Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Conversation with Director Giovanni Totaro about Palermo's Annual Summer Pilgrimage



It's not often that a filmmaker's first feature scores a coveted spot in the lineup of the Venice Film Festival but such was the case with Palermo-born director Giovanni Totaro. He presented his first feature-length film, a documentary, last September at he 74th Venice International Film FestivalHappy Winter was in the Official Selection of the festival but not in competition.

Every summer on Palermo's famed Mondello beach, over one thousand wooden huts are constructed as a summer tradition for local beachgoers. For these southerners who typically love the sea, they spend three months in paradise watching the sun rise and set over the majestic Mediterranean. During the summer, the beaches are taken over by families, sun-bathers and even politicians canvasing for votes. However, in the last few years, there has been a decrease in the huts being built due to an economic crisis and many Sicilians are afraid of losing their cherished summer get-a-way. Giovanni Totaro grew up in this culture and documented the rise and fall of the phenomenon in his film. 

When I first read about Happy Winter premiering in Venice, I was fascinated not only by  this summer tradition that I had never heard of, but also by the fact that this was the young filmmakers first feature and it premiered at such an iconic festival. So I contacted him and asked him all about his experience making the film. That was in September. I am publishing our interview now because it's recently been announced that the film will be shown by Doc Lounge, an organization which specializes in events, outreach and distribution of international documentaries. 

Totaro was gracious, patient and thorough in answering my many questions about the film. I learned so much about this tradition and how important it is to the people of Palermo. Rather than interpret his answers, here is our interview in full. It was originally done in Italian, so both versions are included. 

Tell me how you arrived at his point in your career, to have your first feature-length film premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
During the three years I spent at Centro Sperimentale, I produced documentaries such as Traiettoria ideale (The Ideal Trajectory) and What I do to Make You Love Me, the second directed by Nunzio Gringeri. On Happy Winter, I was able to involve many of my colleagues from school: camera operator Nunzio Ghingeri, sound engineer Adriano Alampi, assistant editor Riccardo Cannella, production manager Giovanni Rosa, and the DOP (Director of Photography) Paolo Ferrari who was my teacher at Centro Sperimentale as well as the editor Andrea Maguolo whose work I appreciate.

Raccontami come sei arrivato a questo momento nella la tua carriera... con il tuo primo lungometraggio nella programma della biennale di Venezia.
Questo è il mio lungometraggio d’esordio, durante i tre anni di Centro Sperimentale ho realizzato dei documentari come la Traiettoria ideale e What I’ve to do to make you love me, il secondo in co regia con Nunzio Gringeri. Su Happy Winter sono riuscito a coinvolgere molti dei miei colleghi di scuola: operatore Nunzio Ghingeri, fonico di presa diretta Adriano Alampi, l' assistente al montaggio Riccardo Cannella, direttore di produzione Giovanni Rosa, e scegliere il dop Paolo Ferrari che è stato mio docente al Centro e il montatore Andrea Maguolo di cui apprezzo i lavori.

What compelled you to tell this story?
In 2014, these cabins on the sea risked being dismantled in order to make room for commercial boats. The cabins, throughout the years, in good times and in bad, were always there as a way to enjoy the sea. They became a part of our identity. But increasingly, these cabins are being replaced with pre-packaged models that don't take into account the people's needs. So, I decided to observe and live this kind of microcosm to better understand the bond that beachgoers developed with these sea cabins. 

Cosa ti ha costretto a raccontare questa storia?
Nel 2014 le cabine mare di Mondello rischiavano di essere smontate per lasciare il posto ai lidi attrezzati. Nel bene e nel male le cabine rappresentano un modo unico di fruire il mare e sono parte della nostra identità che sempre più spesso viene rimpiazzata da modelli preconfezionati che non tengono conto delle persone. Così ho deciso di ascoltare e vivere questo microcosmo per approfondire il legame che i bagnanti hanno sviluppato con le cabine mare. 


The press image pictured above doesn't offer a great angle to really understand the concept of a "sea cabin" so I researched and found this photo, which was published on Mondello.it's website in an article about the film.


