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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.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fausto Brizzi's "Forever Young" brings Veganism into the Spotlight

Actress Claudia Zanella
Fausto Brizzi's new film, Forever Young, opened today in Italy. The film takes on society’s thirst for the fountain of youth. With a whole host of characters ranging from 30-somethings to 60-somethings, each character faces his or her own struggle with the aging process, whether it be physical, psychological or a combination of both. 

Claudia Zanella is one of the film's stars and she's been doing a ton of press for it,  shedding light on one her biggest passions, veganism. 

When we think of Italy, the traditional food comes to mind- regional cheeses, Sicilian ricotta deserts, Italian sausage. But the new generation of Italians is breaking ground and speaking up against the environmental damage and the exploitation and suffering of animals caused by meat consumption. Although there is a huge population of vegetarians in Italy, the vegan movement is fairly new and tough for most to embrace. Zanella is outspoken in her beliefs and unfortunately she's had to endure her share of ridicule from the critics and general public.  

Thanks in part to social media and outspoken celebrity supporters Zanella, the vegan movement is gaining ground. Through brave undercover investigations, groups like Mercy for Animals and PETA are catching animal abusers in the act and exposing the unimaginable horrors that go on behind the closed doors of slaughterhouses and factory farms. Animal sanctuaries worldwide are rasing money on Facebook to fund their efforts to provide safe havens for abused and rescued animals. There are documentary films like Forks Over Knives, Speciesism and Earthlings that are literally turning people vegan within hours. I believe the majority of people in the world are good but the majority of people have no idea how that piece of meat gets to their plate- the physical torture, the mental torture, the hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into it. Education is power and slowly but surely, people are becoming aware of what they are actually putting into their bodies and the effect it's all having on the environment.

1. having the power of perception by the senses; conscious.
2. characterized by sensation and consciousness.

3. a person or thing that is sentient.
4. Archaic. the conscious mind.
1. discrimination in favor of one species, usually the human species, over another, especially in the exploitation or mistreatment of animals by humans.
These are words often used in the defense of voiceless animals when certain questions are raised. Do we as humans have the right to take what is theirs? How does one become vegan or even vegetarian? What’s the final tipping point? What do they eat? Where do they get their protein? For the answers to these questions and for the perspective of an abolitionist vegan- someone who feels we have no right taking anything from another species, I went to someone I consider a Calabrese-American Vegan Goddess aka Lucia Grillo. I met Grillo through social media last year and I’m looking forward to meeting her in person for a vegan meal in New York City at the end of the month. She is tireless in her efforts to spread the word about animal rights and human rights for that matter. She is prolific in her work as a filmmaker and journalist. She is a producer and correspondent for the popular CUNY talk show, "Italics" and has profiled vegan restaurants and chefs in the New York metropolitan area.  She also runs her own production company, Calabrisella Films.

Lucia Grillo in NYC (Photo by Alexo Wandael)
Why did you become vegan and when?
I became fully vegan in 1996, but I became vegetarian in 1983, when I was still very young. I would have done it so much earlier, as I was conscious of the absurdity and insensitivity of slaughtering and consuming other (non-human) sentient beings around the age of five. As I became more conscious of the horrors of the dairy industry, it became clear that it was necessary to fully refute this inhumane treatment of our fellow sentients. 

What is the reaction when you tell people that you are vegan?
It used to be more alarmist, as veganism was not as diffuse, so people would panic and ask the age-old question: "Where do you get your protein?" We vegans laugh at this now, because one: most humans do not need so much protein, especially those with mostly sedentary lifestyles; and two: there are many more sources and varieties of lean, vegetable, legume and plant proteins than there are meat sources! In the past five years or so, however, with the rapid increase in veganism and environmental concerns, awareness of consumerism, capitalism and health, and most of all, the lives of animals, there is a very positive attitude. Some people have violent reactions, but usually it's because they're ill-informed. Mostly, people are curious. 

