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Monday, March 28, 2016

Peter Miller's "Projections of America" and the Influence of American filmmakers on Post-War Italy

The power of movies has proven itself time and time again throughout history. Cinema often mirrors the plights of society or recounts life-changing events. Such is the case with Peter Miller's new documentary film, Projections of America.
My first encounter with Miller happened in 2006 when I reviewed his beautiful documentary, Sacco and Vanzetti, the heartbreaking story of two Italian immigrants executed for a crime they unlikely committed. Since then, I have remained in contact with Miller on social media. I saw that he was promoting his most recent film, so I had an idea to help him out with a follow-up piece to "Sacco and Vanzetti". Having no idea there was an Italian connection, I soon discovered there was one indeed.
Projections of America recounts a period in American history immediately following World War II when Hollywood was called upon by the U.S. government to assist in a PR campaign that would put America in a positive light throughout the world. Robert Riskin, the screenwriter of many of Frank Capra’s blockbusters, was put in charge of writing a series of these propaganda films that would be shown to newly liberated countries. After the fall of Mussolini, Italians were presented with a film from this series featuring the famous ex-patriot, conductor Arturo Toscanini.

I really enjoyed this film, so much so that I ended up watching it three times. The first time, I was so impressed by the production quality and blown away by the editing, I missed some of the story. The second time, I just listened and learned about these historic films, which I never knew existed and the third time, I zeroed in on the film shown in Italy. I talked with the director Peter Miller about "Projections of America". He told about his very talented editor, Amy Linton, and the process that goes into making such a beautiful, compelling film.
First, just a curiosity about the production process because I really enjoyed the overall creativity of the film, especially the editing with the soft dissolves.. and the audio mixing with the music, narration and letter-reading. It was really a joy to watch. What is your process of putting a documentary like this together? Where is your starting point? Then, where do you go from there? Do you use storyboards? I’m curious because the structure of this film is very organized and the story smoothly flows both visually and editorially from one scene to the next.
Documentaries find their poetry in the editing room. I’ve been fortunate to have a long, fantastic relationship with the brilliant film editor Amy Linton, who has collaborated with me on five films, including The Internationale, Sacco and Vanzetti, Jews and Baseball, AKA Doc Pomus and now Projections of America. When I’m shooting a film, I’m always thinking about how it will be woven together when we edit. My films are a process of discovery and I don’t map them out ahead of time on storyboards, but I’m always thinking about how the stories I discover will fit together as a dramatic narrative. A documentary may be about an important historical event — like the WWII propaganda film project that’s at the heart of Projections of America — but at the core of any effective non-fiction film a story of human beings, with all of the emotion and drama that makes real life — and the movies — so compelling. I found the Projections of America films fascinating as a subject, but what really grabbed my imagination were the story’s protagonists, the filmmakers who created the films, the audiences who were moved by them, and especially our central character, Robert Riskin, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter who poured his heart and soul into these amazing movies that still effect us deeply seventy years later.

Tell me about the Toscanini film. Do you know anything specific regarding the reaction in Italy to the film?
Among the most dazzling of the twenty-six Projections of America documentaries was a short film that paid tribute to the great conductor Arturo Toscanini. The maestro had fled fascist Italy for the United States and Riskin and his filmmaking team recognized that a filmed portrait of Toscanini could be a powerful resource to show to newly liberated audiences in Italy. Millions of Italian filmgoers crowded cinemas to watch the Toscanini film, in which the brilliant conductor led a performance of Verdi’s Hymn of the Nations, updated to include the national anthems of the Soviet Union and the United States. It didn’t surprise me that Italian audiences responded enthusiastically to the film, but what was especially moving to me was meeting a German Jewish woman who survived the war and remembered the powerful emotions she felt watching the film of Toscanini performing Verdi in a bombed out cinema in Berlin.

Would you say that the American propaganda films were similar to what Italy was doing with the Telefoni Bianchi films?
The Projections of America films were made by liberal American filmmakers who envisioned a pluralistic, democratic, multi-ethnic America — one that presented their nation as it could be if were to live up to its ideals. The filmmakers came from Hollywood — Robert Riskin was the screenwriter of many of Frank Capra’s greatest films — and they came from the progressive documentary tradition of the New Deal era, but they shared a profoundly democratic vision that was expressed in these short films. I’m sure the Projections of America films were a contrast to the kinds of conservative cinema that Italian audiences were accustomed to from the fascist era, and they stood in great contrast to the Nazi propaganda films that were forced upon occupied European audiences. Cinema has the power to change lives and shape minds, both for better and for worse. What draws me to this story is that during the darkest days of global war, the power of the movies was harnessed for such positive messages. The messages in these 70-year-old films still resonate today and can help us think about what kind of country we can be in 2016. Are we a welcoming nation of immigrants or we a belligerent bully? Should we celebrate our diverse culture or should we thump our chest? 

Are these American propaganda films available for people to watch today? Is your film available outside of screenings?
We’re working with PBS to arrange for a broadcast and for video distribution of our documentary — stay tuned for more information. Some of the short films in the Projections of America series are available on scratchy videos on YouTube, but for the most part these films are unavailable, and the series itself has been forgotten. When we release our documentary on television and video we hope to release our new transfers of the short films as well. They’re wonderful films and should be seen.  

I’d like to revisit the topic of Sacco and Vanzetti for a moment. With the refugee crisis in full-swing right now and the Republican presidential nominees saying they’re going to send immigrants back, and then in the next breath, saying with pride that their own parents were immigrants… can you talk to me about the prejudices and struggles that Italians faced upon arriving in America? In your opinion, how did their struggle compare to what is happening today?

