With a Jesuit currently holding the highest position in the Roman Catholic Church, the Society of Jesus has considerable power in the hierarchy. This year, two important films about the Society are set to be released, with at least one likely poised to dominate the race in the 89th Academy Awards sometime in early 2017. These films are Martin Scorsese's long-gestating passion project Silence and the St. Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Society) biopic Ignacio de Loyola.
Jesuits and the Oscars
There have not been many films made about the Jesuit order or its founder; of the St. Ignatius biographical films, only San Ignacio de Loyola (1929) and Loyola, the Soldier Saint (1949), both Spanish productions, are listed in IMDB. Black Robe, a 1991 Bruce Beresford film, is about a young Jesuit priest who spreads the word of God to the Algonquins of Canada. The Man in the Iron Mask, an underrated Three Musketeers movie directed by Randall Wallace in 1998, features Jeremy Irons as the retired Musketeer Aramis who has become not only a Jesuit priest but the order's Superior General.
Of those films with Jesuits (or purported to have them), only three have made a dent in the Oscar race. William Friedkin's seminal horror masterpiece The Exorcist (1973) featured a young Jesuit exorcist named Fr. Damien Karras, S.J. The film received 10 nominations (including one for Best Picture and another for the actor who played Fr. Karras, Jason Miller, in the Supporting Actor category), winning two (Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Sound). In the Academy Awards of 1955, Karl Malden was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category for his performance as Father Barry in Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront (1954). The film never explicitly mentioned him as being a Jesuit, but it is widely known that the inspiration for his character was the Jesuit priest Fr. John M. Corrigan, S.J., who fought against crime and organized crime in the waterfront of New York.
Undoubtedly, Roland Joffé's The Mission (1986) is the most unabashedly Jesuit among the Oscar players (and incidentally, it also stars Jeremy Irons as a Jesuit). Like Black Robe after it, it is about the Society's missions in the Western frontier; this was set in South America. It received seven nominations, including Best Picture, and won one (Best Cinematography). Of all the Jesuit-related films, it is also the closest in theme to Silence.
The 2016 Films
Silence has been in development under Scorsese since 1991. It is based on the novel by Shusaku Endo about two Portuguese Jesuits (Fr. Sebastião Rodrigues, S.J. and Fr. Francisco Garrpe, S.J., played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, respectively) who face persecution in Japan where they have traveled to seek their mentor (Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira, S.J., portrayed by Liam Neeson) and spread the teachings of Christianity. With principal photography finally commencing on 30 January 2015 and the cast headlined by Garfield, Driver, Neeson, and Tananobu Asano (replacing Ken Watanabe), it is set to make a wave in the next Academy Awards. It is aiming to have its premiere at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Given its pedigree and the excited buzz that it has been generating for years, it is already a likely candidate in the following categories:
Actor (Andrew Garfield)
Supporting Actor (Adam Driver, Liam Neeson, and/or Tadanobu Asano)
Cinematography (Rodrigo Prieto)
Costume Design (Sandy Powell?)
Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker)
Makeup and Hairstyling
Original Score (Howard Shore)
Production Design (Dante Ferretti)
The other film, Ignacio de Loyola is the latest of the biopics of Iñigo de Loyola and will conceivably have a more difficult uphill climb in the Oscar race than Silence. It is a Filipino production; the Jesuit Communications Foundation is the production company and its director is Paolo Dy, a Filipino short film director. It stars Spanish actor Andreas Muñoz as St. Ignatius, and the film was shot on location in Spain. It is set for a July 2016 release in the Philippines, and plans are still underway for international distribution and screening at film festivals. It is interesting to note that while the Academy has no rule about a country's Best Foreign Language Film contender having to feature its native language, it is not an option for the Philippines as an entry since the film is in English. However, if it is well received in any of the major international film festivals, it has a slim chance to break into at least the technical races (perhaps foremost among them Costume Design and Production Design). It remains to be seen how a "diversified" Academy (the changes introduced by the Academy's Board of Governors will be in effect by then) will matter at all in this respect, if it at all does in any. Here is a link to the official trailer of Ignacio de Loyola:
Regardless of the outcome at the Oscars, however, the Society of Jesus and those affiliated with the Jesuits are bound to have an eventful and meaningful year in cinema.