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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Interview: Animator Donato Sansone

Video artist and animator Donato Sansone has made the short list for Oscar contention with his latest work, Journal Anime. He has joined the ranks of an emerging generation in Italy's southern region of Basilicata that has received international acknowledgement for their work as filmmakers. 

Sansone is from a small town called Bella. By mere coincidence, I recently spent a week in his charming hometown, and I can say that it's what many of us Italian-Americans imagine when we dream of the land of our origins.. quaint and lovely with warm, kind people, delicious culinary products and gifted chefs who know well how to utilize them. I spent an unforgettable week there attending the town's exceptional film festival, which showcased compelling topics and filmmakers from all over Italy. So, it's no surprise the town has produced a talented filmmaker of its own. I asked Donato Sansone about his work and his origins in this beautiful, justly named town of Bella. Our interview was done in Italian, so both versions are included.

How did you come up with the idea for this film?
The idea of the film simply came from a short produced by the French television network Canal+ for its show, THE COLLECTION: DESTINE TOUJOURS. I had been given the theme "LIBERTÉ OF THE EXPRESSION" related to Charlie Hebdo, and therefore I thought to animate a newspaper in a 2-month performance where I interpreted the news in my own way. After having imagined how to make the short, my Parisian producers had the idea of putting the word "liberation" in the middle of the newspaper in order to work with this theme of freedom on a daily basis. So when I arrived in the morning to start working, I was very pleased to use this theme on a daily basis.

Come nasce l'idea per questo film?
l'idea del film nasce semplicemente dal fatto che essendo un corto prodotto da canal+ per LA COLLECTION : DESSINE TOUJOURS mi era stato imposto il tema "LA LIBERTÉ D'EXPRESSION" tema legato a Charlie Hebdo e dunque ho pensato di animare un quotidiano in una performance di 2 mesi dove interpretavo le notizie a modo mio. Dopo aver immaginato a come fare il corto hanno pensato, i miei produttori parigini autour de minuit e canal+ , di mettere in mezzo il quotidiano "liberation" in modo da lavorare quotidianamente con il supporto di liberation. La mattina mi facevano arrivare il giornale in studio e io intervenivo sulle notizie che mi interessavano o che trovavo simpatiche quotidianamente.

What was your reaction when you heard the news that you made this short list for the Oscar.
It has been a pleasure being considered for an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film and beautiful to be among these films, which are considered the best short films in the world. But I think that it will be almost impossible to make the final list of the 10 films which will actually get nominated for the Oscar because the standard for choosing in very high. However, I can't say that perhaps a little luck wouldn't help.

Raccontami la tua reazione quando hai saputo di essere presente con il tuo lavoro nella lista per avere la possibilità di un premio come l'Oscar.
La reazione nell'essere candidato agli oscar dei corti d'animazione è stata piacevole ma non oltre perchè si tratta di una candidatura dove verra fatta una scrematura per avere 10 nomination, è di per se gia' una bella cosa la candidatura certo ma il livello è davvero altissimo, il mio corto è in competizione con i migliori cortometraggi del mondo dunque sara' difficilissimo passare nella nomination dei 10 e quasi impossibile vincere pero' insomma, non è mai detto ci vuole anche fortuna nella commissione.

(Watch and listen to church bells ringing in the town center of Bella..)

Tell me about your origins in Bella.
Everything that I experienced growing up in this town made me dream and influenced my imagination. Then I evolved as I saw other places and art outside of my town and its people. But Bella will always be my town. The whole community there along with my family are what has formed me and I'll always have that influence inside of me.

Come la communità di Bella Basilicata ha influenzato il tuo lavoro da regista?
Il mio paese tutto cio' che ho vissuto nell'infazia e nell'adoloscenza del mio paese hanno segnato buona parte del mio sogno della realtà del mio immaginario che si è poi evoluto nel vedere altre cose e altra arte al di fuori del mio contesto paesano. Pero' Bella.. il mio paese e la mia famiglia, l'intera comunita' del mio paese sono la mia famiglia sono il mio mondo che mi ha formato e che avro' sempre dentro di me.