America is thought of as a nation of immigrants but too often we don’t live up to that ideal. The story of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti is a powerful cautionary tale of a time when we were at our very worst. Sacco and Vanzetti were Italian immigrant radicals and the prejudice that they experienced — both because of their ethnicity and their political beliefs — is sadly parallel to what immigrants and those outside of the political mainstream experience today. It breaks my heart to see many Americans, including the children and grandchildren of immigrants, responding to the current refugee crisis by wanting to shut our doors rather than opening our arms and hearts. We are a better nation when we embrace diversity and welcome people who will enrich our nation, when we celebrate dissent, when we respect democracy. I make films about history because I believe knowing history can help us better understand America today. Introducing movie audiences to Sacco and Vanzetti, or Robert Riskin, or Arturo Toscanini, can be a powerful way to remind ourselves about the kind of nation we could be if we were to embrace our best ideals.
If you're in the New York City area, a screening of the film will take place on Tuesday, March 29 at the Jewish Community Center. Click here for ticket information.

For more information about the film and upcoming screenings, visit

Watch the trailer..

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Le confessioni" by Roberto Andò

The official trailer for "Le confessioni" - the new film of Roberto Andò with actors Toni Servillo, Pierfrancesco Favino​, Connie Nielsen and Daniel Auteuil has been released.

The story's focus is on a luxury hotel in Germany where a meeting of G8 finance ministers take place. The officials are prepared to adopt a secret maneuver that will have very serious consequences for several countries. The group includes government officials, the director of the International Monetary Fund, Daniel Roché, and three guests: a famous writer of children's books, a rock star, and an Italian monaco, Roberto Salus. A unexpected, tragic event opens the flood gates to secrets, confessions and uncertainties.

"Le confessioni" will be released in Italian theaters on April 21.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Anime Nere" director, Francesco Munzi to make an American film

It was announced this week that Francesco Munzi will shoot a film in America. Munzi was hired by Studio 8 and Battle Mountain Films to direct a crime movie set in New York, in the underworld of cargo thieves. The story, written by Munzi with Zach Baylin, will star a young protagonist (not yet named) that will become the protégé of an influential criminal. This young protégé will be forced to choose between a career in crime and his family.

Check back here for developments. In the meantime, read my interview with Francesco Munzi about his film, "Anime nere".

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Early Days of Italian Cinema

 Actress Assia Noris in a 1938 "Telefono Bianchi" film
My discovery last December of the Italian silent film by Francesca Bertini made me curious about other lesser known genres of Italian cinema. That curiosity led me on a cinema adventure in which I discovered a whole world of films I never knew existed such as Italian Futurism, Telefoni Bianchi and Propaganda films.

Let’s first recap Bertini's film and visit the Silent era of Italian cinema. Assunta Spina is a 1915 silent film that boasts a beautiful, melodic soundtrack with stunning cinematography, capturing the Bay of Naples during an era in which most of our America-bound grandparents and great grandparents were passing through. Filmmakers Francesca Bertini and Gustavo Serena created a timeless story of love, passion and envy. The restored version shows images of Naples that are surprising clear for being shot 100 years ago. Assunta Spina was way ahead of its time, and Bertini was not shy in acknowledging it. In 1982 at the age of 90, she said in an interview, "It had been my idea to wander around Naples taking ordinary people from the streets. Now everyone’s invented Neorealism! The real Neorealist film is Assunta Spina." However, some may argue that point and it's important to hear other perspectives. I spoke with David Morea, the director of the new documentary, Before Neorealism. According to him, "the idea of "Neorealism" as we know it may be unjustly limited to the period that comes directly after the Second World War and it's understandable that Bertini would have such an attitude. But we should not confuse the use of realist aesthetics in films like Assunta Spina with full-blown neorealism, which has a definite historical collocation and specific political qualities."

The newly restored version of Assunta Spina is available for purchase right here by Cineteca di Bologna. If you don't live in Italy and have the required social security number to purchase the film, you can view the restored version with English subtitles on YouTube. It is a truly remarkable film and I highly recommend watching it.

The silent era of Italian cinema had a profound impact on cinema worldwide. Martin Scorsese has praised the work of Giovanni Pastrone, director of the epic 1914 Cabiria. He says that with this work, Pastrone invented the epic movie and deserves credit for attributes such as "extensive use of a moving camera"which has often been given to D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. Set in Sicily, Carthage and Cirta during the Second Punic War, which took place from 218-202 BC, the film was actually shot in Torino. The story follows a child named Cabiria who has been abducted and through her eyes, we see this incredible cinematic world of the tumultuous Mt. Etna, North African religious rituals and the historic battles of the ancient Roman fleet.

The notable predecessor to Cabiria is Enrico Guazzoni's Quo Vadis?, which features 5,000 extras and has been called "the first blockbuster in the history of cinema." Due to its worldwide success, it was the first film to be projected at a mainstream Broadway theater. Guazzoni enjoyed a whopping 9-month run of his film in New York from April to December of 1913. According to silent film expert Thomas Gladys, founder of the Louise Brooks Society,  not only the big spectacles like those mentioned above made it to American shores, but also some smaller filmswere shown in neighborhood and ethnic theaters in the big cities. Then, consider our beloved Rudolph Valentino, and it's safe to say that Italy greatly affected cinema in America.

Regarding these first blockbusters, Morea said, Quo Vadis is arguably the first global blockbuster, and it inspired generations of filmmakers for its grandiose vision. I would argue that, from an aesthetic point of view, Cabiria is more influential, especially if we compare it to D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. But Quo Vadis? set the bar for all cinematic superspectacles."

Both Cabiria and Quo Vadis? are available with English subtitles on YouTube. Watch Cabiria by Giovanni Pastrone. You can also purchase the DVD on Amazon.

Watch Quo Vadis? by Enrico Guazzoni..

Although short-lived, the next era to emerge was Italian futurism, a film movement which lasted roughly from 1916 to 1919.

The strongest characteristic of these films is undoubebly the set design, which followed in the steps of the futurism art, of which Mario Verdone, Italian cinema film critic and father of Carlo verdone, was a huge admirer. The sets featured "geometric shapes with black and white contrasts" and abstract characters and illusions. Most of these films were unfortunately lost except for one, Thaïs, which is actually available to watch on YouTube. 

