxist, Pier Paolo Pasolini. Neither of these films is very reverent. Both of them are rather sceptical in tone. But they are even more moving from a cinematographic point of view and have a greater religious force.”
That is why Bud Kieser entrusted the script to John Sacret Young whom, he considered, “has less than a conventional approach to the Christian world and keeps alive a love-hate relationship with the Catholic Church.”
In order to prepare the film, the producer and script-writer went to El Salvador in the middle of the civil war. “No film is good enough to die for; however, defending the freedom of the Salvadorians deserves taking certain risks”.
Though the testimonies of people who knew Romero they were to discover a man of the Church who was rather traditional, unassuming and timid who, once appointed Archbishop, would be transformed by the responsibilities of this office. Threatened with death, the Archbishop continued to denounce the violence and killings. Bud Kieser and his script-writer went so far as to visit the places where the death squadrons had thrown their victims. “we were shown two places where there where skeletons lying about, stripped by the vultures, their arms still bound behind their backs by piano strings.”
It costs $3 million to make this film. After having had problems in raising this sum, the producer entrusted the direction to John Dulgan, an Australian whose latest film The Year My Voice Broke won five prizes from the Film Academy of Australia.
Shot in Mexico
It was not possible to make the film in El Salvador. The crew left for Mexico, the little village of Ranchera, Tecajec and Cuernavaca. The Mexican army was to have lent its aid. But, on discovering that the film was going to show atrocities committed by the Salvadorian army, the military authorities would not let his soldiers participate and tried to forbid the shooting. “From the beginning, we had the feeling that we were making a very special film. Raul Julia, the actor who played Romero, was haunted by his character. All the crew, the actors and extras lived through this adventure intensely. At the end of two months we had shot the final sequence, celebrated mass and invited all our friends from the shooting. There were 350 who celebrated the film with us”.
Well received at Montreal, the film began its career in the United States and Australia. The Canadian Press saluted the film which “presented unbearable images of one of the most bloody repressions at work in the Third World”.
An important film
Henry Herx, Director of the film Office of the United States Bishop’s Conference, considered the film to be very important. “The Americans have a great responsibility bin the events of Central America because of the foreign policy of their country. Although there was only one reference to American military aid – Archbishop Romero asked the President of the United States to stop the supply of arms used to kill Salvadorians – the film as a whole poses the question of the support given by the US to repressive regimes”. Because the film obviously includes violent scenes that the majority of adolescents would be able to place in their context, the Bishops’ Conference classified it “A-II” – that is to say for adults and adolescents.