Anyone who directs a movie about the converging efforts of Pope St. John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to take on the Soviet Union is someone I’m interested in talking to.
But Robert Orlando isn’t just anyone to me. He’s the first filmmaker I’ve ever interviewed that I knew before he was a filmmaker and before I was a film critic.
Robert and I met as students at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in the 1980s. He was a film major with a particular interest in cartooning and illustration; I was a media arts major focusing on cartooning and illustration with a particular interest in film.
We had something else in common: We were both Christians and both had leading roles in SVA’s Christian community at the time. (A friend and I dubbed SVA’s Christian fellowship “SerVAnt.” I designed a decent logo for the group; I still have one of the T-shirts.)
Calvinism had had a formative effect on both of us. I had been instilled with anti-Catholic ideas from my youth, and, while Robert had been raised Catholic, by the time I became interested in Catholicism, he was anti-Catholic enough to try to “rescue” me from Rome by giving me a copy of “the anti-Catholic bible,” Lorraine Boettner’s Roman Catholicism.
This had the opposite of the intended effect on me, and, before long, Robert’s own thinking on the subject shifted again and he reverted to his Catholic upbringing.
After losing track of each other for decades, Robert and I recently reconnected over dinner with his wife, Margo, and my wife, Suzanne. Afterward, I spoke with him by phone about his John Paul II and Reagan documentary, The Divine Plan, and the companion book co-written with Paul Kengor (debuting on Amazon and in bookstores on June 10).
This Thursday, April 25, at 7pm, Robert will be at the Fulton J. Sheen Center for Thought and Culture in New York to present and talk about his film.
SDG: The Divine Plan covers a story that unfolded in part at a time when you and I were art students together in New York in the 1980s. What were your impressions at the time, if you recall, of Pope John Paul II on the world stage?
Orlando: I always had a good feeling, or an impression, of something good and grand going on, but I didn’t pursue it. Maybe I was just seeing the Vatican at that time as more of a political institution, the way Protestants view Catholicism. I wasn’t antagonistic or dismissive, but I just didn’t see the appeal of institutional religion. I did know that he was a good pope and a respected man on the world stage.
SDG: Did he play any role in your changing attitude toward the Church? In moving you back toward active Catholic membership?
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