I've read about this annual pilgrimage, but I'd like to hear from you, a native of Palermo,  about this phenomenon that takes place every year on the beaches of Mondello.
The Gulf of Mondello is the favorite seaside resort in Palermo and the most famous Sicilian beach in the world. On this coast for more than a century, every year there are mounted and dismantled sea cabins for beachgoers. These small huts transform the coastline into a linear village as they are built close to the sea and divided into a succession of squares called "courtyards"... a sort of tourist village self-managed by the owners of the cabin who are referred to as "Capi-Capanna" (the literal translation is cabin boss) that through the leases obtain the permanent possession of the cabin. When the Capi-Capanna passes away, the cabin is inherited by the children together with the obligation to pay the annual rent for the three summer months. Over the last few years the number of huts has decreased from 2,500 to 900,and in the coming years will continue to decline to be replaced by fully equipped beaches. This change frightens the tenants, who have developed a sense of ownership for the cabins, comparable to that established with their own home. For them to rent the hut is no longer a habit but a tradition, which translates and preserves a way of living by the sea and in general, a southern way of life. The beach is located seven kilometers from Palermo. This proximity to the city center makes the agglomeration of cabins a sort of suburb added to the city. It's a temporary district, set up from June 15 to September 15, where the distinction between private and public space is as clear as in the rest of the city. Here, the bathers move their entire arsenal of life in June to enjoy their corner of paradise enclosed in four wooden walls from morning to night. The cabin is considered a second or third house that is set up as a mini-apartment equipped with every comfort.

Ho letto su questo pellegrinaggio annuale .. ma dalle tue parole, vorrei sapere questo fenomeno che si svolge ogni anno sulle spiagge di Palermo.
Il golfo di Mondello è la località balneare preferita dai palermitani e la spiaggia siciliana più famosa nel mondo. Su questo litorale da più di un secolo, ogni anno vengono montate e smontate delle cabine mare per i bagnanti. Queste piccole costruzioni chiamate capanne trasformano la costa in un villaggio lineare, costruito a ridosso del mare suddiviso in una successione di piazze dette “cortili”.  
Una sorta di villaggio turistico autogestito dai titolari della cabina i “Capi-Capanna” che attraverso i contratti d’affitto ottengono il possesso perpetuo della cabina. Alla morte dei Capi-Capanna la cabina è ereditata dai figli insieme all’obbligo di versare il canone annuo d’affitto per i tre mesi estivi. Nel corso degli ultimi anni il numero delle capanne è diminuito passando da 2.500 a 900, nei prossimi anni continueranno a diminuire per essere sostituite da spiagge attrezzate. Questo cambiamento spaventa gli affittuari, che hanno sviluppato con la capanna un rapporto di possesso, paragonabile a quello instaurato con la propria abitazione. Per loro prendere in affitto la capanna non è più un’abitudine bensì una tradizione, che traduce e conserva un modo di vivere il mare e in generale lo spazio profondamente meridionale. La spiaggia si trova a sette chilometri da Palermo, questa vicinanza al centro urbano rende l’agglomerato di cabine una sorta di sobborgo aggiunto alla città. Un quartiere temporaneo, allestito dal 15 giugno al 15 settembre dove la distinzione tra spazio privato e pubblico è netta come nel resto della città. Qui i bagnanti traslocano a giugno l’intero proprio arsenale di vita, per godersi dal mattino fino a notte, il loro angolo di paradiso racchiuso tra quattro pareti di legno. La cabina è considerata al pari di una seconda o terza casa che viene allestita come un mini-appartamento attrezzato di ogni confort.

Tell me about the people you've met during this movie.
During the filming and in the research phases when I selected the possible stars of the film, I met many cabin renters. When I defined the cast, I deepened the connection with my subjects, which I loved and talked honestly establishing a relationship of trust with each of them, which was essential for the success of the film.

Dimmi delle persone che hai conosciuto durante la realizzazione di questo film.
Durante la realizzazione e nelle fasi di ricerca ho selezionato i possibili protagonisti del film e conosciuto molti affittuari delle cabine, quando ho definito il cast ho approfondito i miei soggetti, che ho amato e raccontato in modo onesto stabilendo un rapporto di fiducia con ognuno di loro essenziale per la riuscita del film.

