Tuesday, September 1, 2015

All Roads Lead to Basilicata.. A Conversation with Director Antonello Faretta

Antonello Faretta's Montedoro is the story of Pia Marie Mann whose journey to find her birth mother led her to Craco, a deserted town in the heart of Basilicata. 

Born in Potenza in 1973, Faretta has been making films for years, but he first came under our radar in January during the Rome screening of his documentary, Nine Poems in Basilicata. A couple months later, Montedoro made its North American premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival and this filmmaker from Basilicata, along with his partner Adriana Bruno and their protagonist Pia Mann, were thrust into the spotlight, forever changing their lives.

With Montedoro, Faretta captures the immortality of a land that has been raped and pillaged through time by invaders and Mother Nature alike but continues to stand steadfast in all its splendor and eternal natural beauty. Its inhabitants are natural-born warriors whose rich history can be seen in the contours, shadows and expressions of their faces. Their eyes gaze through your soul, and their guarded, instinctive nature enables them to spot the integrity of your character right away. This message is communicated loud and clear in Montedoro with each tortured, introverted, suspicious character we meet. Pia brings an innocence to the landscape, a breath of fresh air with her curiosity, her cell phone and above all, the ambitious mission to find her mother.

Faretta places a completely modern but troubled character and plot in a poetic fantasy world that doesn’t seem possible to exist today. In doing so, the purity of the land is emphasized- a land that existed in another time before it was polluted and its resources extracted by the modern man. Faretta's style of storytelling is reminiscent of the mid 1960s films like Michelangelo Antonioni's Blowup, Pier Paolo Pasolini'sThe Gospel According to Saint Matthew (also shot in Basilicata) and Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket. Each filmmaker spoke of tortured souls being the products of their dysfunctional environments. While Faretta’s choice to show the region as he did could be a thorn in the side for those of us trying to promote the modern aspects of Italy whether it be contemporary cinema, technology or culture.. the old-world feel of Italy still appeals to outsiders.

Pier Paolo Pasolini's "The Gospel According to Saint Matthew"
That aspect, in my opinion, is why Sorrentino’s Great Beauty took home an Oscar and Cristina Comencini’s Don’t tell didn’t. Foreigners, Americans in particular, would rather see the Colosseum, the Mouth of Truth and the Parco dei Acquedotti than a contemporary family dealing with a dark secret. That quality will definitely work in Faretta’s favor in his search for international acceptance. For those of us that work to dispel antiquated southern stereotypes like the New York Times editorial in which Northern journalist, Beppe Severgnini described a train in Calabria as a “locomotive coughing along”, we can only hope that international audiences will empathize with Mann’s modern story and appreciate Faretta’s poetic, creative way of telling it rather than believing that Basilicata still operates that way.  The truth is that we need young directors to mirror the reality of their region for their generation, and to show us the young, modern bustling communities filled with life and hope. But at the same time, we also need a director like Faretta to enchant us with the magnificence of Lucania’s vast, majestic landscapes and crucified souls.

Putting aside the film critic in me- the human story, the story of Pia Marie Mann is the real protagonist in this film. Her ambition to find the land of her origins and her birth mother coupled with Faretta’s love and passion for his homeland make up what he describes as “a very personal, intimate film”. When I initially saw the way in which Basilicata was presented, I felt a little confused because in my experiences of traveling through the region, I had never seen anything as "old country" as this. However, after spending about 20 minutes with Mann’s sincerity and sweetness, immersed in Faretta’s spellbinding cinematography and sumptuous colors, I fell in love with this film and was completely drawn into its surreal world.

The first moments of the film as we experience the train ride to the south of Italy brought tears to my eyes as I recalled my first train ride to Basilicata in 2002 when I met my great grandmother’s family for the first time. There’s a uniqueness about the sunlight south of Lazio and Campania that changes and becomes the light of Lucania. I don’t know how he did it, but Faretta nailed that particular atmospheric light.

I was very fortunate to have had the unique experience of watching this film and messaging Faretta at the same time as I was questioning his decisions and style. The work of Pier Paolo Pasolini kept coming to mind, especially The Hawks and the Sparrows. There seemed to be a lot of symbolism and I wondered what it all meant. He assured me that it would all come together for me in the end, which it did. Afterwards, I put some questions together for him and he patiently answered all of them. 