Bella, Basilicata's 2016 Film Festival
Have you worked as a director in Basilicata? There have been a lot of film productions in the region in recent years.
I've never actually worked in Basilicata because I left when I was 18-years-old to work in Naples and then Torino. Paradoxically, apart from my town in Basilicata, I am not known there. I have made a name for myself abroad but not in Basilicata. We'll see if there will be any opportunities in the future.. perhaps even a co-poduction with the Lucana Film Commission and my French producers and distributors of "Autour de minuit".

Hai lavorato in Basilicata come regista? Ho visto negli ultimi anni che ci sono molti produzioni in Lucania..
In Basilicata, non ho mai lavorato perchè a 18 anni sono andato via prima a Napoli poi a Torino ecc. paradossalmente a parte il mio paese in Basilicata non mi conoscono, sono conosciuto dappertuttpo soprattutto all'estero ma non in Basilicata. Farei volentieri qualcosa con la mia terra se ci fosse la possibilita' anche con la film commission Basilicata ...vedremo piu' in la' se sara' possibile, magari anche una coproduzione della Basilicata con i miei produttori e distributori francesi di " autour de minuit".

We'll keep you updated on Sansone's possible Oscar nomination. In the meantime, click here to check out other works by Donato Sansone.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Michele Vanucci's "Il più grande sogno" (I Was a Dreamer) Now in Italian Theaters

With director Michele Vanucci and lead actor Mirko Frezza
It's always great to be in Rome for Opening Day of a film. The director and casts usually make their way through a few theaters to present it or to say a few words afterwards. Such was the case for Michele Vanucci's Il più grande grande sogno, a film I originally saw back in September via the Sala Web program of the Venice Film Festival. This year, a great selection of films were made available on this internet platform for those of us who couldn't make it there in person. I was thrilled to meet the cast and director in Rome last night, and tell them how much I adored this film. Below is my original review. Not much has changed for me the second time around, except that I realized much of the humor was lost in translation. Since I saw the film in the theater closest to the neighborhood in which it was filmed, there were family and friends of the cast members, in particular Mirko Frezza. They were laughing in parts that weren't necessarily funny with English subtitles, but with lines in dialect that only Romans could really understand and see the humor. I was also able to watch the performances more closely since I wasn't reading subtitles, and I really appreciated more the performances of Ginevra De Carolis, who played Freeze's teenage daughter in the film. Her understated expressions and idiosyncrasies made her character real and vulnerable. She gave a subtle but powerful performance.

Review posted September 8, 2016

If you plan on seeing this movie, don’t read this review. The best way to see it is as I did, knowing nothing and then having your mind blown at the end with the copy that comes up. 

With that said, my mind was blown several times over again after I first realized this neighborhood, La Rustica, actually exists in Rome. Then, I read that the film was inspired by the true story of the lead actor Mirko Frezza. I was surprised again when I learned that La Rustica is located just about 10 minutes away from Cinecittà, not out in the sticks somewhere.

Il più grande song is the story of Mirko, an ex-con who wants to turn his life around. He grew up surrounded by drugs and crime with a father (Vittorio Viviani) who made his son an accomplice. There is a heart-wrenching scene in which Mirko pleads with his father to leave him alone and let him better himself. He says to his father, “Not one time have you ever said, good job.” His father insists that he will not be able to change- “A leopard never loses his spots.” However, in the end, it is his father who saves him from the brink of despair. The ending gave me the chills and then when I realized the film is based on a true story, it was that much more poignant. 

Vannucci gave us some pretty intense moments, using long-held shots to build suspense. There were also some more light-hearted scenes, which gave us the feeling that trouble was just around the corner, and in most cases, it was. All in all, the film is a feel-good story of this ex-con with a big heart trying to feed his community and improve their standard of life. Although there is conflict and temptation from other criminals and drug dealers, Mirko has a strong support system in his loving partner (Milena Mancini), stubborn but caring daughter (Ginevra De Carolis) and faithful friend played by Alessandro Borghi, who reinvents himself again for another incredible, passionate performance.

Upon researching the story behind this film, I read an interesting story by Cineuropa, which stated the director Michele Vannucci met the lead actor Mirko Frezza in 2012 while he was holding casting sessions for his short film, which was a graduation project at Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia. According to the article, Vanucci never forgot “the striking 40-year-old man, with his awe-inspiring physique, long hair, hipster beard, tribal tattoos and piercing eyes. He learned that he had a story to tell – his own.”