From your experience making the film, why you think people continue this tradition when they cannot afford to do so?
Some of them can continue to afford it. Others do not want to downsize and give up a comfortable vacation, so they're able to maintain it on a low-cost budget. Let's say they give it up. Then that means the possibility of no longer having any summer vacation. It's tough to accept when it's your only luxury. 

Secondo te, perché la gente continua questa tradizione quando non può permettersi di farlo?
Alcuni di loro possono continuare a permetterselo altri non vogliono ridimensionarsi e rinunciare a una vacanza di sicura riuscita a un budget low-cost. Diciamo che se rinunciano a questa possibilità significa non fare più nessuna vacanza d’estate, è dura da accettare quando rappresenta il tuo unico lusso.

What did you learn about the human spirit during this movie?
I learned that if people sense a sincere enthusiasm, they will follow you anywhere no matter how crazy things may seem.

Cosa hai imparato sugli esseri umani durante la realizzazione di questo film?
Ho imparato che se percepiscono un entusiasmo vero e sei sincero ti seguono anche in cose pazze.

Happy Winter will be screened through February by Doc Lounge. Click here for the schedule.

- Jeannine Guilyard

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Berlin International Film Festival's 12th Annual Culinary Cinema Program & a Blast from Festivals Past



This week, the Berlin International Film Festival announced the lineup of its 12th Culinary Cinema program. Each year, there is a theme and this year, organizers chose the motto “Life Is Delicate”. The lineup consists of nine documentaries and one fictional film, all with the focus on the relationship between food, culture, and politics. “When it comes to cultural and political matters, sensitive decisions have to be made all the time. It’s like in a kitchen, where it’s also tricky to make, at the very least, something edible and, at the very best, something delicate,” Festival Director Dieter Kosslick says in explaining the motto.

The 2018 lineup includes one Italian film. Jacopo Quadri's documentary Lorello e Brunello is the story twin brothers whose lives revolve around taking care of their farm. Set in Pianetti di Sovana, located in the province of Grosseto in Tuscany, Quadri explores the endless efforts in keeping up with the global economic market's dropping prices while laboring in the fields. The film is divided into four chapters, which follow the seasons of the year and the new challenge each season presents.



While making the film, Quadri lived on the farm and documented every move the brothers made. "I wanted to live with them to understand... to understand the rules of the countryside, of farming, of planting, of harvesting. How do they deal with the three hours they spend every day milking the sheep in an uproar of udders and dung? What do they think about when they spend the night on a tractor in a field in the dark, alone in the dust?"


Now, let's rewind to 2014 and the 64th Berlin International Film Festival's Culinary Cinema selection, I maccheroni by Raffaele Andreassi. Since writing about this film back in 2014 when it was shown in Berlin, new information has emerged as well as a rare clip.


Restored by the Cineteca di Bologna, I Maccheroni is a 12-minute short film made in 1959 by journalist-turned-filmmaker Raffaele Andreassi. Described as a "journey into the memory of Italy in the late fifties", the film is set in the Pugliese town of Gargano and tells the heartbreaking story of a poverty-stricken family that on one Sunday, could not afford the traditional Sunday plate of macaroni and sauce. The film centers on a young boy who saved a little tomato sauce in a jar so that he could smear it on his face, convincing playmates that he had Sunday sauce with his family. 





According to an article written by Fulvio Baglivi for Cineteca Bologna, "Raffaele Andreassi was a reporter, poet, painter, photographer, and mostly film­maker. Cinema was his work, the field in which he was involved for fifty years trying to express his passions and his vision of the world while following production and food issues. His body of work is complex and multifaceted: Andreassi directed art docu­mentaries, short films that revolved around a news story to document the life of modern man, investigations, TV reports, and sport stories. There are only three feature length movies in his filmography: a movie on pros­titution in Rome, which was supposed to be titled L'amore povero but was destroyed by the production house and distributed under the cheap title I piaceri proibiti; Flashback is the story of a German soldier trying to flee from Italy during World War II, present­ed at Cannes in 1969 but ignored by 'of­ficial' Italian cinema; I lupi dentro, a long tale on naïve painting in the lowlands of the Po River Valley, which follows in the foot­steps of Antonio Ligabue pittore, brushed aside and basically forgotten, considered uninteresting and irrelevant.