Read about Futurism art at the Center for Modern Art in New York City.

Thaïs, also known as Perfido incanto, was made in 1917 by Anton Giulio Bragaglia, a leading silent film director of his time. Based on the novel by Anatole France, the plot follows Thaïs, a seductress that goes after married men. She is frivolous in her escapades until she seduces her best friend’s husband, which ultimately leads to the woman’s death. Overwhelmed by guilt and regret, Thaïs decides to take her own life in a dramatic final scene. Being the only surviving film of the Futurism genre, Thaïs is safely being held at the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, which houses one of the most comprehensive cinema archives in the world. I watched the 35-minute film and found it interesting that in the opening credits, we see the George Eastman House, which makes me wonder why the film is no longer under their care. The quality is pretty low but it’s fascinating to see if just for the historic value. Watch Thaïs on YouTube..

While Italy's Fascist government was working on the construction of Cinecittà, it was also producing its own propaganda films, which are referred to as Telefoni Bianchi (White Telephones). This genre rose to fame in the 1930's and featured upper class, wealthy families with pristine-looking children adorned with "Shirley Temple curls". The sets were just as beautiful as the characters and featured the namesake white telephones. Quoting Wikipedia, "The films tended to be socially conservative, promoting family values, respect for authority, a rigid class hierarchy, and country life, all stances perfectly in line with the ideology of the fascist regime."
Morea offered some intersting insight on this genre. "The telefoni bianchi films were a series of escapist comedy films that were used as a means to control the consensus and dictate policy in a palatable way; they portrayed fascist society in a light that was acceptable to the regime: the men were athletic and the women were modern and self-sufficient yet both were confined to a working-class bubble that was penetrated merely by coincidence or happenstance which allowed them to experience the life of the upper-class bourgeoisie; a class which was greatly frowned upon by the regime—much as it is by any authoritarian government. The protagonists would meet a group of people whose interest deviated from that of the political and ideological interests of the regime and at the end of the films, they always choose the working-class love interest. Was it the intent of the filmmakers at the time? I don't think so—they couldn't really produce stories outside of this theme and, at times, they would self-censure because they knew the protocol which they had to adhere to. The response, in terms of Neorealism, was a literal and drastic aesthetic disconnect from the confinement that they had to follow in order to simply get a film made."

Propaganda fascista in una foto dall'Archivio storico dell'Istituto Luce
Morea went on to tell me about another sort of genre that I knew nothing about. "I think the most important kind of film to remember (apart from the telefoni bianchi films) are the documentaries and newsreels by the Istituto LUCE which, in terms of propaganda, were the driving force of imposing the ideals of the regime and celebrating their efforts; be it construction of a train station or a sporting event."
I asked Morea if any of these propaganda films made it to American shores. "I'm not sure how many (very few if any) of these films made it state-side during this time; even though Mussolini made proud comments about how many Italian immigrants were in the United States. Either way, if they did make it to the US, they certainly weren't successful. We have to remember that America not only had its own escapist propaganda at the time and was also at war against the Nazis and as Italy's involvement with Germany developed, an anti-Italian sentiment increased in the US."
I also talked with director Peter Miller, whose follow-up to the heart-wrenching documentary film Sacco and Vanzetti just premiered at Lincoln Center in New York and will be shown at the end of the month at the Jewish Community Center in New York. Projections of America features a virtually unknown American propaganda film featuring the Italian expat composer, Arturo Toscanini. The film was shown all over Italy shortly after the fall of Mussolini. I asked him about the similarities between the propaganda films of Italy and the United States. "The (propaganda films) of America were made by liberal American filmmakers who envisioned a pluralistic, democratic, multi-ethnic America- one that presented their nation as it could be if it were to live up to its ideals. I'm sure the Projections of America films were a contrast to the kinds of conservative cinema that Italian audiences were accustomed to from the fascist era, and they stood in great contrast to the Nazi propaganda films that were forced upon occupied European audiences."

I'll talk with more with Peter Miller next week about his film and how its message still resonates today. Watch the trailer for Peter Miller's Projections of America..

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Interview: Director Marcello Brecciaroli of "Italian Offshore" on Exposing the Reality Behind Offshore Oil Drilling in Italy

A 12 miglia a largo Termoli sorge la piattaforma Rospo Mare, gestita da Edison, produce petrolio ed è collegata alla nave cisterna Alba Marina

(Intervista anche in italiano)

Here’s a statistic you may not have heard: Italy is the third largest producer of oil and the fifth largest of gas in Western Europe. In my series “Basilicata: Terra di Cinema”, I have written about the extraction of petroleum in the region, the dangers to the land and people, the effect on agriculture and the creative ways in which the filmmakers of the region are expressing their discontentment. Now, a new documentary film about offshore oil drilling in the Mediterranean Sea is gaining momentum right in time for an important vote. Filmmakers Marcello Brecciaroli, Salvatore Altiero and Manuele Bonaccorsi dedicated a year of their lives to make Italian Offshore to inform the citizens of their country about the truths of this drilling and the grave effects it is having on the land and sea of Italy. I spoke with the director Marcello Brecciaroli. He took the time to explain the whole situation to me and why he and his colleagues felt the need to make this film. Our interview was done in Italian, so both versions are included. 

Morena – Con le sue colonne di acciaio alte quasi 100 metri il jack-up
Tell me about the subject of your film.
Italian Offshore is an investigative documentary about the world of offshore drilling in Italy. We went to study all the major production sites in Italy to understand how the system works, whether the procedures are appropriate and how much is earned in this area. We soon realized that each site represented specific problems and so we decided to talk about the biggest platform, the oldest, the biggest polluter, the one closest to the coast and the most "mysterious." The documentary is therefore composed of a first part that describes the site and a second part that sheds light on the financial side with the companies behind the world of drilling. We found they are not just the big names that we all know. There is indeed a world of small companies that are born and die quickly. They remain within the financial market, and often lead to tax havens and unclear ownership. 