What are the global dangers of consuming meat?
Speciesism is a dangerous perspective to have - the idea that the Universe and all that is within it is centered around human animals. It's perilous - to the non-human animals who are, in their commodification, enslaved, tortured, and slaughtered, their lives reduced to ones of misery; to the Earth, with all the razing of rain forests to "produce" beef - which is not "produced" at all but living animals turned into something for human consumption and is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. So even if human beings are concerned with themselves and their own survival, it behooves them - as the presumably most progressed of the animals, to be fit caretakers of the Earth rather than its destroyers. Some people consider veganism to be a bourgeois tenet, but if you think of the reality - that grains grown in poor countries are sent to feed cattle in wealthy countries, where there is overproduction and animals are destroyed - crushed to death or left to die when they are not needed - and the grains could be used to feed the people of the very countries from which they're exported.

(See below in the video why the egg industry grinds and crushes live baby male chicks)

So to not be vegan is not only bourgeois but worse – capitalist, racist, imperialist, classist, and patriarchal - because essentially this is saying that only the lives of richer people in richer countries have any worth. That's my short answer! 

How pigs in American factory farms spend their lives
How does your veganism fit into your Italian heritage? Is it challenging at family dinners?
Very well! Could not fit better. Actually, that is one of the questions I used to get a lot: "How can you be Italian and be vegan?" Well, most pasta - that staple of Italian pride - is vegan. My mother used to half-joke that she was vegan per forza growing up nearly poor in Calabria. In fact, some of my favorite recipes are the ones my Nonna used to make when I visited her in Calabria, some of which she even veganized for me. Come on, insalata di zucchine with cipolle di Tropea and mint? How could you go wrong? And the dish I always get excited about is a piatto povero: dark leafy greens sautéed in olive oil with beans and stale bread. Buono! Olive schiacciate! Besides, as we know, the family meal is at the center of Italian life, and feeding people is how we show our love, so when it comes down to it, the family is going to adapt their recipes (which are invented by mere humans in the first place); and in that, I've been very lucky not only to have a family who not only loves me that much and respects my love for the animals and for our own species, but also to have grown up in a family of chefs (my father is an autodidact and older sister is a Blue Ribbon chef, plus my mother is a tremendous, inventive cook) and even the extended family have been veganizing for health: my 80-year-old Zio drinks soy milk! My dad particularly has a healthy diet: he'll grab a handful of nuts or some fruit as a snack, which surely I learned from him, and he always emphasized "real" food for his children – he and my mom making us their version of American foods instead of buying them processed and in preservatives, my dad even growing vegetables in his own garden, to this day. Italians know the value of food: even a simple tomato with some salt is exquisite. And being non-traditional as a human being, I mostly gravitate towards the cuisine of other cultures, which I've been exposed to since childhood, growing up with other children of immigrants. I'm a New Yorker! 
(Vincent Grillo, Lucia's father, is one of the subjects of her documentary “Earth Dream Earth” about Italian immigrants’ connection to the Earth via their backyard vegetable gardens)

Lucia Grillo at the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary
What is your advice to people who consider themselves animal lovers but continue to eat meat and wear products made from the skin, feathers and fur of animals?
You cannot say you love animals and continue to contribute to their suffering. You simply cannot. Just as you can't say you "love" women, for example, and not stand up to end rape and porn and attacks on reproductive rights or other aspects of our patriarchal society that contribute to their being considered less - less than men, less than human. It’s the same. What's the difference between loving a dog - which are thought of as food in some cultures and whose coats are even used as fur trim on clothing worn by those same "animal lovers" - and a cow, which is sacred in some cultures? Cows come when you call their names. Pigs are the fourth-smartest mammals. Mother pigs sing to their piglets while nursing. Really think about it. Think about the kind of world you want to live in, the kind of world you want to create. It is no longer "necessary" to utilize the flesh of dead animals. With human progress, so many beautiful materials have been created to keep us warm, make us look good, and they are becoming more sustainable. Why would you want to wear death? Why would you want to destroy rather than uplift? Why would you want to contribute to and leave behind a dead Earth? As the famous quote goes: "We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." What kind of legacy do you want to leave - one of cruelty or one of compassion? 

To learn more about Lucia Grillo, visit her website. For more information on factory farming, plant-based eating and veganism.. here is a list of great online resources, plus a few informative documentaries..

My Top Facebook Pages

My Top Documentaries

Stream Earthlings for rent or purchase
Watch the trailer:


"Farm to Fridge" - 12 Minutes - Watch right here on YouTube


"Meet Your Meat" narrated by Alec Baldwin - 11 minutes - Watch right here on YouTube

My Top Reads

Helpful Websites

How to go Vegan

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