Like most movies of 2020, FATIMA has had anything but a traditional release.
Originally intended to hit theaters April 24 of last year, the historical drama chronicling the 1917 Marian apparitions to three Portuguese children experienced delay upon delay due to theater closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But next month, the film will finally have a major theatrical release when it opens in AMC theaters nationwide.
“I sometimes think this is Mary’s release, not ours,” said Jeanne Berney, chief operating officer of the film distribution company Picturehouse. To Jeanne and her husband Bob, Picturehouse’s CEO, the May 7-14 scheduled release, which coincides with Mother’s Day and the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, is nothing short of providential.
In a phone interview, the Berneys explained that Bob had been communicating with AMC last year in preparation for the film’s original release. But in light of the pandemic, Picturehouse had to change course. They settled for an August 28 “premium video on demand” release, a new pandemic-driven phenomenon that released the film digitally as well as in select independent theaters. Later, viewers could purchase the film online or on DVD, and starting in January, they could find it on Netflix.
Since its release, FATIMA has received a 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and won the Family Award at this year’s Los Angeles Italia Film, Fashion, and Art Festival. It has also received endorsements from several bishops, as well as the official shrine of Fátima in Portugal.
But as restrictions have eased, the Berneys felt compelled to increase the film’s visibility. “I always felt like we never were able to really deliver that [release] in a theatrical way because of the pandemic,” said Bob, “so I really started thinking, with AMC’s support, that we could actually bring it back. The theaters have now opened … but there still aren’t a lot of movies yet to be released. The studios have been held back. So [AMC] loved the idea.”
According to the Berneys, bringing FATIMA to the big screen is important for the film itself and for audiences. “It’s a way not only to see how beautiful [the film] is, but also for people to experience a film like this together,” said Bob. “You do feel the power of it in the auditorium. It’s all great to watch it at home, but I think it is special to see it with people in a bigger auditorium.”
“[This is a way] for people to see the movie the way it was meant to be seen,” said Jeanne.
Depending on states’ COVID-related restrictions at the time of release, the film will show in up to 350 AMC theaters nationwide. To encourage audiences to get out to the theaters, Picturehouse and AMC agreed to set up the re-release as part of AMC’s “$5 Fan Faves” program, which brings previously released films back to the big screen. Tickets will remain at that price throughout the weeklong first run and the duration of its time in theaters, which will depend on its box office performance. The Berneys hope that the reduced price will motivate church groups, schools, and families to gather and see the film in theaters for several weeks.
“We can really give people all the reasons to come and see it,” said Jeanne. “The presentation, the price, the story, and the month of May being Mary’s month.”
After a year navigating the challenges of a global pandemic, the Berneys have found the film to be a source of consolation. “Particularly this past year, I think everyone has needed something to inspire them or to give them hope, and the movie does that,” said Bob. “I hope it also brings people back to their faith … or reaffirms it.”
Jeanne added that they envision the film inspiring dialogue between Catholics and people of another or no faith and bring a message of hope from over 100 years ago to the present day. “It’s an emotional, beautiful story,” she noted. “And this story is still relevant. It’s not a thing of the past.”