The Prophet of Our Time
Legate’s John Paul II documentary explores the Pope’s last three days . . .
by Judy Roberts
When Legate Lannette Turicchi decided she was going to make a documentary about Blessed John Paul II, she set out on a six-year journey that would test her faith, deepen her prayer and plunge her into the world of spiritual warfare.
The former head of nontheatrical distribution for DreamWorks SKG, Turicchi became intrigued with telling the late pope’s story from the perspective of those who had known him when she saw Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz (pronounced Gee-vish) standing in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in 2006.
As she and others were waiting for Pope Benedict XVI to begin the Angelus, Turicchi trained her camera on the man who had been John Paul’s personal secretary, all the while wondering what he must be feeling.
“He was looking up at the apostolic palace where he used to be with the Holy Father,” Turicchi recalled. “That started it for me.” She wanted to know more about the cardinal and his longtime relationship with John Paul.
Turicchi’s subsequent 90-minute interview with Cardinal Dziwisz turned out to be the cornerstone of The Prophet of Our Time, a nearly two-hour documentary produced by her company, Falling Upwards Productions.
Scott Turicchi, Lannette’s husband and the film’s executive producer, said that when the interview ended, the translator stood up and said, “‘You don’t know what he’s told you today!’ It was only months later, after we had it translated into English that you could see that the cardinal didn’t shy away from any — or at least most — of the questions.
“He answered every one directly and described in great detail the last three days of the Holy Father’s life — including who came to visit and what went on,” he explained. “It gave Lannette encouragement that this project had a chance.”
Still, once she read the cardinal’s interview, Turicchi wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. Despite her background in the entertainment industry, she had never worked on the creative side of a film. “There was no script to this,” said Turicchi, a member of Legatus’ Hollywood Chapter. “We were literally flying by the seat of our pants. After the initial interview, I thought, ‘Who else am I going to interview?’ I had no idea what the story was going to be.”
So she prayed, often to Blessed John Paul. “I have never prayed so much in my life,” she said. “That’s how we would get the answers to who we were supposed to interview and what questions we were supposed to ask. It was like somebody else was typing it for me.”
Turicchi decided to identify everyone who should be in the film, do the interviews and have them transcribed. “Then we created the script after the fact,” she explained. “I felt like God would decide what the story really is because I knew this was a pope who didn’t want attention. His whole pontificate wasn’t about him, it was about Jesus Christ. So how do you tell a story about a man who wanted the world to know about Jesus?”
The Prophet of Our Time, which is narrated by Fr. Dave Heney, chaplain of Legatus’ Ventura/ LA North Chapter, begins at the end of John Paul’s life. Cardinal Dziwisz shares his sense of loss at the Holy Father’s passing. It continues with recollections of the Pope’s death and funeral from New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan; Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president emeritus of the Pontifical Commission for Vatican City State; Cardinal Adam Maida, archbishop emeritus of Detroit; and Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, former director of the Holy See press office.
The Navarro-Valls interview took place halfway through filming. Turicchi wanted to interview him, but didn’t think it was possible. When her friend Heriberto Schoeffer asked how the film was going, she told him of her frustration. She was surprised at his response: “You really want to talk to Joaquín? He’s a very good friend of mine. I’ll talk to him.” Schoeffer and his wife, Marissa, later met the Turicchis in Rome for the interview.
Also appearing in the film are Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl; Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, archbishop emeritus of Krakow; Monsignor Jan Machniak, director of the John Paul II Center in Krakow; Italian journalist Alberto Michelini, and the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, former apostolic nuncio to the United States.
The documentary also examines John Paul’s roles as a prophet and poet, his life in Poland, and highlights of his pontificate before coming back to the last three days of his life.Cardinal Maida, who describes the Pope’s suffering as a “moment of great evangelization,” said he was amazed by Turicchi’s film. “It is truly an extraordinary piece of work and it captures the Holy Father in a very human context. You have so many people with so many interesting stories to convey — and they’re all different.”
Father Heney said the memories of Cardinal Dziwisz, now archbishop of Krakow, set the film apart. “No one had more access to John Paul II than he did, so to have him on screen speaking at length in his native language with subtitles makes this film unique and special beyond all other John Paul II documentaries.”
Along the way to the documentary’s completion, the Turicchis encountered a multitude of challenges, including a break-in at their home, Lannette suffering a heart attack, and the theft of the film’s master files from editor Jim Hancock’s car.
Those who worked on the film encountered similar difficulties. One of the translators was involved in a head-on car collision, and Mark Edward Lewis, who composed the film’s music, broke his leg during production.
“I warned the entire crew before they agreed to work on this because I just knew it was coming,” Turicchi said. “It was kind of like I got a warning from the good side: Prepare yourself.”
She also had to overcome assorted barriers to get the interviews and film clips she wanted. For example, it took three months to obtain footage of former ABC News anchor Peter Jennings declaring “the end is nigh” as the Pope was dying and “a whole committee” to secure the 1978 clip of Walter Cronkite announcing the death of Pope John Paul I, which led to John Paul II’s election.
“For me, this was just a very humbling experience,” Turicchi said. “I had to fight back and forth whether this was what God really wanted me to do. I had doors slammed in my face many times. But when one door slammed, God would open a bigger one. Really, this was a lesson about my own personal faith.”
The Prophet of Our Time has been submitted to several film festivals, and Turicchi is working on distribution later this year.
JUDY ROBERTS is Legatus magazine’s staff writer.
Learn more: Falling Upwards Productions