14 MAY 2024

“Joachim and the Apocalypse,” behind the scenes of an ambitious film

Delta Star Pictures is promoting its new film at the Marche du Films in Cannes. Señal News talked exclusively with the scriptwriter Michela Albanese and some key members of the crew about the current appeal of Joachim of Fiore story.

14 MAY 2024

“Joachim and the Apocalypse”

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Italian producer and distributor Delta Star Pictures is participating at the Marche du Films in Cannes with its new and ambitious film “Joachim and the Apocalypse,” a work inspired by the life of Joachim of Fiore, founder of the Florensians order. "The decision to invest in this film came from director Jordan River, who is also the producer," commented Michela Albanese, scriptwriter of the film. "Jordan knew that the great poet Alighieri had included Joachim of Fiore in the Divine Comedy. What had surprised him most was not that he had included him in Paradise, but that he had described him as being '... endowed with a prophetic spirit'. He often wondered what that prophecy meant and thus began to delve deeper into this idea," she explained.

Albanese mentioned that Jordan pushed the production to do more in-depth research and develop an original masterpiece. "This film cannot be called a mere biography, it’s a film about a prophecy. In the film, the 'empathy' associated with earthly things is deliberately left in the background, while the thoughts of the protagonist, his inner quest and the eschatological existence of human beings emerge in the narrative threads," she expressed. Jordan River already had this film in mind from a very young age, but he knew the complexity and difficulty of finding the support and the right team to get started. "When a series of coincidences and divine providence aligned, the Project was launched and was sponsored by numerous Italian cities and municipalities, as well as the Province of Cosenza", she said. “Joachim and the Apocalypse” was partially co-financed by Public bodies, including the Ministry of Culture, the Calabria Film Commission Foundation and the Lazio Region. Another part was financed by banks and the rest was advanced by the production.

Albanese asserted that Joachim's thoughts are more relevant than ever. "It has fascinated and inspired many people throughout history, including Francis of Assisi and Christopher Columbus, as well as the great Michelangelo Buonarroti, Montaigne, Hegel, George Sand, James Joyce and many others. Joachim devoted himself to examining human history. I have embodied a model of spiritual freedom; in an era of rigid ecclesiastical doctrines, he broke free and became the voice of a new breath of life in history", she explained. "We live in an era of conflict, crisis and uncertainty, but at the same time, according to Joachim, there is also the possibility of complete spiritual freedom and inner progress. It's increasingly astonishing how, in such an era marked by wars and economic, social, and existential uncertainties, a monk who lived in the Middle Ages saw all this, a good eight centuries before us. Some of his visions of him are also contained in the 'Liber Figurarum', now preserved in Oxford," she added.

On the other hand, Andrea Tagliapietra, Director of CRISI - Interdisciplinary Research Center for the History of Ideas and of ICONE - European Research Center of the History and Theory of the Image, affirmed that Joachim dreams, and his dreams take the form of prophecies of a time when swords will be melted down and become plowshares to plow the fields and there will be no more warriors or battlefields. "Joachim is a man of peace, who 'has the courage of the white flag', in the words of Pope Francis. The Calabrian abbot talks to the powerful of his time-the popes, the monarchs-to always seek mediation to avoid violence. He transformed monastic life into an experiment in collective living and the shared use of goods, abolishing the orders and classes that divided the society of his time. Joachim is not a provincial thinker, but a global one. Calabria and Sicily were the center of the world at that time, at the crossroads of civilizations and people including the Normans, the Italics, the Jews, the Arabs, and the Greek-Byzantines. Faced with this melting pot of cultures and languages, even with very different alphabets, Joachim realized the communicative power of the image. But it's an image that in turn must be read with patience," he expressed. "It's not spectacular, like the apocalyptic catastrophes to which we were accustomed and which fueled, then as now, the fears of humans. Trees, branches and flowers often appear in these illuminated images, associating human generations with the lush power of nature. Joachim tells us that it is life, after all, that allows us to hope that the great dragon of history, red as the blood of countless carnages, doesn't prevail in the end. Joachim's topicality lies in his magnificent outdatedness," he affirmed.

"It was incredible how I immediately got into the mind of the abbot and the script. It's so well written and rich in content that you are immediately catapulted into that historical period, and while reading, I was continuously researching and studying those characters who were so important in the history of mankind," said Vittorio Sodano, Make up and Special effects designer two times Oscar Nominee, member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We are lucky to be Italian and know how history has forged everything we know," he added.