Although Andreassi's work covers a wide range of subjects, eras, and places, his filmography should be considered d'auteur, characterized more by its rigor and the transparence of images and sounds rather than the director's presence (quiet and discreet). While filming children working in the quarries of Puglia (Bambini), or ani­mals waiting to be slaughtered (Gli anima­li), Andreassi does not impose a style or a vision; he does not explain or illustrate (he was one of the first to eliminate voiceovers) but uses a technical evaluation to amplify the emotions and pain behind the images. He is a multifaceted figure, challenged by each of his projects, able to work beyond the boundaries between fiction, documen­tary, cinema, and television."

There is still not much information available about I Maccheroni. But the good news is that the film is in the possession of Cineteca Bologna and they organize public screenings from time to time, so you may have the opportunity to see the complete film. In the meantime, check out this fascinating clip. There is no dialogue but the child's expressions say everything. What a wonderful collaboration between Andreassi and this young actor.



The 12th Culinary Cinema program will be held from February 18 to 23, 2018. Click here for details. 

Additional Italian films to be shown at the 68th Berlin International Festival are as follows:

BOYS CRY by Damiano D'Innocenzo, Fabio D'Innocenzo: Panorama
DAUGHTER OF MINE by Laura Bispuri: Competition
THE HAPPY PRINCE by Rupert Everett: Berlinale Special
LAND by Babak Jalali: Panorama
LOBSTER DINNER by Gregorio Franchetti: Short films in Generation Kplus
LORELLO AND BRUNELLO by Jacopo Quadri: Culinary Cinema

The remaining films will be announced on February 6, 2018.

- Jeannine Guilyard

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Nobel Laureate Dario Fo Reaches a New Generation Through Filmmaker Michele Diomà


I remember reading a beautiful article by the New York Times in October of 2016 when playwright Dario Fo passed away. It was one of the most comprehensive obituaries I had ever read and it sparked my curiosity about Fo's life and what inspired him to write such moving, controversial works.

The Times article stated that Dario Fo "was best known for two works: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970), a play based on the case of an Italian railroad worker who was either thrown or fell from the upper story of a Milan police station while being questioned on suspicion of terrorism; and his one-man show Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery), written in 1969 and frequently revised and updated in the decades that followed, taking wild comic aim at politics and especially religion. After a 1977 version of Mistero Buffo was broadcast in Italy, the Vatican denounced it as 'the most blasphemous show in the history of television.' The church’s attitude toward Mr. Fo had not mellowed a generation later, when he was awarded the Nobel. 'Giving the prize to someone who is also the author of questionable works is beyond imagination,' the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said."

Dario Fo was born in 1926 in Sangiano, a comune in the region Lombardy, located about 40 miles from Milan. He joined the fascist army of Mussolini's Repubblica Sociale Italiana. When the war ended, he was was accused of collaborating with the fascist regime and spent a few months in prison. However, he was a supporter of the Italian Communist Party, even helping his father smuggle refugees and Jewish scientists to safety in Switzerland. Those few months in prison would not be the end of the abuse he endured for his political beliefs and the work they inspired. 

After meeting his wife, Franca Rame, in the early 1950s, the two began to collaborate. Their creations received mixed reviews that ranged from praise to outrage. "We’ve had to endure abuse, assaults by the police, insults from the right-thinking and violence,” Mr. Fo said in his Nobel lecture. According to the Times article, "The worst episode occurred in 1973 — after a Fo play criticizing the police was presented in Milan — when his wife was kidnapped, tortured and raped by a fascist group later found to have links to members of the carabinieri, the Italian federal police." 

Fo would go on to write more than 80 plays, many of them with his wife. Their satirical style was inspired by the commedia dell'arte genre. The couple put on thousands of plays and performances in diverse venues across Italy, which included theaters, factories, universities, parks, and prisons.