Thursday, November 24, 2016

In theaters today.. Michele Placido's "7 minuti"

The cast along with the director and writer of 7 minuti at the Festa del Cinema di Roma
Michele Placido's much talked about film 7 minuti hits Italian theaters today. The timing of the release coincides with an important referendum vote that will take place in Italy on December 4. Everywhere you go, "Vote Si o No".. "Io voto si" or "Io voto no".  As an American here in Italy, I can't say that one side seems to be stronger than the other. The country seems to be divided in half on this vote. 

In short, the vote yes or no would change a part of the constitution, which would affect the way in which officials are elected.. therefore affecting workers across the country. If you vote no, you are voting for the process to stay the same. If you vote yes, you are voting for an overhaul in this part of the constitution. It's quite complicated, but this is the gist of it.

With the iconic Italian actor/director Michele Placido
Placedo's film centers on a group of female industrial workers waiting on a new contract drawn up by a French company on the brink of buying out their Italian company. A clause in the contract that they will have to agree to and sign states that they will lose seven minutes a day from their breaks. The group is passionately divided on signing the contract. Half say 'no way' because they feel it's just the beginning of privileges that will be taken away from them. The other half is ready and willing to sign away that seven minutes in order to keep their weekly paychecks. What ensues is a loud, passionate debate about the rights of workers- both Italian-born citizens and immigrants. It made sense to me that a director with Placido's genealogical background would make a movie so intense. His distant relative is the famous brigade of Basilicata, Carmine Crocco that fought for the rights of southern Italian workers and peasants. Crocco would indeed be proud of his offspring, Michele Placido, for presenting such an impassioned work bringing to light the common plight of workers around the world.

I was fortunate to have attended the premiere and press conference in October at the Festa del Cinema of Rome. The entire talented cast was on hand to discuss the movie, the upcoming referendum and the challenges of workers throughout the world in our current tumultuous political climate. If you're in Italy, I highly recommend this film. Not only is it a joy to watch for the extraordinary performances by a diverse cast that includes Michele Placido himself along with Ambra AngioliniCristiana CapotondiFiorella MannoiaMaria NazionaleViolante PlacidoClémence PoésySabine TimoteoOttavia PiccoloAnne ConsignyBruno CarielloMimma LovoiDonato PlacidoGerardo Placido, Luisa Cattaneo, Erika D’Ambrosio, Balkissa Maiga and Lee Colbert... it also serves as a social statement for where we are right now in our ever-changing world impacted by the refugee crisis, terrorism, racial prejudice and politics. Michele Placido has given us a thought-provoking masterpiece to which we can all relate. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Interview: Alessandro Masi - A Lucano in Hollywood

During my adventures in finding interesting subjects for my "Basilicata: Terra di Cinema" series, I'm often amazed at the reach of filmmakers from Lucania. They travel the world to make and present their films, follow their dreams and experience different cultures. They learn the language and assimilate quickly, embracing the differences in lifestyle, work and even cuisine.

Film Distributor Alessandro Masi is no different. Born and raised in Potenza, he is blazing his way through America following his passions of cinema, marketing, and business. Well-schooled in the entertainment industry, Masi has also worked as a producer. So he is familiar with being on both sides of the coin. Curious about this Lucano in America, I asked him a few questions about his American adventure and his thoughts on the highly acclaimed Italian Oscar entry, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary "Fire at Sea".

When did you move to the United States?
This is my third long trip to the United States. I came in 2008 for the first time as an exchange student from Bocconi University to NYU in New York for one month, and SMU in Dallas for one semester. Then I was in New York City again for six more months for an internship in television production at Zodiak Media. After beginning my career as Digital Strategist at Italia Brand Group, a top independent Italian marketing agency, I came to the U.S. for the second time. I was in San Francisco and Boston for three months as part of my MBA program - which began in London - at Hult International Business School, and New York again for three more months for training at the Investment Banking Institute. I moved to London to work as Investment Advisor, specialized in media & entertainment and technology at TMT Advisors. Then I moved back to Rome to lead the business development function and bring to profitability one of the very first VOD platforms in Europe, named OwnAir. I also founded my startup FlexyMovies, aimed at innovation in the entertainment industry, along with development and implementation of sales, distribution, and cutting-edge marketing strategies. I decided then that I wanted to move to Los Angeles, the world capital of entertainment, to be at the core of content production and worldwide distribution. I moved to Los Angeles in January 2015 and I have been here since.

