‘Cabrini’ Director Alejandro Monteverde On The Angel Studios’ Release, “Faith-Based” Labeling & His Next Project – The Deadline Q&A

Alejandro Monteverde, whose Sound Of Freedom was the top grossing independent film of 2023, is back in theaters this weekend with Cabrini, also from Angel Studios, in wide release. The true story of an indomitable Italian nun on a mission to aid immigrants living in misery and poverty in late 19th century New York City, stars Cristiana Dell’Anna as waif-like Francesca Cabrini. She navigates a Pope, an Archbishop, the mayor of New York and the Italian Senate among others to build a charitable empire starting with one orphanage in the immigrant slum called Five Points (last seen in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York). Giancarlo Giannini plays Pope Leo; David Morse is Archbishop Michael Augustine Corrigan; and John Lithgow a villainous Mayor Gould — men Cabrini lectured, sparred with, cajoled and threatened to realize her life’s work. Canonized in 1946, she is the Patron Saint of Immigrants.

In a Q&A with Deadline, Monteverde calls Cabrini a “superhero,” a “warrior” and a “forgotten saint.” He pushed back on the “faith-based” label that dogs his work, and hinted at his next project “about the most well-known woman who ever walked this earth.”

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(The interview was condensed and edited for clarity.)

DEADLINE: Had you heard of Francesca Cabrini when this project was brought to you? What did you think initially?

ALEJANDRO MONTEVERDE: I hadn’t known anything about her. I was shocked, because she had such a strong impact in this country, and in the world. I referred to her as the Forgotten Saint, because I’m Catholic, and even as a Catholic, I didn’t know about her. So, in many ways it was kind of refreshing, because when I read about her life, what I heard was the ultimate underdog story. She was a warrior. She was a woman who came to this country as an immigrant herself at a time when women were completely voiceless. She defied all these institutions that were run by men. She had to fight. She was like a superhero. She was even wearing a cape. I came to this country the same way, with no money, with a lot of dreams. So, I was like, wow, yeah. I realized that her life was very cinematic, and I got really excited. And then that’s when we dove in to develop the vision of the film.

DEADLINE: The lead actress here is key. How did you come to Cristiana?

MONTEVERDE: This was a project that kind of started to have its own voice. And at one point — it sounds like a cliché — I started to listen to the project. The project kind of wanted to be shot in Italian, and that opened up the door into looking at Italian actresses and actors. And I was looking for these pair of eyes – eyes that could be very loving to a child from the streets, and eyes that could be very defiant when she was facing a man. She faced down dangerous criminals and powerful politicians. So, I needed those eyes. [The film was shot in Buffalo, New York and Rome.]

DEADLINE: Immigration is a big issue right now. But as the film shows, that’s nothing new.

MONTEVERDE: Archbishop Corrigan tells Cabrini, ‘You’re never going to fix this problem. This problem is here now, and will be here 100 years from now.’ This country is built by immigrants and immigration is part of the DNA of this country. We’re living it today. And that’s why the movie, in my humble opinion, is very relevant to what’s happening today. [Francesca] Cabrini was about the immigrant, the human being. She’s called the patron of immigrants. She left a mark on the life of immigrants here in America.

DEADLINE: Your work is often called faith-based. What are your thoughts on that label?

MONTEVERDE: For me, it’s very painful. Not because of the faith-based label, it’s any label. Labels are designed to exclude, period. So the minute you label something, you’re split into another audience. I have always been fighting against labels. What is the upside of a label? Like, why label? Why not just call it a movie? And why do some projects get labeled and some don’t? I like to make movies for everybody — for people of faith, for people of no faith, and the people in between. And I like to make movies that propose questions, to open up a social dialogue. So yes, I don’t understand why they need to label my work. I take it personally. My films constantly have that label. I hope one day it’s just a movie.

DEADLINE: I know you’re focused on the Cabrini opening right now, but can you talk about your next project?

MONTEVERDE: I’m working on a movie about another woman, a very, very powerful woman, if not the most well-known woman who ever walked this earth. I am currently working on that project to be shot in Malta. I’m very excited about that film. It continues the journey of celebrating the power of the woman’s voice, which is a beautiful because, when I read Cabrini, I though this is an opportunity to celebrate the power of the heart of woman. And this is a perfect film to celebrate that. For the new film, people’s awareness of who she is is the opposite of Cabrini in many ways. Because nobody knew who Cabrini was, and everybody knows who she is. It’s a project that’s been on the works for many, many years.

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