Santo Stefano a Mare, si trova ad appena 3 km dalla costa di Ortona
Raccontami “Italian Offshore”.
Italian Offshore è un documentario di inchiesta sul mondo delle trivellazioni offshore in Italia. Siamo andati a studiare tutti i più importanti siti di produzione d'Italia per capire come funziona il sistema di controlli, se le procedure sono adeguate e quanto e come si guadagna in questo settore.

Ci siamo presto resi conto che ogni sito rappresentava specifiche problematiche e così abbiamo deciso di raccontare quelli più esemplificativi: La piattaforma più grande, quella più antica, quella più inquinante, quella più vicina alla costa e quella più “misteriosa”.

Il documentario è quindi composto da una prima parte dallo stile più reportagistico che descrive questi siti e da una parte più finanziaria che vuole far luce sulle società che stanno dietro al mondo delle trivellazioni e che non sono solo le grandi che tutti conosciamo. C'è infatti un mondo di piccole società che nascono e muoiono velocemente, che vivono nel mercato finanziario e spesso portano a paradisi fiscali e a proprietà poco chiare. 

I have written often about the petroleum extraction in Basilicata, and how filmmakers are reacting to it through their art. Is the drilling in your film in any way connected to what’s happening in Basilicata?
In Italy we have a region, Basilicata, where we’ve been extracting a lot of oil for many years. It’s one of the most important sites in Europe for this sector and many inquiries have been made on the environmental havoc that this region has suffered. The goal we made for our film is bringing the viewer into the “metal city” that lives on the sea beyond the horizon, which people cannot see with their own eyes. Often companies operating at sea also have sites on the ground. They are two worlds linked financially. However, with regard to environmental issues, they pose very different problems. 

Image from 
We started to deal with this issue in June. At that time, a case was much debated and was causing great mobilization: the Ombrina oilfield off the coast of Abruzzo. Soon we realized that Ombrina had all that visibility because people can actually see it from the coast (besides the fact that it is a truly an absurd project). So we wondered how many Ombrina’s really exist in our seas. From the standpoint of directing, the theme fascinated me because it posed technical challenges. Shooting at sea is complicated. We are always on small fast boats and at the mercy of the weather. In addition, shooting the sea from decks is forbidden for security reasons, so you cannot do it officially. Therefore, we had to find unorthodox methods of getting there. Sometimes it was really assault journalism, "Pirate Journalism" I would say. With this project, we won the DIG Award, the most important Italian journalism festival in the category "Focus on Italy". This gave us important funding in order to remain independent and to take the time to dig deep into such a complex world. 

Le Garibaldi, gestite da Eni, a 22km dalle coste romagnole
Ho scritto spesso della trivellazione petrolifera in Basilicata, e in che modo i registi stanno reagendo con la loro arte. Come è questa trivellazione petrolifera diverso da quella che sta accadendo in Basilicata?
In Italia abbiamo una regione, la Basilicata, dove si estrae molto petrolio da tanti anni. E' uno dei siti più importanti d'Europa per questo settore e molte inchieste sono state fatte sullo scempio ambientale che questa regione ha dovuto subire. Noi ci siamo posti l'obbiettivo di portare lo spettatore nella città di metallo che vive sul mare oltre l'orizzonte, laddove il controllo visivo dei cittadini non può arrivare da solo. Spesso le aziende che operano in mare hanno anche concessioni a terra. Sono due mondi legati dal punto di vista finanziario ma per quanto riguarda le problematiche ambientali, pongono problemi molto diversi.

Abbiamo iniziato a occuparci di questa questione lo scorso giugno. In quel periodo un caso era molto dibattuto e stava causando grande mobilitazione: il giacimento Ombrina a largo della costa dell'Abruzzo. Presto ci siamo resi conto che Ombrina aveva tutta quella visibilità perché il pozzo si vede dalla costa (oltre al fatto che è un progetto davvero assurdo). Ci siamo quindi chiesti quante “Ombrine” esistessero davvero nei nostri mari. Dal punto di vista registico il tema mi ha molto affascinato perché poneva sfide tecniche non indifferenti: girare in mare è complicato. Siamo sempre a bordo di piccole barche veloci e in balia del meteo. Inoltre il mare intorno alle piattaforme è interdetto per motivi di sicurezza, non ci si può arrivare ufficialmente. Abbiamo quindi dovuto trovare metodi anche poco ortodossi di arrivarci. A volte è stato davvero giornalismo d'assalto, “giornalismo pirata” direi. Con questo progetto abbiamo vinto il DIG Award, il più importante festival giornalistico italiano, nella categoria "Focus on Italy". Questo ci ha dato un importante finanziamento per poter rimanere indipendenti e prenderci il tempo necessario per scavare a fondo in un mondo così complesso. 

Angelina – Marina di Ravenna, a 2 km dalla costa
Why did you make this film? Why did you want to tell this story?
This story took my whole life and that of my colleagues in the last year. We feel the need to tell it because in Italy, an important vote (the April 17 referendum) is coming up and we wanted to give the citizens an alternative tool for understanding in addition to the official information (provided by the government). Italy is at the center of the Mediterranean, with more coastline than any other European country. We think it is a privileged place to analyze the problem and we hope that what we have to say will also be of interest to other countries bordering this sea. The Mediterranean is a small, enclosed sea. We are all equally affected by what happens here. The limits of territorial waters are just lines on a map. 

Perché avete fatto questo film? Perché avete voluto raccontare questa storia?
Questa storia ha preso tutta la mia vita e quella dei miei colleghi nell'ultimo anno. Sentiamo la necessità di raccontarla anche perché in Italia ci saranno delle votazioni in merito a breve e volevamo dare uno strumento di comprensione ai cittadini alternativo alle versioni ufficiali. L'Italia è al centro del Mediterraneo, ha più costa di qualsiasi altro paese europeo. Pensiamo che sia un posto privilegiato per analizzare il problema e speriamo che quello che abbiamo da dire possa interessare anche agli altri paesi che si affacciano a questo mare. Il mediterraneo è un mare piccolo e chiuso, siamo tutti ugualmente coinvolti da quello che vi succede, i limiti delle acque territoriali sono solo linee su una mappa, al mare non interessano.

