It is not often that a Hollywood insider decides to switch gears and make a movie about the Eucharist.
But that is exactly what is happening with director Angelo Libutti and his movie The New Manna, a live-action feature film about Eucharistic miracles and the Real Presence of Christ within the Eucharist.
Besides a team of Hollywood artists who are working on this movie, Libutti also has the mother of Blessed Carlo Acutis, Antonia Acutis, supporting and promoting his project.
An Animator’s Journey to Jesus
Libutti grew up in Italy within a devout Catholic family. In fact, his godfather was a personal assistant to St. Padre Pio. Though his parents dreamed their son would become a lawyer or doctor, Libutti loved to draw.
“I started working for Disney Italy when I was 16,” said Libutti. “I then went to Sheridan College in Toronto, often called the ‘Harvard University’ of animation.”
After his studies, Libutti was able to work in the best animation studios on the planet, including Disney, Pixar and Marvel. He has worked on 35 feature films and 17 television shows. Some of the movies Libutti has worked on are: The Lion King (the live-action movie of 2019), Spider-Man, Avengers, Kung Fu Panda and Cars 3. He was a part of Oscar-winning teams for multiple movies.
Though Libutti never left the practice of his Catholic faith, there were years when his personal devotion became lukewarm at best.
“When my cousin, who was like a sister to me, passed away from cancer in 2006, it was a wake-up call,” said Libutti. “That day, I made the decision to never [again] be distant from God. And I went every Sunday to Mass and learned about daily Holy Hours of adoration. But I didn’t know anything of my faith. So I started to watch videos on YouTube on the Catholic faith.”
As Libutti began to take his faith more seriously, he also began to see how hard it was to stand up for his beliefs at work.
“I remember one day, when I was working on The Lion King, I said something against abortion. I was immediately surrounded by co-workers who began yelling and attacking me,” he said. “And at that time my zeal for God was up to the roof, so I doubled down, as any good Italian would do if someone attacked his own father.”
When COVID hit and Catholic churches were shuttered, Libutti could not believe it.
“It thought it was absurd. Christ died to provide us the Eucharist. We need it like medicine. If we don’t take the Eucharist, there is no progress in the spiritual life,” said Libutti.
Libutti began to look online for more information about the Eucharist when he came across the videos of Ray Grijalba, a Catholic writer and interviewer, who, along with his wife, Ann Marie, created a YouTube site called The Joy of the Faith. One video entitled “Eucharistic Miracles Scientific Evidence” caught Libutti’s eye.
“Ray had posted interviews with scientists about Eucharistic miracles. They were really well done, especially because Ray is an engineer and has a scientific mindset. So I called him,” recalled Libutti.
Libutti immediately proposed to Grijalba that they make a movie about Eucharistic miracles. Though Grijalba thought it was a joke at first, he soon realized that Libutti was dead serious.
A Scientific Investigation of Eucharistic Miracles
Grijalba is an engineer from Kentucky who is currently working with Lockheed Martin. Four years ago, he interviewed Dr. Franco Serafini, an Italian cardiologist, who wrote a book on Eucharistic miracles.
“Angelo saw my video and proposed we make a movie with live action and CGI [computer graphic imagery] about Eucharistic miracles,” said Grijalba. “For The New Manna, we have interviewed five medical doctors and a chemist. We are hoping to interview a physicist and another medical doctor.”
“Bringing these miracles to life — on the screen — is priceless. We think that this is one of the biggest things to happen to the Church. We are using tools from the secular world, like CGI, to evangelize,” he said.
Because of Grijalba’s background in science, he tries to ask every scientist questions that hard-core atheists would ask.
“We are making this movie for skeptics and nonbelievers. We are dedicated to presenting this in the most clear and authentic way,” said Grijalba.
Serving God Through Acting
Robert Renzi is the actor who will be playing Jesus in The New Manna. He is the second of 12 children.
“I had a great childhood in Northern Virginia. In my 20s, I let the secular world get the best of me and became lukewarm. A family emergency caused me to have a reversion to the faith in my early 30s,” said Renzi.
He moved to Los Angeles in 2016 in order to find work as an actor. Though Renzi found small parts, nothing stable came his way. Years passed, and, one day, he decided to surrender to faith after saying the Rosary.
“I said, ‘Blessed Mother, I give you my heart; place it at the foot of your Son, so he may do with it that which pleases him the most … but, my Mother, if he wills it and in his mercy, if he can allow me to tell just one great story,” he said.
Soon after, Renzi went to a new parish and bumped into Libutti, someone he knew from the past.
Libutti said, “Brother, I’m making a movie.”
At first, Libutti thought that Renzi could portray a Roman soldier.
“We had a big name in mind for Jesus, but it did not work out. Finally, I asked Antonia Acutis to look at the photographs of a few actors, and she said Robert was the one who most reminded her of Jesus,” said Libutti.
What Makes The New Manna Different
This film will explain the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist and Eucharistic miracles using a mixture of live action, 3D animation and interviews. Viewers will be able to see what happens during these miracles at the microscopic level.
The team has filmed every Bible passage that has to do with the Eucharist. The New Manna will be the first movie in history to show the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, in live action and in an authentic Catholic manner.
“Other movies invented new wordings or edited out some passages or didn’t keep the sequential order,” said Libutti.
This movie will feature interviews on theology with theologian Scott Hahn, Cardinal Francis Arinze, Marian Father Donald Calloway, Lila Rose, Antonia Acutis and Father Chad Ripperger, among others. It will also feature interviews with scientists on Eucharistic miracles who can explain the science behind them. All the miracles, from around the world, show that bread has been transformed into heart tissue.
One of the reasons why Antonia Acutis has decided to promote this movie is because it is an extension of the website created by her son, Blessed Carlo Acutis.
Though The New Manna is 90% finished, its producers are still looking for donors to give the final $1 million needed to complete the movie. The goal is to release the movie in select theaters YouTube and a streaming app called “The New Manna.” The main objective is to finish the movie in time for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis in July 2024.
As Antonia Acutis said while promoting this movie, “This film can reach the hearts of people and can touch young people. To help this project is really to help millions of souls to convert, and this film is really well done.”