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Netflix Buys Pope Francis Mini-Series From Berlusconi’s Mediaset

Variety logo Variety 12/2/2016 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME — Top Italian commercial TV network Mediaset has announced the sale to Netflix of its event mini-series “Call Me Francis,” which portrays Jorge Maria Bergoglio’s path from Jesuit priest to groundbreaking pontiff.

The four-part skein is the most ambitious title destined for the international TV market so far by the broadcaster, which is owned by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Presenting the $15 -million series to the Italian press in Milan, Mediaset Chief Executive Pier Silvio Berlusconi said Netflix had acquired global rights outside Europe to “Call Me Francis” and would release it in 40 territories.

He added that Mediaset held on to European rights, even though Netflix wanted to purchase them, in order to “pursue a pan-European over-the-top platform project” which it intends to carry out with other unspecified European partners in the wake of its breakup with French media company Vivendi.

A European representative for Netflix did not immediately respond to a confirmation request. However, “Call Me Francis” is among titles listed by the Netflix media center in its “first run” category.

Directed by Italian filmmaker Daniele Luchetti, “Call Me Francis” chronicles the life of Bergoglio as a young man in Buenos Aires before he finds his calling to become a Jesuit priest, and follows him as he rises through the ranks of archbishop and cardinal. Along the way, he struggles with difficult decisions under Argentina’s military dictatorship, and eventually becomes the first pontiff from the Americas, in 2013.

Argentinian actor Rodrigo De la Serna, who played alongside Gael Garcia Bernal in Walter Salles’s “The Motorcycle Diaries,” stars in the title role for most of the show. Chilean actor Sergio Hernandez (“Gloria”) plays Bergoglio in his later years.

“Call Me Francis,” which was conceived and shot to be both a feature film and a TV series, is produced by Pietro Valsecchi for Mediaset’s film unit, Medusa, in collaboration with Mediaset’s Taodue production unit.

The “Call Me Francis” feature film was released in December 2015 in Italian cinemas, where it opened at No. 2 and scored a robust roughly $4 million overall. Netflix has not purchased the feature film version.

Mediaset will air the mini-series in Italy on its flagship Canale 5 generalist channel on Dec. 8, the pope’s 80th birthday.

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