What has the transition been like for you?
The transition has been easy because I had already been in the United States. I speak English fluently and I also speak Spanish, which is very important in Los Angeles. I love the American cultural melting pot and the opportunities that this incredible country is able to offer to those that are willing to work hard.

Tell me about your work..
I am an international film/television sales & distribution professional and a producer. I master any business and creative aspect of the entertainment industry, particularly market-driven film and television production, financing and marketing. I can develop and implement complex strategies. I am good with numbers as well as with people, creative as well as attentive to details. Having a background in digital and startups, I can figure out cutting-edge ways to innovate and foster the entertainment industry. I am a deal-maker, a passionate go-getter and a flexible team-player with a strong work ethic.

What are some of your recent projects?
I have recently worked for the company - Sierra / Affinity - who financed and distributed internationally Captain Fantastic. At the latest AFM, I worked on the buying side, helped distributors - particularly from Italy - scouting great content and projects for their territories. One movie that I facilitated brokering was On The Milky Road by Kusturica with Monica Bellucci. At the moment, I am the producer for a cross-platform sci-fi concept that we are developing as a feature and series starting from a short that we will be using as proof-of-concept. It's called Phenomenon. It's in the vein of Stranger Things. It's about a kid who tries to reconnect through a supernatural world to his lost father who disappeared during the Vietnam War. It will premiere theatrically in L.A. on December 2.

Masi with filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi
What are your thoughts on Italy’s Oscar entry, Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea?
Regardless of the actual chances to win - which by the way should never influence the decision - documentaries are cinema to all intents and purposes. It's an extraordinary piece of filmmaking. It's incredible that is non-scripted. Most importantly, it is a unique chance to showcase an artistic and prominent point-of-view on the tragedy of refugees to all who seem to ignore it. I totally endorse it. 

How do you manage to stay connected to your Lucani origins?
I have many Italian friends here in Los Angeles, including some from Basilicata. This place is full of people chasing dreams and passion, that is why I like it so much. I am a frequent attendee of the Italian Cultural Institute, especially for movie screenings and showcases of Italian cinema. I go to Italian restaurants sometimes. Most of all, I have close relatives in the United States, precisely in Worcester, Massachusetts, so I visit them every once in a while, especially during the holidays, and they also visit me here in Los Angeles. They are my second cousins, as my great uncle emigrated to the States in the '60s. His name was Giambattista Sarli and his name is still present in the register at Ellis Island. He and his wife Assunta had seven children.. Fun fact: the same number as my mother's brothers and sisters, and they also look alike. The first time I saw them, it was incredible. I was the first in my family to reconnect with them from Italy after more than 30 years. As far as staying connected with Lucani origins, I try to stay in touch - besides friends and family - with professionals from Basilicata, give them professional advice on how to crack Hollywood, and I also had the opportunity to meet Francis Ford Coppola recently and briefly talk about the great beauty of our land, which he also loves.

You can watch Masi's Italian Golden Globe winning documentary "Suicide Italy" via the website Own Air. Masi worked with the company also as a producer and distributor of original documentaries on social issues. "Suicide Italy" describes the Italian recession in its cruel evolution from the point-of-view of the younger generations - embodied within the actress Eugenia Costantini - forced to come to terms with the seriousness of the Italian recession. The film features a cameo by the late Dario Fo, the actor-playwright, intellectual, activist for the working class, and recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Click here to watch the film  

With America in his heart and Lucania in his soul, Alessandro Masi is well on his way to pursuing his cinematic dreams. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more from him. We'll keep you posted on his future projects.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Fabrizio Corallo's "Dino Risi Forever"

On this #FlashbackFriday, I'm taking a look back at one of my favorite films in this year's edition of the Festa del Cinema di Roma- Fabrizio Corallo's documentary, Dino Risi Forever.

