RTÉ, ARTE & APT Pact for Doc on First Holy Week


RTÉ has partnered with ARTE and American Public Television (APT) on the co-production of Countdown to Calvary, a special documentary that is being prepped for Easter 2018.

Countdown to Calvary looks on as Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey) travels to Jerusalem to tell the story of the last six days in the life of Jesus Christ. The hour-long doc was filmed in 4K and features state-of-the-art CGI and graphics. It includes academic insights from some of the world’s leading theology experts.

APT will retain U.S. public broadcasting rights, distributing the production under the title Jesus: Countdown to Calvary. Outside of the U.S., RTÉ Programme Sales will distribute the doc, which is also being localized for Italian-speaking territories. ARTE will air versions in French and German, with additional translations to follow in Spanish and Portuguese on arte.tv.

Bonneville commented: “[Israel] is a place where history and faith come together. Whether you are a person of faith or of none, you cannot escape the fact that the last six days of this man’s life, and his death, changed the world. I’m not going to chart the religion that grew out of these events. I’m interested in the events themselves: what happened in that final week of Jesus’s life, how he died, why he died and who killed him.”

Roger Childs, senior production executive and genre head of religious programs at RTÉ, noted: “The events of the original Easter week inspired a faith that is now followed by 2.2 billion people. But they also have a more bitter legacy of persecution and conflict, which demands that we re-examine them to understand exactly what happened, why and with what consequences. Hugh Bonneville’s unique combination of international profile and lightly worn academic knowledge make him the ideal person to shed new light on the events and context of that week for mainstream global television audiences of all faiths and none. His visible passion for the subject and his determination to read between the lines of the ancient story make him a compelling and charismatic guide on this intriguing journey.”

Cynthia Fenneman, the president of APT, said: “Jesus: Countdown to Calvary brings life to the story of Jesus’s last days and strives to be accessible to all viewers, regardless of faith. RTÉ and its team of globally respected scholars have carefully curated a compelling timeline of those historic days—a timeline composed of a thoughtful matrix of established facts, traditions and well-founded suppositions by distinguished academics. APT is pleased to partner in our first co-production with RTÉ, along with ARTE, to present this riveting exploration of the events, characters and culture clash of the first Holy Week. The world-renowned experts, dramatizations, CGI, historical evidence, scholarly literature and the passionate involvement of Hugh Bonneville and his insightful presentation in Jerusalem build the story of this extraordinary week in first century AD—one that is still central today.”

Madeleine Avramoussis, coordinator of European co-productions at ARTE, added: “We are very happy to have been able to co-produce this first high-end documentary within the framework of our co-production agreement with RTÉ. Combining Hugh Bonneville’s charismatic personality and his erudition on such an essential topic as the last days of Jesus, wrapped into a thriller, will provide our European audience with the sort of quality program that we very much look forward to showing.”