La più grande piattaforma Italiana si chiama Vega, si trova a 22 km dalla costa di Pozzallo (Ragusa)
Tell me about this referendum coming up on April 17 and how the results could affect the current status of drilling.
The referendum of April 17 will be a vote in which citizens will be able to tell whether or not they want to go ahead with drilling at sea. Unfortunately, the government is doing everything not to inform the citizens and many don’t even know about the vote. In Italy, if there isn’t at least 50% voter turnout, the referendum is canceled. Furthermore, the government has found a way to make this referendum less effective by taking out the most important part that could have halted the drilling for many years. Even so, it’s an important time politically because the referendum still has a strong moral value even if legally, it will have little effect. 

Raccontami questo referendum del 17 aprile.
Il referendum del 17 aprile sarà una votazione in cui i cittadini potranno dire se vogliono o no che si vada avanti con le trivellazioni in mare. Purtroppo il governo sta facendo di tutto per non informare i cittadini e molti neanche sanno che ci sarà questa votazione. In Italia se a un referendum non vota più del 50% degli aventi diritto il referendum viene annullato. Il governo ha trovato il modo di svuotare di senso questo referendum eliminando la parte più importante che avrebbe davvero bloccato le trivelle per molti anni. Ma anche così è un momento importante politicamente perché ha comunque una forte valenza morale anche se legalmente inciderà poco. 

Deep Water Horizon disaster (Image from
In making this film, what have you found are the most serious dangers to Italians and the environment in general caused by the drilling?
The greatest damage is to the fishermen. In some areas of the Adriatic Sea, there are so many platforms that fishermen no longer know where to go with their boats. When talking about Offshore you always think about the risk for disaster, such as in the Gulf of Mexico with Deep Water Horizon, but few know about the pollution caused by these platforms just in normal operation. They are industrial plants in the sea and they have an impact. In addition, the Italian government, to attract oil companies, has fees among the lowest in Europe. This means that the huge risk is not offset by gains. The Adriatic Sea is a closed sea, this means that the sea, in the event of an accident, would have huge repercussions. In our journey, we also saw other serious problems such as subsidence: the sinking of the earth as a result of the extraction of gas. There are areas, such as the area of ​​Ravenna in Emilia Romagna, where hundreds of meters of beaches have disappeared in twenty years because the land has sunk more than a meter. 
Deep Water Horizon disaster (Image from NPR)
Nel percorso di questo film, quali gravi pericoli avete trovato per gli italiani e per l’ambiente generale causate dalle trivellazioni?
Il danno più grave lo pagano i pescatori. In alcune zone del mare adriatico ci sono talmente tante piattaforme che i pescatori non sanno più dove passare con le loro barche. Quando si parla di Offshore si pensa sempre al rischio disastro, come nel golfo del Messico con la Deep Water Orizon, ma pochi sanno che le piattaforme inquinano anche nella normale operatività. Sono impianti industriali in mezzo al mare e hanno un impatto. Inoltre lo stato italiano, per attirare le compagnie petrolifere, ha le tasse tra le più basse d'Europa. Questo vuol dire che il rischio enorme non è bilanciato dai guadagni. Il mare adriatico é un mare chiuso, questo vuol dire che il mare, in caso di incidente, ci metterebbe tantissimo a riprendersi. Nel nostro viaggio abbiamo visto anche altri gravi problemi come la subsidenza: lo sprofondare della terra a seguito del l'estrazione di gas. Ci sono aree, come la zona di Ravenna in Emilia Romagna, dove spiagge larghe centinaia di metri sono sparite in venti anni perché la terra è sprofondata di più di un metro. 

Follow Italian Offshore on social media.. Twitter and Facebook. Watch the trailer.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Basilicata: Terra di Cinema - Cinque Domande per Nicola Ragone

“La pelle umana delle cose, il derma della realtà, ecco con che cosa gioca anzitutto il cinema.” (A. Artaud)

Questo è il momento della Basilicata nel mondo del cinema. La sua bellezza è tra le migliori presenze del cinema Italiano. Sembra che ogni settimana, esca un film fatto in Lucania. La regione sta veramente diventando conosciuta attraverso il mondo come la terra di cinema.

La Riva, il nuovo cortometraggio del regista lucano Nicola Ragone sarà mostrato nell'ambito del V° Meeting Internazionale del Cinema Indipendente a Matera. Ho parlato con Ragone di questo film e del suo lavoro.

Raccontami “La Riva”.

La Riva è un cortometraggio scritto da Antonio Andrisani, prodotto dalla società di produzione Arifa Film, grazie al “Bando alla crisi”, promosso dalla Lucana Film Commission. E’ stato un progetto interessante, mi ha permesso di esplorare un orizzonte stilistico nuovo, un contenitore di personaggi, luoghi e situazioni particolari. Un mondo assurdo e grottesco, metafora di una società soffocante come la spiaggia affollata e frenetica che infastidisce il nostro protagonista; anti-eroe che decide di evadere dalla vacuità del quotidiano, raggiungendo una landa deserta, priva di rumori e distrazioni, spazio in equilibrio e di equilibro, ma purtroppo utopico perché esonerato da scelte e ostacoli, massi che caratterizzano la nostra esistenza. E quindi...bisogna ritornare “a riva”, tornare nel quotidiano e avere la forza di decidere il proprio percorso. Per questo c’è sempre tempo...Questo cortometraggio mi ha dato la possibilità di collaborare con una squadra che è stata formata sul territorio. C'è stato un grande spirito di appartenenza. La relazione con il territorio ha creato una strana e divertente sinergia: gioco e pura libertà espressiva.

