For B.C. film producer Natasha Howes, Fatima is more than just her latest screen project. 

The Kelowna-based filmmaker credits the miraculous events in rural Portugal a century ago for her conversion to Catholicism and her devotion to Mary.

The Blessed Virgin’s appearances before three children are the driving force behind two films Howe has produced: her 2009 film The 13th Day and the just-completed Fatima.

Fatima was set to be released in April, but the pandemic and the closing of theatres delayed that plan. The film is now set for a simultaneous release in select theatres across North America and on streaming sites including Apple iTunes and Amazon Prime beginning Aug. 28.

The film is based on the real-life events of 1917 when the Virgin Mary appeared to three children with messages of peace, having a significant impact on their country and the Catholic Church.

Howes hopes Fatima and the story of Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia will inspire everyone, Catholic or not.

“This is a film for everybody,” Howes told The B.C. Catholic

“I have developed a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother through my interaction with this story,” she said. “The story of Fatima is multi-layered and very, very deep.” 

In the new film, “We’ve taken key facets of that story and woven it” into a “deeply human, emotional, personal journey.”

Fatima dives into the events from the point of view of Lucia, a girl growing up during the time of the First World War as she tends her family’s sheep along with her cousins Francisco and Jacinta.

Lucia was 10 when she and her cousins began seeing visions of Mary, who delivered messages about the power of prayer and fasting to bring about peace. Their testimony rocked their families, neighbours, religious leaders, and the secular government as all tried to make sense of what was happening.

The number of people interested in seeing Mary for themselves grew, and on Oct. 13, 1917, thousands gathered to witness strange events in the sky described as the Miracle of the Sun and recorded by several sources, including non-religious newspapers.

Francisco and Jacinta died young, but Lucia would go on to become a Carmelite nun and record the events in her memoirs. She died in 2005 at the age of 97.

Howes said Fatima tells “the human story behind the story of the apparitions and the miracle” with particular research and emphasis on the “human psychology” of each key player in the story.

Developing the script was an “intricate and sensitive” process that involved working with an advisory committee from Portugal’s Shrine of Fatima, consulting Sister Angela Coelho, postulator for the canonization cause of Francisco and Jacinta, and reading eyewitness accounts and Lucia’s memoirs.

Joachim de Almeida plays Father Ferreira in Fatima.

Fatima is not meant to be a documentary, said Howes. Although inspired by true events, it does not follow them exactly. For example, only four of the six apparitions reported by the children are depicted.

Fictional elements were also inserted to add historical context. In the film, Lucia’s brother is sent off to fight in the war, when in reality he was never conscripted. As a narrative device, it “heightens the emotional dynamic” within Lucia’s family and helps place them firmly in that era, said Howes.

The team behind the film is working with Picturehouse, a film distribution company whose personnel were behind The Passion of the Christ

Howes hopes the film will inspire audiences to learn more about the history and impact of the apparitions of Our Lady of Fatima. It certainly had that effect on those behind the scenes of Fatima, which was filmed entirely in Portugal. 

“It is part of the lifeblood of the Portuguese identity,” she said, “and that’s so incredible to me.”

“Everybody on set had a story to tell about Fatima,” she said. “Everybody I knew, their uncle, aunt, or grandparent was there to experience the Miracle of the Sun.”

The Shrine of Fatima, Portugal’s largest pilgrimage site, “holds a very close and special place in my heart and life,” said Howes, who travels to Portugal frequently to work with various Fatima organizations.

“The Shrine of Fatima – the square there – it’s so deeply moving. The Spirit is palpable there.”

Now, in a world not rocked by a world war but by pandemic, fear, discrimination, and division, the visionaries’ message of prayer and peace is as relevant as ever, said Howes.

“We actually have a movie here with key themes of faith, hope, and love, and this is a primary time to release an inspirational movie.”

Everybody on the set of Fatima, filmed in Portugal, had a story to tell about the miraculous events, says producer Natasha Howes.

She hopes Fatima can “meet the audience where they are and give them many opportunities to experience and see this Fatima movie in this much-needed time.”

Fatima is directed by Italian cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo (a director of photography for Game of Thrones) and stars Joaquim de Almeida (Queen of the South), Goran Višnjić (Beginners), Stephanie Gil (Terminator: Dark Fate) and Lúcia Moniz (Love, Actually).

It also includes music performed by Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli and original music by Italian composer Paolo Buonvino.

It has the endorsement of officials at the Shrine of Fatima in Portugal, who advised the filmmakers during the script-writing process. In a statement, they said Fatima shows “it is still possible for humanity to believe in divine intervention, even in our contemporary world.”

The film “conveys with dignity and integrity the actions of those who experienced the Fatima event” and “leads us to reflect that 100 years later, the light of God that the Virgin Mary shined upon Francisco, Jacinta, and Lucia still lights the way for those who commit to a life of faith in the Gospel.”