(The answers are followed by a translation for our Italian readers.)
Tell me about this world you've created in Montedoro. It’s almost reminiscent of the Old Wild West in America.. eerie and surreal.
The film was shot in and around Craco, which is located near Matera. It’s literally a ghost town today. It was completely abandoned in 1963 following a large landslide. The magic and mystery are inherent in this place that for me has become a place for the soul. The fact that the lead actress was born in the area adds to the charm and mystery of the landscape. The film shows the valleys of Calanchi di Aliano as well as the most desolate and anonymous area of Matera where there are no tourists. I tried to make a film that followed the flow of consciousness and emotion of this woman and this place. I wanted to find an abstract way to delve deeper into the truth of Pia and this land.

Il film è girato quasi interamente a Craco, vicino Matera, che è un “paese fantasma” oggi completamente abbandonato dal 1963 in seguito ad una grande frana. La magia e il mistero sono insiti in questo luogo che per me è diventato negli anni un luogo dell’anima. Al fascino di questo luogo si è aggiunto nel tempo l’incontro con la protagonista del film Pia Marie Mann, nata proprio a Craco e poi cresciuta negli Stati Uniti. Anche il mondo interiore di Pia è misterioso come la vita di ogni persona. Nel film poi ci sono incursioni nei Calanchi di Aliano e a Matera, nella parte più “brutta” e anonima della città, quella non turistica. Ho cercato di fare un film che seguisse il flusso di coscienza e di emozione di questa donna e di questo luogo, cercando astrazione, un modo per andare più a fondo nella verità di questo luogo e nella vita di Pia.

I mentioned that at times, I felt like I was watching a Pasolini film. Has he been an influence on your career as a filmmaker?
Pasolini is unique, and can’t be pulled off by others. I know his work through his books, films and paintings. He was and still is a key figure for the whole Italian culture. The lack of his presence is strongly felt, especially today in these times of ignorance that we are living. But I wasn’t influenced by Pasolini while preparing Montedoro. I really wasn’t influenced by anyone. It was basically my own with small gifts to some of my favorite directors- Tarkovsky, Parajanov and Kiarostami. More than gifts, I call them signs of admiration. Montedoro is a very personal work1 and I was directly involved in all aspects of making the film. Films for me should resemble the people who make them, and I must say that Montedoro is a lot like me, my character and my personality.

Pasolini è unico, non si può accostare ad altri… conosco la sua opera attraverso i suoi libri e i suoi film, i suoi quadri… La sua è stata ed è una figura fondamentale per tutta la cultura italiana - se ne sente fortemente la sua mancanza soprattutto oggi in questi tempi di ignoranza che stiamo vivendo - ma non pensavo sinceramente a Pasolini mentre preparavo Montedoro e non pensavo a nessuno. È stato un lavoro su me stesso, sulla mia lingua fondamentalmente con piccoli omaggi ad alcuni tra i miei registi preferiti, Tarkovsky, Parajanov e Kiarostami, il primo, quello prima del digitale. Più che omaggi, li definirei segni di ammirazione. Montedoro è un lavoro molto personale, a contatto diretto con i materiali costituenti il film. I film per quanto mi riguarda devono somigliare alle persone che li realizzano e devo dire che Montedoro somiglia molto a me, al mio carattere, alla mia personalità.
A very poignant moment of the film is near the beginning when Pia is in the car with the taxi driver and he's talking about his land.
I am very fond of that scene. It represents the connection I have to my land and to the violence thrust upon it by the waste of the modern world. My region, Basilicata is a beautiful land that is facing energy issues in relation to the environment. In Basilicata, we extract petroleum, a lot of it and the scene in the taxi for me is an act of love for my land and the beauty of nature against the ruins of contemporary life.

Sono molto affezionato a quella scena. Rappresenta il legame con la mia terra e il rifuto di una modernità “violenta” che è contro il territorio stesso, la mia regione, la Basilicata.. è una bellissima terra ma anche una terra che sta affrontando la questione energetica in relazione all’ambiente. In Basilicata, si estrae petrolio, tanto petrolio e la scena del taxi per me è un atto di amore verso la mia terra, la natura.. la bellezza della natura contro le rovine della contemporaneità.
I've read news reports about the petroleum issue in Basilicata. What are the dangers and what is your perspective as a native?
I do not know exactly how things are going and what is actually true. What I know is what comes out in the newspapers. There should be an open forum that would include the executives of mining companies, representatives of environmental organizations, the region's president and the citizens. I know that it sounds like a pure utopia but I like utopias much more than reality- the current one in particular. It horrifies me. I can only say that I am opposed to the extraction of oil in general. As the taxi driver in the film said, "The farmers once caressed the earth with their hoes. Now they pull the blood, which is black in color." Today, what is left? I believe the oil in Basilicata has brought no development and it will not bring any in the future. What I can tell you is that I personally think there are a lot more creative ways to economize with alternative energy. In Basilicata, we have all the elements to accomplish this: water, air, sea, river and wind. 

