“Faith, deep faith in God,” Ugo Petrillo explained about the reasoning for his ﬁrst ﬁlm, “Quo Vadis Templar?” the story of pilgrims and the knights who protected them.
He was interviewed via Zoom from his Tuscan home, 17 kilometers from Castelﬁ orentino, where he was born. He knows the distance because he’s a contemplative pilgrim himself, walking at least 20 kilometers a day, sometimes popping into a rural church when called to do so. He’s not a regular churchgoer but a deep believer, based on his Roman Catholic upbringing. “Sometimes I relate to Him, and ﬁ nd Him in my mind, telling me to ‘Go, go, go.’ ”
And hence this journey of ﬁve years from forming his idea to creating the documentary. Right now, he has only the trailer.
The trailer of “Quo Vadis Templar?” is planned to be presented in October at the Consulate General of Italy in Center City Philadelphia. It can also be seen online.
Petrillo, who turns 68 in October, moved to Philadelphia when he was 11, when his father was transferred for work. He didn’t know a word of English. Luckily, cousins of the same age and other family members introduced to the language and American culture. His brother, Steve, still lives in Philadelphia.
After graduating from Father Judge High School in Philadelphia, he earned a bachelor’s degree in international studies from the University of Miami in Florida, which also included studying Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic.
All those skills led him to a job in counter-intelligence (yes, he was a spy) for the American Defense Intelligence Agency, operating throughout the Mediterranean through its office in Sicily. After the base closed in 1990, he transferred to Aviano, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. To stay near his family, he switched careers to working as a freelance international commercial consultant and then a consultant for Progetto Trinacria, marketing Sicilian products internationally. Since 2016, he has worked for Tuscan Treasures Tours, which provides upscale, small-group tours along the roads less traveled in Tuscany.
One tour it offers is titled “Quo Vadis Templare? Along the Via Francigena in Tuscany,” which his company plans to offer 11 times in 2024. For details, email info@ TuscanTreasuresTours.US.
Starting before 1000, the Via Francigena was a path for pilgrims from Canterbury, England, through France and Italy to Rome. Some pilgrims devoted even more effort journeying to Jerusalem. The Via Francigena covers 212 kilometers in Tuscany, and over the course of a year, Petrillo covered the entire distance.
His work as a spy introduced him to the Ordu Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymitani – Priorato d’Italia. The Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem aims “to serve peace, to help the oppressed, to assist our Brothers and Sisters in harm’s way, to promote education, and to promote and propagate those values that represent the best of the Christian, humanistic, and chivalrous traditions.”
“Quo Vadis Templar?” tells of a time when the pious needed help, and the film is both a literal journey, shot entirely in Tuscany, but also a mental one of searching for self. He gave the English translation as “Where Are You Going, [Knight of] Templar?”
After coming up with the idea, Petrillo was connected by a friend to Alberto Cavallini, who polished the script and directed it. Many performers are historical re-enactors. Petrillo – whose only prior acting experience was as an extra in 1977’s “Black Sunday” – has two roles. One is un Cavaliere Templare, and the other is as friar St. Thomas, torn between his faith and his growing feelings for a pilgrim named Reny Siddu. In the trailer, filmed at the end of 2022 and edited to run nearly seven minutes, the journey of the pilgrims and the knights is framed by a modern dream.
For the trailer, Petrillo offered special thanks to director Alberto Cavallini and his staff; Accademia Templare Valdarno – Ordu Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymilitani OSMTH – *Grand Prior of Italy; Comenda TENET Valdarno, Ordu Supremus Militaris Templi Hierosolymilitani OSMTH – Grand Prior of Italy; Compagnia del Lupo Rosso, Florence; Reny Siddu and Oriana Cordero (pilgrims); the City of Montaione, Italy; the City of Certaldo, Italy; and Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo a Passignano in Tavernelle in Val di Pesa, Italy.
He ﬁnanced the trailer himself, spending more than $6,000. The docuﬁlm – planned to be shot at every Templar location that Petrillo visited from Barga-Garfagnana in Lucca to Rocchette di Fazio in Grosseto – is budgeted at 10 times that. He knows it is worth it. “In today’s crazy world ‘Quo Vadis Templar?’ attempts to light a candle of hope, love and faith.”
“These days, walking is nice and easy, with stop signs and trafﬁc lights” he said, adding that he hopes his documentary helps develop faith. “But imagine walking in those days, not knowing where you were going. Sometimes you fall into despair searching for yourself, and you lean down to the tabernacle and say ‘Lord, give me faith.’ ”