By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Discovery+ is presenting two films, one a documentary on Pope Francis, and another on the disgraced downfall of one of the world’s wealthiest businessmen, Peter Nygård.
From Oscar®-nominated director and producer Evgeny Afineevksy, “Francesco” features unprecedented access to His Holiness Pope Francis, providing an intimate look at a global leader who approaches challenging and complex matters with tremendous humility, wisdom and generosity toward all.
“Francesco” spans issues such as climate change, migration and refugees, women’s empowerment, sexual abuse and LGBTQ issues, pandemic, border walls, and many more of today’s headlines. This documentary takes audiences on a worldwide journey to spotlight the incredible empathy displayed by a leader who continues to inspire hope during an extraordinary moment in our lifetime. In doing so, the film examines how people might take action to transition into a new way of living and thriving in the 21st century.
During the Winter Television Critics Association virtual press junket, I was able to hear from the principals on this film. The director said that he was given the green light to the Vatican. “I never had any restrictions. I had the full freedom of the artist because I know I was bound not by the network, not by the Vatican, only by what I am doing and what subjects I am tackling,” said Afineevksy.
When asked to speak about the extreme contrasts between the exquisite beauty of the Vatican and the scenes of poverty and malaise around the world, Afineevsky noted: “The key element was to tell the story of the world, of humanity and what state and what condition we are in, and him navigating us through this world, not just through the world of the Vatican or the Church. From the beginning, the idea was to have us, humanity, as the key element of the story – what we created, what disasters we created, what poverty we created, what injustices we created. And to tell his story as somebody who is trying by himself to navigate us through it, to show us by example, to show us how we can step by step change these things.”
Sister Norma Pimentel was asked about her interpretation of Pope Francis’ compassion. “I would like to say that what I have seen, what I see in our Pope is a person with a wonderful heart truly connected to who he is as a human being and making sure that he reaches out to us. That love, that care for our humanity, is so real and so present in him and in all that he does, and that is what I see in his eyes.”
Juan Carlos Cruz, who is a survivor of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, shared his sentiments about the Pope, as well. “After my abuse and everything, and every survivor is in a world in its own right, but when I have the opportunity to be with him, I see a man who looks into your soul. When he looks at you, you’re the only person that matters. He listens. He looks into your heart and, to me, when I felt my soul was dead and I had nothing to live for, nothing worthwhile, this man — I remember the story in the Bible of Lazarus, right — like, he resurrected me.” He added: “He gives you back your dignity and instills in you the will to keep on and keep fighting and keep moving and aspire to great things.”
Take a look at the trailer: Francesco Documentary 2020 Trailer
The film will premiere on discovery+ March 28 just ahead of Easter Sunday.
“Unseamly: The Investigation of Peter Nygård” is the story of the so-called “King of Polyester” in Canada who for years abused women, eventually being accused of sex trafficking, racketeering, conspiracy, and other crimes involving dozens of women and teenage girls. The case made international news this past December when Nygård was unexpectedly arrested in Canada at the request of U.S. authorities and the FBI. One of the most successful fashion designers, he built an international empire worth hundreds of millions of dollars and led an extravagant lifestyle, always surrounding himself with beautiful and young women.
Like Jeffrey Epstein, Nygård was relatively anonymous with little attention on him outside of Winnipeg or the Bahamas. All that changed when brave victims began to come forward, which captured the international news cycle. Hiding beneath his public persona was a dangerous criminal now accused of a shocking number of sexual assaults that went unchecked for decades. Denied bail at a hearing in late February, he will remain behind bars while awaiting extradition to the United States.
This documentary brings “a voice to the voiceless. Monsters are real, but they can be stopped.” These brave survivors are sharing their side for the first time. There are many women featured in this documentary, and Nygård came across as someone infatuated with himself, with a long lion’s mane, gaudy jewelry and fur coats.
Black veteran fashion model Beverly Peele is among the women speaking out in the series. She was associated with Nygård and even had a child by him. She shared her thoughts about meeting him and his allure. “I think what enticed most of the victims of Nygård was the promise of bettering their lives, and their career, and their careers taking off, or the potential chance of money or flying around the world and having that, so to speak, Hollywood glamorous, fabulous model life. He portrayed an image of wealth. He has his private plane, he has this. He has that. He always has parties. And for someone who’s not in the know, coming from nothing, that’s a humongous lure.”
She continued: “And he had money, so that was one thing. As far as myself, how did I get caught up in it? You know, I had a child with the man, so I had to be there as well, even though my contract was over. There were always beautiful women around, and they all look like they’re having a great time, and you don’t see what’s behind the closed doors until the door is closed.”
Nygård’s son Kai Zen Bickle turned on him, as he noticed that his father was a “monster.” He said that his father’s life was a foundation of lies. “There was a reveal for me all the way back in May of 2019 when I caught a glimpse of some behavior that was extremely troubling. And by the time we got to February of 2020 when the information came out, I was already investigating and trying to figure out how to prove that he was really a predator.”
Nygard is currently in Headingley Correctional Centre in Canada and has repeatedly denied all allegations and blames a conspiracy caused by a feud with his billionaire neighbor in the Bahamas.
Look for this four-part series, which is streaming now on discovery+.
Take a look at the trailer: https://tinyurl.com/1sr8awr3.
Visit Discovery+ for more information: https://tinyurl.com/878ny6yy.