JB: Access was the biggest difference. It was extremely different at the White House, where National Geographic has a much more established connection. At the Vatican, first you have to get general access to the Vatican itself and then you still need permission to film from each individual entity. Inside the Vatican, for instance, we had to get permission separately to film in the basilica.
Q: Why is it so hard to film there? Is it a security issue?
JB: No. It has almost nothing to do with security, and almost everything to do with being around for 2,000 years. It's an organization that typically does not make itself available, because it doesn't necessarily find it to their own interest to open their operations up to outside view. There's a certain amount of wariness on their part to allow the place to be seen in a folkloric way, because for them, the biggest story is the pope and his mission.
Q: Did you have any contact with the pope directly?
JB: No, we never spoke to the pope. There was no interaction with him at all. We knew very clearly going in that he doesn't do interviews, and I never supposed that we would have a moment to throw him a question. But we felt that we got to know him a little through Arturo Mari, the photographer. Arturo's dedication to the pope is very impressive. Through some intimate moments with him, we were able to understand a little better that the Vatican is here for the pope and that he's the driving force behind it.
Q: Was there anything that surprised you during the filming?
JB: From the U.S., there's one perspective of the Church and it's not particularly hierarchical. But there, you're constantly reminded of how hierarchical it isit's even color coded: black for priest, purple for monsignor, purple sash and skull caps for bishops, red for cardinals, and, of course, white for the pope.
Once, when I was walking out of St. Peter's Square, I noticed a priest heading in my direction. He looked familiar, but I couldn't place him. He was nondescript, wearing just a gray shirt with a Roman collar, black jacket, and black pants. After he passed I realized he was a cardinal who runs the congregation that deals with saints. As he moved away from me I noticed a tiny detail that caught my eye: with each step his pants lifted slightly, and there were crimson socks. A cardinal, one of the highest-ranking clerics in the Church slipping around nearly incognito save for a splash of red at ankle level!
Q: I would imagine that, with the Vatican dating back several centuries, you would have had to encounter some logistical complications during filming.
JB: In filming the Gregorian calendar sequence, we found ourselves in a situation where we had to show a beam of sunlight cutting across the room and hitting a sundial on the floor. We knew we needed to find a way to put particulate or smoke in the air, otherwise you wouldn't be able to see the beam of light. We asked if we could use a smoke machine, but they said it would hurt the frescoes on the walls. We asked if we could just smoke a cigarette or burn incense. They didn't go for that. Finally, they suggested calcium carbonate.
Having dropped chemistry in college, I didn't realize calcium carbonate was simply chalk. I could have simply gone out and bought a few erasers and banged them together. Instead, there I was, crouched in my suit, with a giant sieve full of chalk readied at the outflow vent of what must have been a vintage 1960s Eureka. I hit the button and the chalk dust went everywhere. Calcium carbonate, they explained, is completely inert so it couldn't hurt anything in the room. That was a good thing because after three hours of trying to vacuum and sweep and wipe the stuff up, we simply couldn't get all of it. We left a very chalky reminder of what it takes to make a good movie and hopefully, they will someday forgive us!
Q: The White House and the Vatican are extremely influential institutions. Is it the power of these places that draws you to them?
JB: It's not the powerwhat fascinates me is what animates these relatively inanimate institutions. These institutions are not built of stone; they're built of personalities of those who populate them. And those personalities are the souls of the institutions.
I was so impressed with how dedicated some of these people are to what they were doing. Like the nun, Sister Angela, who has been repairing tapestries for 35 years. For her, sewing is a form of prayer. In the White House, people are dedicated to that institution, but they are still civil servants, and they talk about serving the presidency regardless of their own politics. In the Vatican, by definition, everyone is a true believer, and that's a big difference.
Inside the Vatican: Front Page
St. Peter's Basilica
The Swiss Guards
The Pope's Day
The World's Most Beautiful Stuff
The Holy See
Electing a New Pope
The Secret Archives
The making of Inside the Vatican
Kids Activity Guide
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