Davide De Stefano, Production Designer asserted that in "Joachim and the Apocalypse" the great challenge was the high number of locations and sets to recreate, "Jordan River, the Director, and I discussed giving the movie an 'authentic' look of the sets, where you can feel the Monk's convent atmosphere, the hard life of medieval times of the village and the sober look of the regality," he commented. "I proposed him many locations, in both regions of Lazio and Calabria, that has that kind of feel: authenticity, old, far from any modern influence, and overall possibly original, a never filmed location before. In that sense 'Sasseto's Woods', 'City of Stone' Zungri (to recreate Jerusalem's city) and mainly the beautiful location of the 'Abbey of Saint Sebastian' in Alatri, was incredibly perfect. The Abbey furthermore, where we recreate many important abbey's sets, is a Convent that was found in the 500 a.d:, the walls, the floor and some other structures were original from middle age times and when we shoot there everyone of the crew has the sensation, the feeling to lives the monastery's life in the year 1200," he described. "Meantime we locked many locations with Jordan, me and my Art Director, Massimo De Stefano, prepared all the documentation, references (from old paintings, middle age's sculptures, architecture and medieval manuscripts) all needed to make then Art Concepts, technical drawings and the look books for all the sets of the movie. For some sets, like the villages, we have used local real peasant's tools and rural life objects coming form a museum that gave us almost all what we needed and some of the object had over 250 years, instead for the Abbey's sets we have used some forniture and props made for the film 'Name of the Rose'," he revealed.

"Me and my team paid a lot of attention and work to recreate every single piece: from a simple aged wooden board to all the writing tools, to the monk's manuscripts patchments pages especially from Joachim's writings, the many maps. Everything was made in original size and accurately reconstructed by my painters, hand made like a real monk! As the preparation of the sets and the filming continued along the many locations, Jordan and I discussed where to use some technology to enlarge some sets and make it more interesting involving the digital effects, although always in a little way, to serve the story, to support it, like the last brushes on the 'painting' of the set, never to 'repaint' it from scratch. Here the work of Nicola Sganga, the VFX Supervisor, was amazing, sometime to make an Abbey's construction site complete, sometime enlarging a village, sometime creating a virtual set, like the Temple, on our indications, all his work was complementary to the sets increasing the great artistic value of the design. I was lucky to work with such great collaborators and professional skilled guys," he concluded.

In addition, Daniele Gelsi, Costume Designer affirmed that the costume work in this film was unique and complex because it was set in the Middle Ages, but at the same time, there were also fictional scenes and characters in the script. "The director wanted sober settings and simple characters with little presence of the upper and middle classes, focusing mainly on the peasant classes and, above all, featuring different monastic orders, including Cistercians, Basilians and Florensians," he commented. "There are several special costumes, such as those of Queen Constance of Hauteville, King Richard I of England, Pope Lucius III and the Guardian of the Threshold. The most complicated part was working on the costume of the main character, Joachim. Eight costumes (7 costumes + 1) were made from scratch for him alone. These costumes reflected the different phases of the character's life," he revealed. "It was very complex, but fun and challenging for me. All the costumes were then aged and treated, with a great deal of craftsmanship behind it that distinguishes my unique work. I made almost all of them in my tailor's workshop. Overall, I think it turned out very well." he commented.

Lastly, Vittorio Sodano, Make up and Special effects Designer, (two times Oscar Nominee, member of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences), said that it was the first time he portrayed this era. "It was a great adventure with a wonderful crew, and I feel very happy with the result," he commented. "In spanning such a broad period of time, it was incredible to age the actor and make him old or young according to the scenes we were shooting every day. We have to thank the production team that put us in a position to work with serenity and respect, values that with Jordan and Michela are never questioned."

“Joachim and the Apocalypse” is starring by Italian Francesco Turbanti, who plays Joachim of Fiore and American Nikolay Moss, in the role of King Richard I of England. Complete the cast the actor Giancarlo Martini and the actress Elisabetta Pellini. "In some scenes on the set, you could hear three different languages intertwine: Italian, Latin and English from the international cast. It was a unique and stimulating experience," asserted Michela Albanese.

"Personally, I love to work with international crew and actors. I think is such a great synergies coming from a different cultural background and filmmaking," affirmed Davide De Stefano, Production Designer. "In ‘Joachim and the Apocalypse’ we got to work in the project with Vittorio Sodano, the Make-Up designer, who has a plenty of American productions made and was two times Oscar nominee and Nick Moss, an Emmy Award winner actor, who played King Richard ‘Lionheart’, in a set that I have created around him and his acting. It was the perfect choice made by the Director as well as the choice of the Kabbalist actor, Bill Hutchens. Thinking at him and his look, movements and character I have designed the house with the two rooms in calibrated spaces with the minimal furniture to give it more mystical look. Let me also mention the incredible work of the costume designer, Daniele Gelsi, who really made real the middle age time designing and dressing the characters of the film, given them the historical accurate look but also a great personality, a perfect blend with my sets. An amazing job," he said.

