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A look inside the Vatican's Film Library: From Church history to Hollywood blockbusters

2014-08-09

The Vatican's Film Library has a little bit of everything. From videos on Church history to classic Hollywood blockbusters. It all started back in 1959. 

CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI 
Director, Vatican Film Library 
"Pope John XXIII launched the library in 1959 and early that year, he announced the Second Vatican Council. We think he was ahead of his time because he knew those images would be part of the Church's history and he wanted to store the footage. So the mission of the Vatican Library starts there: To record the life of the Church, Popes and missionaries.”

Decades later, the footage like this, of the Second Vatican Council, is priceless. On this historic book, every film had to be registered before it was stored in the library. 

Since it's a film library, it makes sense to have a theater. This was once a former chapel that was made into a movie theater, where cardinals and Popes have enjoyed  a set of films. 

But it's not just about entertainment, there's also the scientific aspect of preserving the films and making sure the unique footage is well kept and maintained. 

CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI 
Director, Vatican Film Library 
"The oldest footage we have is from 1896. It shows Pope Leo XIII in the Vatican Gardens. It's the first recorded image of a Pope on film. We also have one of the few original copies of Ben-Hur.” 

The Vatican's Film Library also stores recent films and other Church related material, donated by television networks. Even famous film directors have offered copies of some of their best work. 

CLAUDIA DI GIOVANNI 
Director, Vatican Film Library
"Italian director Benigni have us 'Life is Beautiful' and Speilberg wanted our library to have a copy of Schindler's List.” 

The library also has a set of copies of films that have virtually disappeared, like that of a movie titled 'Hell' based on the 'Divine Comedy' by Dante. It was produced in 1911, where for the very first time, modern special effects were used. 

It started with one archive, but now 8,000 units are stored here at the Vatican Library, each one tells a story, and a chapter of Church history for future generations. 


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