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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Filmmaker Michelangelo Frammartino on Ancient Philosophies that Inspire his Art

A scene from "Alberi"

It's an ancient ritual that started during the middle ages but was eventually abandoned by younger generations. In recent years, that ancient tradition, called "Foresta Che Cammina" (The Forest That Walks) has been making a comeback exactly where it began all those centuries ago- in the village of Satriano di Lucania, located in the region of  Basilicata.  

Filmmaker Michelangelo Frammartino made a film about this ritual and presented it as an installation a few years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. "Alberi" (Trees) tells the story of this old ritual that took place during Italian Carnevale when the men of the village would cover themselves in leaves, transforming into mystical walking trees. Frammartino recaptures the ancient rite in a reenactment that captivated New York audiences. According to Frammartino, “Basilicata is home to numerous arboreal rites. Trees are not just figures in the background, they are protagonists, they are the center, what gives meaning to the festival and above that, to life. I found this to be incredibly interesting.”

Watch scenes from "Albero" and the presentation in New York..

Frammartino's work is based on the connection between man and nature. The foundation of this connection dates back to about 570 – 495 BC when the ancient Ionian Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras lived. He believed that our soul is reincarnated four times into the bodies of humans, animals, minerals and vegetables until it ultimately becomes immortal.

A scene from "Le Quattro volte"
This theory was the basis for Frammartino's 2010 film, "Le quattro volte" (Four Times). The film is insightful and poetic in its message and visual landscape. It is raw and direct in its depiction of the connection between man, animals and nature. The New York Times described the film as "an idiosyncratic and amazing film so full of surprises - nearly every shot contains a revelation."

I caught up with Frammartino while he was in New York promoting "Alberi." He told me about this connection to nature and how his education in architecture influences his work.

 The Ionian Coast of Caulonia in Calabria
You come from northern Italy, but your films were shot in the southern regions of Basilicata and Calabria. What is your fascination with this part of Italy?
I was born in the north, in Milan, but my family is from Calabria. Both my parents come from a small town on the Ionian coast called Caulonia. This is where I spent my summers as a child, and where I experienced a sense of freedom and deep fusion with nature and everything around me.

Nature is an important part of your work. Tell me about this attachment that you have to nature and how it helps you to express yourself artistically.
We men tend to consider nature solely as a nice background to our events, or in the best cases, a resource at our disposal. We tend to forget the origins of nature and that it is deeply related to other species. I love to work on this unspoken bond. With this philosophy, I am more challenged to "shoot" and film scenes more creatively.

Let's talk about the significance of "four times" in"Le quattro volte." 
Approximately twenty-five hundred years ago, the first philosopher, Pythagoras, lived in Crotone in Calabria. A phrase that is attributed to him reads as follows:
"There will be four of us in the next life, embedded one inside the other. Man is a mineral because he consists of salts, water and mineral substances. Man is a vegetable, because as a plant eats, breathes and reproduces, so does he. Man is an animal with imagination, memory and knowledge of the external world. Man is also a rational being, because he has will and reason. We have four distinct lives in us and we should live four times."

A scene from "Alberi"
What inspired you to make your latest film, "Alberi," and tell the story of this ancient ritual?
I discovered these arboreal cults during the making of "Le quattro volte" and I was very fascinated by them. So I began to do research in Basilicata where they originate, and I found this wonderful mask belonging to the hermit of Satriano di Lucania. It was a perfect fusion of man and nature. I was never in the presence of something that so deeply represented our connection to the land and to the world.

You studied architecture in college. Does that background influence your films?
I find that there are many elements in common between these disciplines. For example, the idea of a narrative can be found in both. A movie is a place where the viewer enters and spends time, and you can say the same about a building.

Do you plan to continue with this theme of nature in your future projects?
Sure, there is the possibility that "Alberi" could evolve and become a feature film.

The Carnevale of Satriano in Lucania takes place annually in February. Click here for more information on the festival. Watch a recent promo...

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