Fifteen years ago, an Italian gay writer shocked the world by setting himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square as a protest against the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality. Years later, his gesture faded into obscurity.
What is the flame he ignited and how deep are its shadows? By unraveling this tragic story, ALFREDO’S FIRE highlights the issue of religious intolerance, which burns as strong and deadly as ever at the crossroads of faith and sexuality.
On January 13, 1998 Alfredo Ormando, a 39-year old Italian writer, arrived in Rome just as the sun was rising. After his long journey from Sicily, he found his way to the empty plaza of St. Peter’s Square and, facing the entrance to the Basilica, knelt down as if to pray. He made a rapid hand gesture and suddenly was engulfed in flames. Before the Church and God, Alfredo Ormando had set himself on fire:
“I hope they’ll understand the message I want to leave: it is a form of protest against the Church that demonizes homosexuality, and at the same time all of nature, because homosexuality is a child of Mother Nature.”
In 2000, the year of the Jubilee, Pope John-Paul II exhorted his followers in the same spot where Alfredo Ormando had set himself on fire two years prior, telling them that homosexuality was “objectively disordered,” and that the Church had a “duty to distinguish between good and evil.”
Soon after, the new Pope Benedict committed himself to even harsher anti-gay teachings, initiating what some see as a gay witchhunt within the Catholic clergy, fighting same-sex partnership legislation world over, and sending the message that homosexuals have no place in God’s kingdom. Recently, Pope Benedict called homosexuality “a concept of human nature that has proven defective” and asserted that same-sex marriage is “an offence against the truth of the human person, with serious harm to justice and peace.”
Against this dark backdrop, ALFREDO’S FIRE brings to life the man in flames, illuminating tensions between faith and homosexuality; conformity and individuality; and the deadly consequences of religious intolerance.
A questionable martyr, with the light of a match Alfredo connected a history of persecution and self-annihilation to a hope for communion. The fire that consumed Alfredo is the same one that illuminated him, allowing him to be seen in a society that would rather not see. It was a fire, Alfredo believed, that would join him with a God in whose image he could never be seen while alive.
Representing both the lighting and extinguishing of a life force, fire is a perfect symbol for exploring the issue of homosexuality and religion. It is simultaneously communion with an elusive God, an expression of pent-up passion and rage, a coming out, a purification, self-annihilation, and liberation — feelings or ideals experienced by gays and lesbians everywhere. Recalling the burnings-at-the-stake of homosexuals by the Church in the Middle Ages, Alfredo’s “fire” is both a memorial and protestation. Never again.
By showing the life and death of one man at once drawn to and repelled by his deepest longings, the film highlights contemporary flashpoints, such as the conflict between faith and sexuality, sexual abuse by clergy, same-sex marriage, and gay bullying.
The fire that Alfredo ignited is emblematic of the struggle for full inclusion of gays and lesbians, but also of the universal drive to better oneself, and to be seen and accepted in spite of personal difference. By spotlighting the life and death of one man, ALFREDO’S FIRE offers a spark of hope and compassion — a flame by which to remember, witness, and come out of the dark. (Produzione)