One year after Fo's death, filmmaker Michele Diomà presented his film Sweet Democracy in New York at the annual series Italy on Screen TodaySweet Democracy offers an interesting look into modern day politics and the new type of "celebrity politician". In the age of Trump politics with all the sensationalism and fake news claims, there's no better time to have this discussion. Diomà features many scenes with Dario Fo offering his take on politics, revolution and society. The film is a sharp aberration from your typical commercial release being that many audio and visual effects were added in post-production as well as the over-the-top style of acting. The perfect storm of peculiar performances and effects may seem baffling at times, but everything comes full circle in the unexpected ending. 

Michele Diomà and I have been connected on social media for years. He was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about his experience working with Dario Fo and presenting this clever film in New York. 

First, what is the message you wanted to communicate with Sweet Democracy?
I wanted to return to a time when cinema was a free voice. Unfortunately, in Italian mainstream cinema, which is run in part by politicians, the meritocracy and freedom of expression principle have been destroyed. There are not many showings of Italian films anymore, which should be considered a public crisis but is not being reported. I consider Sweet Democracy the first step in achieving a revolution in the Italian film production system. The model could be that of independent American cinema, which is competitive in the market.

Qual'è il messaggio di Sweet Democracy?
Desideravo far tornare il cinema ad essere una voce libera. Purtroppo in Italia il finanziamento pubblico al cinema gestito da una parte della politica ha distrutto qualsiasi principio di meritocrazia e libertà espressiva. Non è un caso proprio in questi giorni è stata registrata una crisi drammatica di pubblico, che non va quasi più a vedere i film italiani. Considero Sweet Democracy il primo step concreto per realizzare una rivoluzione nel sistema di produzione cinematografico italiano. Il modello potrebbe essere proprio quello indipendente americano, in cui è necessario essere competitivi sul mercato. 

A scene from Sweet Democracy
Tell me about the world you created within this film… in regard to the editing of the sound effects, colors, close-ups, slow motion, looking directly into the camera.. and then the laugh track. 
Sweet Democracy is definitely a film with a particular style. This was my goal. Many believe that cinema has already been made in all styles and languages, but I think there is much more to discover and Sweet Democracy is proof.

Parlami del mondo che avete creato all'interno di questo film ... per quanto riguarda la modifica degli effetti sonori, i colori, i primi piani, il rallentatore, guardando direttamente nella fotocamera ... e poi la traccia della risata (laugh track).
Sweet Democracy è sicuramente un film dallo stile particolare in ogni suo punto. Questo era il mio obiettivo. Molti credono che ormai il cinema abbia sperimentato già tutti i linguaggi, io invece credo che ci sia molto altro da scoprire e Sweet Democracy ne è la prova.

How did Dario Fo become involved with the project?
When I told our co-producer Donald Ranvaud, recipient of four Oscar nominations for the "City of God" masterpiece, that I wanted to have Dario Fo in Sweet Democracy, he was enthusiastic. While we both feared that it would not be an easy feat, like all great artists, Dario Fo was immediately available.

In che modo Dario Fo è stato coinvolto nel progetto?
Quando proposi al co-produttore di "Sweet Democracy", Donald Ranvaud, 4 nominations agli Oscar per il capolavoro “City of God”, che avevo in mente di coinvolgere Dario Fo nel film, lui ne fu entusiasta, ma temeva come me, che non sarebbe stato facile, invece come tutti i grandi artisti Dario Fo fu subito disponibile.

Tell me about your experience with him? 
Our collaboration was one of the most beautiful gifts that I received in my life. Thanks to the presence of Dario Fo, I am certain of having made an immortal film, which will be studied forever in universities around the world. I was very lucky.

Parlami della tua esperienza con lui..
La nostra collaborazione è stata uno dei regali più belli che mi ha fatto la vita, perché chiaramente grazie alla presenza di Dario Fo, sono consapevole di aver realizzato un film immortale, che verrà studiato per sempre nelle università di tutto il mondo. Ho avuto molta fortuna. 

Explain to me your personal significance of having him in the film..
For me, having made a film with Dario Fo, was like a young singer playing with Bruce Springsteen. Dario Fo, in addition to winning the Nobel Prize for his greatness as a dramatist, also had a fundamental social and political role in Italian history. Together with his wife, actress and writer Franca Rame, he was persecuted for decades by those who wanted to censor him. 