Come fai a esprimere il tuo orgoglio lucano nell’arte del cinema?
Ho pensato di intraprendere il percorso cinematografico grazie alle mie origini. La Lucania è una terra antichissima e ancestrale, che conserva un proprio tempo, non aderente a quello misurato in altri luoghi. E’ un tempo mitico, o mitologico. Durante la mia adolescenza questo tempo mi sembrava estremamente dilatato: giornate infinite e soprattutto vuote, prive di stimoli, caratterizzate dalla noia. La ricerca di un modo per riempire il tempo mi ha portato alla necessità di avere visioni, immagini, racconti. Avevo bisogno di creare un mondo fantastico che potesse riempire questo vuoto. Sono orgoglioso di provenire da questa terra così misteriosa, ma così semplice, una terra che mi ha regalato una necessità: cercare un’identificazione. E’ una ricerca che forse non avrà un suo compimento, ma il cinema può aiutarci, in fondo è il tentativo, l’ipotesi di un’identificazione.

Complimenti per il tuo Nastro d’Argento. Raccontami il tuo film, Sonderkommando e come è nata la collaborazione con Silvia Scola e Daniele Ciprì.
Sonderkommando, ha rappresentato un momento importante nel mio percorso, un tentativo di ricerca e di sperimentazione. Il momento più utile di tutto questo lungo e faticoso percorso, è avvenuto durante le proiezioni in sala. Sentivo che il progetto si stava allontanando da me. Questo distacco mi ha dato la possibilità di maturare, di guardalo con freddezza e di poter capire quali potessero essere i sentieri da percorrere in futuro, o quanto fosse importante compiere una scelta nella sua profondità.

Tutto questo risiede nel racconto del cortometraggio. Citando la sceneggiatura di Silvia Scola: “è l’amore che sboccia dove gli pare, come un fiore dal letame”. E’ un lavoro che riflette sull’etica e sull’ambiguità di certe posizioni e di certe scelte. Primo Levi avvertiva: “se è successo, potrebbe ancora succedere”. La Storia, come diceva già Vico, si ripete, e non perché si ripeta uguale negli atti, ma perché la natura dell’uomo è sempre la stessa. La natura dell’odio e della volontà di “eliminazione dell’altro” perché diverso da sé, non ci ha mai abbandonato ed è questa la ragione che ci ha spinto a raccontare una storia d’amore così diversa, eppure così tristemente uguale.

La collaborazione con Silvia Scola e Daniele Ciprì, è nata in modo casuale e spontaneo, grazie ad una serie di congiunzioni avvenute nel momento giusto. Devo molto ad entrambi: hanno seguito il progetto in tutte le sue fasi, lo hanno nutrito con la loro esperienza, con la loro tecnica, ma soprattutto con la loro spontaneità: rara umiltà signorile.

Il Nastro d’argento è stato un riconoscimento importante per Sonderkommando: per lo sforzo profuso, per quello che ognuno ha donato, per il coraggio e per la fiducia. Una motivazione ulteriore per proseguire il cammino e per poter affrontare il percorso tortuoso con totale sacrificio, cercando di far vivere costantemente il rito. 

Parlando della famiglia Scola, per te come ha influenzato il cinema Italiano Ettore Scola?
Essendo Ettore Scola, cioè sempre se stesso. Questo l’insegnamento più grande, difficilissimo da mettere in pratica. Il Novecento è stato il secolo della perdita dell’identità: siamo stati abituati ad indossare una o più maschere per proteggere la nostra vera natura. Il maestro Scola sembrava un uomo del Settecento: autentico e illuminato. Questo il segreto della sua saggezza.

Qual’è il tuo sogno del futuro nel cinema?
Che il cinema diventi una comunità di libera espressione. Ma forse non lo sarà mai.

L'appuntamento di La Riva è per Sabato 12 Marzo ore 21:00 presso il Cinema Comunale Matera.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The New Season of "Il Commissario Montalbano" Hits the Ground Running

"Il Commissario Montalbano" is one of Italy's most popular television series and its record-breaking new season is underway with ten million people having tuned into the premiere last week. The series was halted for a few years, but just started back up and fans could not be happier.

Based on Andrea Camilleri's famous detective novels, the show is filmed mostly in the gorgeous Sicilian province of Ragusa with Montalbano's headquarters in Scicli (home of Italo the dog). The plot is centered on the life and work of Commissioner Salvo Montalbano, played by one of Italy's most adored actors, Luca Zingaretti. Commissioner Montalbano is a focused yet friendly police investigator who is both respected and feared. He's your average working-class good guy going after criminals, trying to make the world a better place. The popularity of "Il Commissario Montalbano" has inspired movies, theater productions and the prequel, "Il giovane Montalbano", which features Pugliese actor, Michele Riondino, the star of Ricky Tognazzi's 2015 RAI series, "Pietro Mennea - La Freccia del Sud".

Costarring alongside Zingaretti is Cesare Bocci in the role of Vice-Commissario Domenico "Mimì" Augello and Calabria-born actor, Peppino Mazzotta as his assistant, Inspector Giuseppe Fazio. Recently of "Anime nere" fame, Mazzotta's easy-going, friendly character in this series is a 180 degree turn from the intense "Rocco" in "Anime nere". Watching him in the role of Inspector Fazio will make you appreciate the greatness of his talent.

"Il Commissario Montalbano" airs Mondays in Italy on Rai 1 and in America on RAI International. Unfortunately, there are not English subtitles but there are plenty of beautiful shots of the stunning Ragusa landscape and Scicli structures. For more information, check out the show's page on Rai.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Five Italian Documentaries in the lineup for Lincoln Center's Art of the Reel Series

Last week, Italian documentary filmmaker Roberto Minervini received a special mention Nastro d'Argento (Il Nastro Speciale) for his film, "The Other Side." Today, it was announced the film will be shown on Opening Night of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Art of the Reel film series.

