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Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Films of Sicilian Director Salvo Cuccia

Interviewing Salvo Cuccia in Rochester, New York 2014
Born in Palermo in 1960, Sicilian director, Salvo Cuccia has emerged as a documentary filmmaker who tells the stories of unique individuals making their mark on the world. Vincenzo Tusa, Vittorio De Seta and Frank Zappa are three men from different walks of life. They each have two things in common.. a passion for their cause and Salvo Cuccia who told their story.

Cuccia’s films are visually stunning, honest portraits, which present fascinating stories of people driven by their unbreakable passion. They offer introspections of people and their relationships to the environment and culture. The films, so articulately shot with subjects wildly passionate in their beliefs, transport the viewer directly to the location in which they were made. The music, mostly produced by local musicians intensifies the experience.
Among these documentaries is Oltre Selinunte, the story of Vincenzo Tusa, a leader in preserving the cultural heritage of western Sicily. His mission was to save the archaeological site of ancient Selinunte, a Greek city of the 7th Century B.C., from turning into commercial property. Through a series of recounts, archival footage and breathtaking video shot by Cuccia's production team, we learn how Tusa achieved his goal and kept the area a protected archaeological site for future generations to visit and appreciate.

Détour De Seta is Cuccia's homage to the great Italian documentary filmmaker, Vittorio De Seta. The film has earned its share of praise from audiences around the globe. Also born in Palermo, De Seta was a huge influence on Cuccia, who appreciated De Seta's "great depth of vision that is evident in his way of telling a story." Cuccia was always impressed by the eternal message in De Seta's images and how he used those beautiful, telling images to reveal the stories of workers in the south and how the poor struggled to get through each day. Cuccia considers De Seta, "a great teacher." Referred to in Italy as the "grandfather of documentary film," De Seta is known for his early documentaries, which focus on the daily life of Italy's poorest workers. They are strong images of real life situations which tell a story without narration. One of his most famous is "Un Giorno in Barbagia," a short film which follows the residents of Orgosolo, Sardinia from dawn to dusk, and we see firsthand how the women assumed many of the responsibilities when the men were away at work. Détour De Seta took top honors at the 2005 Genova Film Festival for Best Documentary Film and it was also presented by Martin Scorsese at the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival.

On the set of 1982 L'Estate di Frank
Cuccia's documentary,1982 L'Estate di Frank an emotionally-driven story that is special because in a way, it's a tribute to two fathers; Salvo Cuccia's father and Frank Zappa. What began as a very personal tale close to the director's heart, turned out to be a life-changing experience for the children of Frank Zappa. The film recounts a Zappa concert which took place in Palermo during the summer of 1982. Cuccia was on his way to the concert with his father as they drove from the north of Italy. Unfortunately they did not get there in time because the concert ended up being cancelled mid-way through due to a conflict between police and audience members. The film highlights the Summer of '82 and how it was a tumultuous time in Palermo with unprecedented violence among local mafia members. Zappa's children were invited by the director to participate in the filming of the documentary, which retraced their father's footsteps and included a visit to Partinico, the town of Zappa's Italian origins. When town officials got word of the visit, they invited Zappa's children to the Town Hall, where they made them honorary citizens and dedicated a street and classroom to the late singer. Zappa's children went on to meet cousins they never knew existed. 1982 L'Estate di Frank is a beautiful portrait of life and the discovery of where it all began for one family. 

Cuccia's films are still very active on the film festival circuit, especially1982 L'Estate di Frank, which is waiting international distribution. Much of his work is available on Youtube, including some interesting video art that he created. Oltre Selinunte is available in its entirety on There are no subtitles, but the stunning cinematography speaks for itself.  Many of Vittorio De Seta's film are available on Youtube as well, including "Un Giorno in Barbagia"  which is below. 

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