Spiegami il tuo significato personale di averlo nel film ..
Per me aver girato un film con Dario Fo, è stato come per un giovane cantante suonare con Bruce Springsteen. Dario Fo oltre ad aver vinto il premio Nobel per la sua grandezza di drammaturgo, ha avuto anche un ruolo sociale e politico fondamentale nella storia italiana. Insieme alla moglie attrice e scrittrice Franca Rame, ha subito persecuzioni per decenni da parte di chi voleva censurarlo. 

Michele Dioma and Dario Fo on the set
Were his lines part of the script or did he answer the questions in his own words?
(I had the impression that he was speaking from his own experience.)
Dario Fo freely answered all the questions. Even in editing, I did not alter his thinking. I wanted Dario Fo in my film because it was necessary to place a free intellectual at the center of the project and in Italy there are not many.

Le sue risposte all'intervista erano parte della sceneggiatura o rispondeva alle domande liberamente?
Dario Fo ha risposto liberamente a tutte le domande. Anche nell’editing non ho alterato il suo pensiero. Ho voluto Dario Fo nel mio film, perché era necessario collocare al centro del progetto un intellettuale libero ed in Italia non ce ne sono molti.

Tell me about your experience presenting the film in New York at Italy on Screen Today.
Bringing the film to New York was an important milestone. I was curious to find out how the American public would react to a satire film on the Italian political system. I must say that it was a success, also because many viewers told me after the screening that certain aspects of my film tell a reality of politics also present in the United States. Of course, all this was possible thanks also to the exceptional cast of Sweet Democracy, having been able to work with actors like Renato Scarpa, which we remember from the masterpiece The postman by Michael Radford next to the unforgettable Massimo Troisi, in addition to the talented Antonello Pascale, a thirty-year-old actor that the New York public generously compared to the immense Charlie Chaplin.

Raccontami la tua esperienza a New York dove hai presentato il film nel series “Italy on Screen".. 
Portare il film a New York è stata una tappa importante. Ero curioso di scoprire come avrebbe reagito il pubblico americano davanti ad un film di satira sul sistema politico italiano. Devo dire che è stato un successo, anche perché molti spettatori mi hanno detto dopo la proiezione che certi aspetti del mio film raccontano una realtà della politica che c’è anche in US. Naturalmente tutto questo è stato possibile anche grazie anche al cast eccezionale di Sweet Democracy, avendo potuto lavorare con attori come Renato Scarpa, che ricordiamo nel capolavoro “Il postino” di Michael Radford accanto all’indimenticabile Massimo Troisi, oltre al bravissimo Antonello Pascale, un attore trentenne che il pubblico newyorkese ha generosamente paragonato addirittura alla maschera di Charlot dell’immenso Charlie Chaplin.

What can you tell me about your next film? Will you be shooting in New York next week?
Yes, I can confirm that I'm trying to shoot my first film in English and in New York. Everything is still TOP SECRET, but I can reveal that it will be a union between two film cultures, that of the history of the great New York independent cinema, from Sidney Lumet to Martin Scorsese, with the history of Italian cinema, which was in the 50s and '70 the most original in the world. My goal is to return to the free and international Italian cinema. I will succeed.

Sì, posso confermarti che sto provando a girare il mio primo film in lingua inglese ed a New York. Tutto è ancora TOP SECRET, ma posso rivelarti che sarà un’unione tra due culture cinematografiche, quella della storia del grande cinema indipendente newyorkese, da Sidney Lumet a Martin Scorsese, con la storia del cinema italiano, che è stato tra gli anni ‘50 e ’70 il più originale al mondo. Il mio obiettivo è far tornare ad essere il cinema italiano libero ed internazionale. Ci riuscirò.

We'll let you know when Sweet Democracy becomes available with subtitles. through Michele Diomà's YouTube account. This version does not have English subtitles. In the meantime... here is one clip in English.



- Jeannine Guilyard

Basilicata in the Spotlight at the 2019 Los Angeles Italia - Film Fashion and Art Fest

Actresses Marianna and Angela Fontana will be presenting their new films at next month's Los Angeles Italia - Film Fashion and Art F...