"Working in close contact with established artists such as Nicola Sganga (VFX Supervisor), Vittorio Sodano (Make-up artist), Davide De Stefano (Production Designer) and Gianfranco Tortora (Sound), and an international cast such as Nikolay Moss, Bill Hutchens and Francesco Turbanti truly up to expectations not only it was a source of great pride and satisfaction, but it helped in the conception and creation of the soundtrack, which was able to be based on visual, sound and acting stimuli of great value," commented Michele Josia, Music Composer. "In addition to that, the direction of Jordan River was extremely important, in order to create a soundtrack that truly reflected the intent, emotions, message and soul of the film," he added.

It took no less than five years to complete the research, development, shooting and post-production stages for “Joachim and the Apocalypse”. "The director had envisioned an evocative fictional film, but he wanted to stay as close as possible to Joachim’s thought, and many dialogues are the original ones, taken from his Latin texts and translated into Italian. To create a good summary, it was first necessary to delve into as much information as possible," mentioned Albanese. "Thus, we counted on the support of the International Centre for Gioachimite Studies, with whom the director was already in contact and who provided us with various historical material, as well as books and prominent scholars, such as the philosopher Andrea Tagliapietra and the medievalist Valeria De Fraja. I went to various ancient libraries with the director, where I was able to leaf through ancient original texts by Joachim from the 12th century. We knew that we had to be guided by his ideology and so starting from his Trinitarian circles, we introduced several innovative techniques. Some of these had to do with the narrative, such as not locking ourselves into a single genre, but moving across three levels: historical (because it tells of real events), spiritual (because it deals with the transcendent world) and fantasy (because it investigates the dream world and man's otherworldly journey). The director on the set always said that the images should be like paintings and contain aesthetics and spirituality. The lighting in the film by the great director of photography Gianni Mammolotti (recognised and highly regarded in Italy), is powerful and reflects the profound meaning conceived in the script," she said.

Davide De Stefano mentioned he was involved in the project at the very early stage, although Jordan Riverand Michela Albanese, the other screenwriter, has made together the first draft of the screenplay and lot of researches about Joachim in many places, from Calabria to Rome. "They have made already almost 3 years of documentation from books, the monk’s writings and visiting museums. It wasn’t easy this phase, because the writings of Joachim are not easy to understand and Jordan and Michela made a wonderful work condensing the most important and evocative passes of his writings, his ideas in a movie adaptation and trying to make more comprehensive all to a normal audience," he commented. "After our initial meetings we have discussed more about the script, the look, the visuals meantime Valeria de Fraja, an historian of the middle age, comes on board to give more medieval authenticity at the story as well as Andrea Tagliapietra, a renowned Philosopher and writer, to refines the Philosophic elements and dialogues. After this very important development stage, we were finally ready to prepare the film and start to go into details about locations and visuals of every set. The preparation and shooting time was splitted in two parts, because Jordan wanted to give to the film a spring /summer look and a winter look with snow and harsh environment of the of Sila’s Mountains. After the shooting Jordan has the long process of the post-production where he pre-edited the film, made color correction work (absolutely amazing job) of every frames to enhance colours or saturates colours, make more brilliant clothes of more intense some lights, like candles glows, everything was made thinkings like ‘paintings’," he described. "In add of this the superb work of the VFX Supervisor, Nicola Sganga, that frame by frame, cleaned little modern interferences, added portion of medieval villages, made the initial sequences and enlarged some sets, always thinking to improve the visuals where necessary, supporting the story first. As well as the Sganga’s long work continued, the sound effects and the film score works starts, two crucial part and stage of the film, where the wonderful music composed by Michele Josia embraces, made a strong connection to the images and the Sound designer created and impressed on the film the sounds of the nature into the woods and the silence of the monastery when you heard only the quills pen write on the parchment," he added.

"Like the other technical departments, the intent of the film's soundtrack was to recreate a sound environment that suggested to the viewer a climax corresponding to the era in which the film is set, with a balanced use of period instruments and with extensive use of voices and choirs, mixed however through an archaic and modern musical language, in order to enhance both the spiritual and the fantasy side of the film," explained Michele Josia.

“Joachim and the Apocalypse” had a private screening in Rome with a very-well reception. Then, it will be projected privatelly with the Pope Francis presence. "This is an evocative and spiritual film, but it’s by no means religious. Joachim promoted a new, tolerant and free universal Church, no longer material, but spiritual. The fact that important figures in the Vatican have suggested screening our film privately to Pope Francis gives us hope for Joachim's prophecy that the Church can really become more spiritual, rather than materialistic," commented Albanese.