With director Fabrizio Corallo
To mark the one-hundredth anniversary of the birth of the master of Italian-style comedy, the festival paid tribute to Risi by premiering Corallo's beautiful film, which featured intimate interviews showing the director's sense of humor and insight, which inadvertently made him an icon. In the telling interview, Risi spoke of his memories working with the likes of Sophia Loren, Ettore Scola and Dino De Laurentiis. He spoke of his passion for writing screenplays, "Writing was something that I really enjoyed." And Scola spoke of his collaboration with Risi. "I started working with Dino and I did about ten films with him in all." Risi also spoke in depth about his friendship and collaboration with Vittorio Gassman. The two were very close and made a number of films together, including the infamous Il sorpasso as well as lesser known works like Il profetta. Having covered mostly contemporary cinema during that last decade, I learned a lot from Corallo's documentary and it was poignant seeing this maestro in his 90's recalling his Golden Age of Italian cinema with an entertaining mix of humor and nostalgia. There were countless laugh-out-loud moments as Risi recounted his early days chasing girls and then reflecting on the Roman ladies who lunched.

The film was followed by a compelling Q&A in which some of Risi's most influential films were discussed, including Il sorpasso, Una vita difficile, I mostri and Profumo di donna. These are films which will never be forgotten because they document the lifestyle and social trends of post-war ItalyNot only are they artistic masterpieces, they are also lessons in history.

Actors Andrea Occhipinti and Elsa Martinelli 
It was great to hear firsthand accounts by actors Elsa Martinelli, Lino Capolicchio and Andrea Occhipinti. If you are able, I recommend attending the Foggia Film Festival next week, where there will be another tribute to life and works of Dino Risi.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Basilicata Filmmaker in the Running for an Oscar

It's just been announced that Donato Sansone's Journal anime has made the short list as a candidate for Best Short Film at the 2017 Academy Awards.

The film is an artistic improvisation made between September 15 and November 15, 2015, inspired by the international news published in the newspaper Libération and the November 13th series of bombings that took place last year in Paris. The film explores the concept of freedom of expression as a tribute to Charlie Hebdo and its fallen journalists. 

Watch the Teaser..

Sunday, November 6, 2016

A Visual Tribute to Mark My Last Day in Italy's Magnificent Region of Basilicata

Approaching Rionero in Vulture
Today is my final day of a beautiful cinema-themed stay in Italy's stunning region of Basilicata. During the last two weeks, I've seen numerous films shot in the region from Francesco Rosi's 1969 Cristo si e' fermato a Eboli to the contemporary films made by Italy's new generation of brilliant directors like Gianni Saponara, Adelaide De Fino and Silvio Giordano

Talking cinema made in Basilicata with Lucano journalist Michelangelo Russo
I've also had the pleasure to speak with people from all walks of life here.. from moviegoers to politicians to festival organizers about the relevance of the region's young filmmakers and how the region has changed since the fanatical revelations and images of Rosi's important but dated three-hour epic.

Matera where countless films have been made 
To mark my last day in Basilicata this time around, I'd like to reflect on the regions's natural beauty and the pride of its young people. The new artists and filmmakers are changing those antiquated ideas of Basilicata being a desolate, abandoned land. And I can validate that message. As an American traveling through the region over the last two weeks, I did not face one transportation or hotel challenge. The people of the region are among the most polite and hospitable people I have ever met. From the small village of Bella to Muro Lucano to Matera to my final destination of Frances Ford Coppola's gorgeous Bernalda resort, I experienced the pure beauty and tastes of the region's precious natural resources and I was on the receiving end of the great generosity and infinite thoughtfulness of its people. 

Frances Ford Coppola's Bernalda resort Piazza Margherita
A few months ago, I interviewed Isabella Tortoriello, a talented singer and Daniele Chiariello an ingenious director about an innovative video they made, which pays homage to the region of Basilicata. Inno alla Basilicata is another example of the region's talented young artists celebrating its eternal beauty, pure, clean air, majestic landscapes and crystalline waters. 
Isabella Tortoriello in a scene from her video Inno alla Basilicata
The song is a blend of traditional and pop music with lyrics that speak of the resilience of a land that has been seized, pillaged, forgotten and even ridiculed. Isabella Tortoriello told me that to achieve this unique sound, she and the musicians "fused the sounds of Lucane tradition with pop-rock."

Watch the video....

Check back here for more articles and interviews from my 2016 cinema tour of Basilicata. 

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...