There be audiences?

The promotion team for the upcoming feature film “There Be Dragons” has its work cut out. This is the same group that laid the groundwork for “The Passion of the Christ,” which sparked controversy well before the film’s debut in theaters.

A screening of “The Passion of the Christ” following the U.S. bishops’ 2002 fall general meeting in Washington attracted a packed house of close to 100 at the Motion Picture Association of America’s screening room downtown.

St. Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, founder of Oppus Dei. (CNS photo from Opus Dei)

But a screening Nov. 16 of “There Be Dragons” — which features many incidents in the early life of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei — drew just nine people to a Baltimore multiplex across the street from the hotel where the bishops were conducting this year’s fall general meeting. Of the dozen bishops who RSVP’d in the affirmative, only one attended: Archbishop Anthony S. Apuron of Agana, Guam.

Most of the rest of the audience consisted of journalists covering the bishops’ meeting. While willing to give the film a chance, they issued pointed criticisms — from the makeup job given a character who ages throughout the movie to the film’s title. But the title is a play on the phrase “here there be dragons,” from the Latin “hic sunt dracones,” used in ancient maps to indicate a dangerous or unknown place, or a place to be explored. The movie’s makers say the theme running through the film explores “unknown territories” of hatred, guilt and forgiveness.

What was screened was not quite a rough cut, but writer-director and co-producer Roland Joffe (“The Mission”) intends to make more edits before the film. Promoters hope to have a distributor willing to roll out “There Be Dragons” on a thousand screens in the United States April 15, the Friday before Palm Sunday. The movie is already generating buzz in Spain, the birthplace of St. Josemaria and the setting of the film, much of which takes place during the Spanish Civil War.

In a 2009 teleconference with reporters, Joffe said the film is about human love, divine love, betrayal and mistakes and “about people trying to find meaning” in their lives.

Major differences between “The Passion” and “Dragons”? One is that Mel Gibson, who directed “The Passion,” was at the top of his game as a director and a promoter. Another is that lots of people of all faiths can understand the point behind a film about Jesus, while perhaps a much smaller audience would be compelled to see a film about a Spanish saint.

Backers of  “There Be Dragons” have less than five months to not only polish the film, but also to tailor the push to get a critical mass of moviegoers to see it.

Bishops, voting and electronic ballots

The change in the U.S. bishops’ leadership, which resulted in the election of Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York to be their president Nov. 16, took a matter of minutes, thanks to electronic voting.

But the election nearly had to be conducted the old-fashioned way — with paper  ballots.  A glitch in the system had kept the results of a test vote from appearing on an overhead projector screen in the front of the bishops’ meeting room. Without the results being visible to all, paper balloting would have ensued, with newly ordained bishops acting as tellers and counting each ballot submitted. However, after a technical fix, the test ballot finally went through without a hitch.

So did a second test ballot, on whether the bishops would play a round of golf sometime between now and the end of the year.  The results: 25 yes, 207 no. To laughter from the assembly, Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, the outgoing president of the bishops, noted dryly, “That vote signals the end of the clerical culture.”

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