Minervini is becoming known for his hybrid form of filmmaking, which shows people essentially play themselves, creating the look and feel of a documentary, while the director clearly intervenes to create situations rather than observe them. His work is among the most interesting to emerge from the US in recent years, which may be surprising considering he is an Italian who has decided to poke his camera into the margins of American society. On the heels of his superb trilogy of Texas-based films (The Passage, Low Tide, Stop the Pounding Heart), Minervini moves his focus to Louisiana, where we come face-to-face with a group of people who seem to have stepped out of "Deliverance." Faces carry the lines and scars of hard living, clothes are tattered, living conditions are chaotic. Some of his subjects are drug addicts; others are libertarian fanatics who hate the federal government. Yet Minervini finds a compassion and tenderness behind their gruff exteriors. Much of the film focuses on a small-time drug dealer and the girlfriend he lives with (and shoots up with). But, as "The Other Side" gradually shifts its attention to a group of local militia who are convinced that the feds are on the verge of declaring martial law and taking away their freedom, we are shown a more disturbing image of contemporary America. Sometimes it takes the eye of an outsider to provide a new perspective. Minervini is one such outsider. We feel he is at home with his subjects, as he peers into corners that many Americans choose to ignore. The film will be shown on Friday, April 8, 7:00pm with a Q&A to follow with Roberto Minervini. Watch the trailer...

The other four films are: "Fragment 53" by Federico Lodoli and Carlo Gabriele Tribbioli, "Il Solengo" by Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis, "Lampedusa" by Philip Cartelli and Mariangela Ciccarello and "The Mesh and the Circle" (A Trama e o Círculo) by Mariana Caló and Francisco Queimadela. Below are descriptions from the Film Society's website. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.

Fragment 53
Federico Lodoli & Carlo Gabriele Tribbioli, Italy/Switzerland/Liberia, 2015, 71m
English, Italian, and Mande with English subtitles
Comprising interviews with seven different men of varying rank about atrocities they committed (or ordered) during the First Liberian Civil War, this frank and frequently disturbing documentary examines the nature of modern violence and an essentialist concept of warfare. Their testimony, interspersed with snapshots of Liberia’s streets and mangrove trees as they currently exist, along with some terrifying video footage from the era, illustrate the ravages—and the inevitability—of humanity’s basest desire for conflict. Without falling into the sensationalist or simplistic, Lodoli and Tribbioli’s film is crucial viewing for our current age of extremism.
Watch the trailer

Il Solengo
Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis, Italy, 2015, 66m
Italian with English subtitles
Winner of DocLisboa’s 2015 Best International Film Award, Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis’s documentary explores the life of Mario de Marcella, a man who lived alone in a cave for over 60 years, nicknamed “Il Solengo” (the lone boar that’s been cut off from his pack). No one knows for certain why he decided to become a hermit. Still, hunters from his home village (who would occasionally encounter him in the wilderness) offer conflicting reasons about his solitude through elaborate stories. The negative space created by his absence is filled with gorgeous imagery of the Italian countryside. North American Premiere
Thursday, April 14, 6:30pm (Q&A with Alessio Rigo de Righi and Matteo Zoppis)
Watch the trailer

Philip Cartelli & Mariangela Ciccarello, Italy/France/USA, 2015, 14m
English, Italian, and French with English subtitles
Interlacing its multilingual narrative with high-definition panoramas and black-and-white Super 8 footage, Lampedusa revisits the 1831 volcanic eruption off the coast of Sicily, which created a short-lived landmass that provoked multiple European nations to claim it as their own.

The Mesh and the Circle / A Trama e o Círculo
Mariana Caló & Francisco Queimadela, Portugal/Italy, 2014, 34m
Portuguese with English subtitles
Using a restaged version of Diary of a Country Priest’s opening shot as a recurring framing device, Mariana Caló and Francisco Queimadela depict, deconstruct, and show the movement-based connections between obscure rituals and daily domestic activities from across Portugal. These actions exist simultaneously as symbol and document of the quotidian, a fascinating, accessible experimental and anthropological study. North American Premiere
Watch the trailer

Thursday, March 3, 2016

“Montedoro” in the words of Pia Mann

Montedoro, is the fascinating, true story of an Italian-American woman named Pia Mann, or Porziella Boffilo as she was originally named, whose journey to find her birth mother led her to Craco, a deserted town in the heart of southern Italy. What preceded that fateful journey was a life of pain, trials and emotional challenges.

Pia’s earliest memories go back to her life as a toddler in Italy. She has blurry images of people, places and emotions like love and fear. She has fleeting recollections of meeting her adoptive parents in New York and then growing up in America, struggling between the loyalty and gratitude that her head was telling her to feel for her adoptive family, and the longing in her heart to know about her roots and where she came from. 

An olive grove in Basilicata photographed by Antonello Faretta
Montedoro is an expression of love by two people powered by different forces. On one hand, the film demonstrates the love and connection Pia Mann has for her origins, her birth mother and the sacred inner peace she finds once she arrives. On the other hand, Montedoro is a visual and poetic declaration of love by its director, Anontello Faretta, who was born in the region, Basilicata. He grew up photographing the natural splendor for which it is known. He's seen firsthand how its resources have been exploited by outsiders having no connection to the land, specifically the petroleum that in the last few years has been extracted. Speaking on behalf of both accounts, Antonello Faretta describes Montedoro as “a very personal, intimate film.” 

Pia with her adoptive father
Let’s start at the very beginning. What are your memories of living in Italy?
I knew I was loved, it's a feeling from dreams, small déjà. It had to be.. I always recall a dark-haired woman.. and I would sing to children and mine when I had them. Ni na no.. My brother said momma used to sing it to me. I loved water, hearing it. I loved jugs. Then I was told that I would sit near my home in Craco, watching the women get their water in jugs with two handles. My current home has a brook behind it. I listen to the water and it gives me a sense of peace and safety. I did not recall momma, and slowly I forgot Gianni my brother. But I always dreamt of this little boy with green eyes carrying me. In my teens, I was told that my mother back in Italy was a prostitute, and that she had left me on the streets. I was told I should be grateful to my adoptive family since they saved me. But all of this came out of my adoptive mother’s mouth. My daddy was my savior. 