Non so bene come stiano le cose e come me molti credo, quanto so è quello che esce sui giornali. Bisognerebbe mettere ad un tavolo pubblico i dirigenti delle compagnie di estrazione, i rappresentanti delle organizzazioni ambientaliste, il presidente della Regione e i cittadini… pura utopia lo so ma a me piacciono le utopie molto di più della realtà che spesso - quella attuale in particolare - mi fa orrore. Posso solo dirti che sono contrario alle estrazioni di petrolio in generale, come dice il tassista nel film ad un certo punto quando sta conducendo Porziella a Montedoro: “…qui un tempo i contadini accarezzavano la terra con le loro zappe, adesso ci tirano il sangue, che è nero di colore…”. Un tempo c’era una cultura qui, quella della terra, quella contadina (il film si ispira a Scotellaro e a lui dedicato) c’erano dei valori. Oggi cosa ci resta? Io credo che il petrolio in Basilicata non abbia portato alcuno sviluppo e non ne porterà. Quello che posso dirti è che personalmente credo molto di più in formule innovative per fare economia con le energie alterative, in Basilicata abbiamo tutto, acqua, aria, mare, fiume, vento.
There are several scenes with animals.. the goat, the horse, the sheep and the bird with the broken foot. What is the significance of the animals? 
The film contains many symbols and among them there are different animals. They all have different meanings and I prefer to have those that watch the movie give their own meaning to the symbolism. For me, each symbol has one meaning but it’s interesting to see the meaning other people give to these symbols. The film relies heavily on the active participation of the viewer.

Il film contiene molti simboli e tra questi ci sono diversi animali. Hanno significati diversi, tutti, e trovo giusto che sia chi guarda il film a riempire di significato questi simboli. Per me ne hanno uno ma è interessante capire cosa ci vede la gente, che significato loro danno a questi simboli. Il film conta molto sulla partecipazione attiva di chi lo guarda.
Explain to me your belief that film follows life but never viceversa.
Life is an art superior to cinema. So, the actors are not actors. They are human. It’s how we all are. You have to clear the "burden" of the camera to be part of the living. I lived the story of Pia and Craco for many years. I spent so much time in Craco because I wanted to know the people, so they would tell me their story. The films that interest me the most are those that are inspired by true stories, the truth and that they become tools to make a path with those who are represented in the film itself. Movies are a tool to reach a deeper truth, and to go beyond the surface of things.

La vita e’ un’arte superiore al cinema. Cosi' gli attori non sono piu attori ma esseri umani. Come siamo tutti noi. Bisogna far scomparire il “peso” della macchina da presa essere parte di un “vissuto”. Ho vissuto Pia e Craco per molti anni. Ho vissuto quasi anni Craco a conoscere la gente farmi raccontare la loro storia. I film che mi interessano di più sono quelli che seguono storie vere, la verità e che diventano strumenti per fare un percorso con chi è rappresentato nel film stesso e con la troupe stessa. I film sono strumento per poter raggiungere una verità più profonda, per andare a fondo, oltre la superficie delle cose.

Tell me also about your passion for photography. You have a natural talent for capturing a moment in time, especially in your photo, Ulivo e grano.
It was one of my first childhood passions. My father had some cameras in the house and a super-8 camera. It was thanks to him that I discovered the beauty of looking through a lens, a viewfinder. Slowly photography has become for me a way of looking at the world and to take note of the world, I don’t do photographs for exhibitions, but for me. My photographs are like travel notes.
È una delle mie prime passioni infantili. Mio padre aveva alcune macchine fotografiche in casa e una cinepresa super-8. È stato grazie a lui che ho scoperto la bellezza di guardare attraverso una lente, un mirino. Piano piano la fotografia è diventata per me un modo di guardare il mondo e di prendere nota del mondo, non faccio fotografie per mostre ma per me, le mie fotografie sono come appunti di viaggio.

Montedoro will be shown at the St. Louis International Film Festival on the following dates: Thursday, November 12 at 2:15pm & Sunday, November 15 at 9:30pm at Plaza Frontenac CinemaClick here to purchase tickets.

 Check out the trailer...

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