Tell me about the yearning to find your birth mother, and the moment you picked up the phone and make that call.
My favorite quote that I wrote is, “I sleep to dream of a life that would be real,” and it’s ironic because my dreams were indeed real. The experience I had since meeting Antonello was frightening, awakening, sorrowful and life changing. 
It was January 23. After finding all the information in the bank shortly after my adoptive mother died, and finally having the name of my momma in Italy, Dominica Boffilo. I went on my computer and it took me just 10 minutes before I found her phone number.
I dialed the number. There was no answer. Maybe she is dead. Why was I doing this?
I remembered my adoptive grandmother before she died said I had a brother and other siblings. I looked them up and called three names ending in Boffilo.
Nothing. I was going to give up but I said I'm this close. I dialed again and a man answered. I said, “hello my name is Porziella and I'm looking for my mom Dominica.”
He said, “that's my mom.” So I began to say, “then you’re my brother.” I felt nothing really. He said, “our mom is in Milan with your other brother.” 
Oh my!!! Now I was shaking.
I called. A man answered.. “Hello, I'm Porziella. Do you know me?”
I heard crying. “Gianni,” he said, “its me it’s me, little one.  Wait let me put your momma on the phone.”  
She said, “Bella?? Porziella my daughter.”
I recalled saying for the first time in my life, “MOMMA Momma”...
I cried, dropped the phone, felt my heart would leave my chest.
I was alone in the house. Alone but it's the way it should have been.
Then the next day we shared photos.. we faxed.

Pia (right) with friend from Pisticci
Tell me about the little girl in the photo from the orphanage. Have you thought about trying to find her? I found all these pictures when my adoptive mom died. We lived in that orphanage in Pisticci. We looked like we were holding hands. We look scared and empty in the eyes. I recall the orphanage most of all. I tried to find out who she was, but my efforts were fruitless. I asked about her but no one seems to know. 

What was it like to finally meet your birth mother?
I think the first time I met my mom, it was the stairway to heaven actually. We walked up three flights of stairs and with each step, my heart kept pounding. She was at my brother Tommino's home. When she opened the door, I saw this woman who had my face and we just hugged and cried. All I wanted to do was put my ear to her heart and listen to her heart beating as I did when I was in her womb. When I did, I felt an inner peace.

You told me that your life has changed since making this film. Tell me about your journey and the emotional transformation you’ve undergone.
Actually it started changing the day my adoptive mom died. I was finally free. I had no more obligations. She always said I owed her my life because I was discarded, not wanted .
I told my brother Gianni after I met him, we are strangers, yes but not of the heart. I recall this little boy. His eyes. My dreams, being carried on his back, playing with his ears.
But I was worried. I had a dream one night that my adoptive mom came back from the dead and said, “Sorry these are all actors. They are not your family.” I cried. Why, why do you want to destroy me!!!
Emotionally, I was disappearing.. Now I was told to be happy. You are loved. Be proud of who you are. But how? Who was I? I lost a life I should have had. Was I now meant to show all of them love? I don't know what that is. To me, love is respect, caring, putting yourself last.. accepting. I don't know. I had many masks. I cried for months. How would I survive now without pain? I depended on it. My masks are gone now. I learned to open my heart.. not all the way but I'm getting there.
The film, “Montedoro” helped me. It made me see Porziella for the first time. I had to rip the bandage off my wounds. I had to be raw and feel pain again, and grow from weakness. I had to forgive, accept and realize that I am Pia. I am my past. I am strong. I am kind. The film stripped me of all my defenses. I looked at my scars. I looked at my body for the first time. I was real. My momma made me. I'm pretty.
Antonello showed me the path. He guided me. He knew my ghosts. He pulled out my pain. “Montedoro” is my rebirth. Walking through Craco. Feeling the wind. The souls who are gone. Looking around, I could hear me laughing as a child, playing in this beautiful Craco. Happy, innocent, feeling love..
I left that mountain. I cried the last day of shooting. I stayed behind. I felt my spirit. I saw myself dancing away. I said goodbye to Porziella. 

Pia with her birth mother in Craco
What are your thoughts, hopes and fears for the Matera and New York screenings?
My hopes for my screenings are that people will open up their minds and hearts and maybe see themselves in this film. It's spiritual. I hope I can help at least one person to understand that we can choose to be good, kind, and not be a product of our past. I have no fears. They can know of my molestations. They can look at my breasts and maybe snicker.. Ooh bad Pia. I need the truth to be told because the secrets destroyed me. The truth, finding my family and releasing all the lies saved me. I survived.

What are your feelings about Craco and Basilicata as a whole? Do you feel peace when you are there? Do you feel like you are home? If so, how does that sense of “home” differ from “home” in the United States?
My masks are gone. Home is wherever I am. My heart is with Italy. My spirit is with my home here in the USA. With that said, I truly am at home in Italy. I am more myself. I can expose more of my Italian feeling. I cook, I nap..:-) I fit in really well. I then need my home here with my husband and children. I have been privileged now to go back and forth. I spend six weeks in Italy every three months. I tried to get to know my mom but I knew her only for three years before she passed away, but that's another story.
I am humbled by all the praise my movie has gotten. Would I have healed if not for Montedoro or meeting Antonello and Adrianna? Maybe, but it's wonderful.
January 23, 2007.. what a lucky number . Hello my name is Porziella
March 2016.. Hello my name is Pia.

There are really no words that can follow such powerful and intimate recollections. Montedoro is making its way through the world. If it is shown in your neck of the woods, I strongly recommend you see it. For more information and to watch the trailer.. visit Montedoro online.

In Conversation with Director Cecilia Pignocchi

Filmmakers Arthur Couvat and  Cecilia Pignocchi It’s unusual for a first-time filmmaker to be recognized by a high-profile, international fi...