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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Conversation with "8 Giugno '76" Actor Giovanni Andriuoli

In the late 1960s through the 70s, a number of “ultraleft” political groups were formed in Italy. They vehemently protested conservative policies and the politicians behind them. In 1974, magistrate Mario Sossi had the members of the ultraleft political movement XXII Ottobre (October 22) tried and convicted. Not long after, a Red Brigades commando kidnapped Sossi. Although he was set free a month later, at the time of the kidnapping, Genovese judge, magistrate Francesco Coco refused to negotiate with the kidnappers. On June 8, 1976, 12 days before an important election, magistrate Coco and his two police escorts were gunned down. The murders are known as the first politically motivated assassination of the left-wing movement.

That day, three men were murdered. Magistrate Coco was shot near his house along with the escort agent Giovanni Saponara. Not far away, a second group fired at the magistrate's driver who was waiting for him, killing the policeman, Antioco Deiana, sitting in the driver's seat. The escort agent, Giovanni Saponara was from Salandra, located in the province of Matera in the region of Basilicata. His wife Angela Zagaria and their two sons, 11-year-old Gianluigi and 8-year-old Angelo Giuseppe were left to deal with the devastating loss.

Four decades later, director Gianni Saponara tells his story in the new short film 8 Giugno ’76. The director is not related to the late agent, but knows members of his family. The film was shot in Giovanni Saponara's hometown of Salandra and features a cast and crew made up mostly of locals. Playing the part of Sayonara's widow Angela Zagaria, is Sicilian-born actress Donatella Finocchiaro.

I spoke with actor Giovanni Andriuoli, who plays an assassin in the film. One of the most prolific actors in the region, Andriuoli has appeared in numerous productions made in Basilicata as well as national releases such as Pupi Avati’s Il papà di Giovanna and fellow Lucano, Rocco Papaleo's Basilicata Coast to Coast. I met him last year at a meeting of cinema professionals in Matera. I've followed his work for a few years now, so this is great opportunity to talk about this fascinating short film and other works he's done. 

During the course of our interview, which we did through email and messages, I sent him several questions about this film and about his journey in becoming an actor. I was fascinated in particular by his response to my question about his inspiration to pursue acting as a career. After naming the film he saw as a child that influenced him the most, he told me how one phone call to a theater academy in Milan when he was just 12-years-old gave him the direction he needed, ultimately leading him to move to Rome. However, before taking that leap of faith, he attended the University of Naples where he majored in Sociology. During his first year, he met a street artist in the Piazza del Gesu that performed a monologue standing on a pile of bricks. "The performance made me rekindle this fire", Andriuoli explained, speaking to that first film he saw as a child. Shortly thereafter, he arrived in the Eternal City where he studied under the artistic direction of actress Anna Mazzamauro, best known for her role in Paolo Villaggio's series Fantozzi. One of his first jobs upon graduating was a play produced by the Spanish theatrical group Fura dels Baus, starring the iconic Greek actress Irene Papas. Andriuoli began his film career by taking small roles, one of which was a one-liner in Pupi Avati's film. He has since moved back to his beloved region of Basilicata where he's become a multi-tasker, juggling his work as an actor, entrepreneur and clothing designer promoting the rich culture of his region. 

It was such a pleasure to have this virtual conversation with Andriuoli because like many young actors and actresses, he is filled with enthusiasm and dreams, and that positive energy is infectious. I originally interviewed him in Italian, so both versions are included. 

As an insider, what can you tell me about the film?
It's a dramatic story about the murder of the magistrate Francesco Coco in which there is a storyline about the Brigade Giovanni Saponara, a member of Coco's escort. An honest man, he was strongly anchored to his Lucane origins. He was a family man and a loving husband. He fell into the bloody Genoa attack on June 8, 1976. Before going on set, I worked a lot on the character both on the physical aspects and on the inner and psychic aspect- his motivations, etc. 

Come uno dei protagonisti, puoi raccontare qualcosa del cortometraggio?
È una storia drammatica, quella dell’omicidio del Magistrato Coco, in cui si iscrive una storia altrettanto drammatica, quella del Brigadiere Giovanni Saponara, membro della scorta di Coco, uomo onesto, fortemente ancorato alle proprie radici lucane, padre di famiglia e marito amorevole, caduto nel sanguinoso attentato di Genova dell’8 giugno del 1976. Prima di andare su un set lavoro molto sul personaggio sia sul corpo che sull'aspetto interiore e psichico, le sue motivazioni ecc. 

Tell me about your character.
I play one of the brigades that killed the first magistrate in Italy, Francesco Coco. The names of the brigades who committed these murders are to date, still unknown. No one knows who they are. For the role of this commando, I looked at photos taken during the era of the Red Brigades, and read a few books that concerned the life of the brigadist Mario Moretti. In order to look the part, in the weeks before shooting, I grew a mustache and 70s hairstyle.

Dimmi dell tuo personaggio..
Io ho interpretato uno dei brigatisti che uccise il primo magistrato in Italia, Francesco Coco.. Questi brigatisti che hanno fatto l'attentato ad oggi i loro nomi sono sconosciuti, non si sa chi sono. Per il ruolo del brigatisti, mi sono guardato alcune le foto dell epoca sulle Brigate Rosse, letto qualche libro soprattuto tuttociò che riguardava la vita del brigatista Mario Moretti. Ho dei baffoni capigliatura anni 70 che ho fatto crescere appositamente nelle settimane prima di girare.

Watch a news report (in Italian) with actual footage of the murders behind 8 Giugno '76...

Speaking now about your work apart from the film.. I've interviewed many artists of southern origins. They talk about their passion for the land of Lucania and how they've integrated their origins into their art. Do you feel that the region of Basilicata has influenced you as an artist?
They call me a chameleonic actor because in every job, I can transform myself into any role. In February and March, I'll be working on a film that will be shot between Rome and Trieste. After living in Rome for 12 years, I returned to Basilicata a few years ago and I'm still able to do auditions for work. I feel very close to Lucania to the point of having created a clothing brand called SeeMoreTee, which means seeing more with respect to looking beyond what we are just physically seeing. It's a project that brings art and culture together in a movement. This is a desire to express and spread the art and culture of Lucania through fashion. It's my certificate of Lucanian identity, of the Lucanian culture, of the Lucanian art. So, the movement, the territory, the world of culture, the future of art and the Lucanian artist  translate themselves into works for my brand SeeMoreTee. The products are available on the website,

Parlando del tuo lavoro a parte del film.... 
Ho intervistato molti registi di origini meridionali e parlano della passione per la propria terra e come contribuisce nella loro arte. Pensi che la regione di Basilicata ti ha influenzato come artista?
Mi definiscono un attore camaleontico in quanto in ogni lavoro riesco a trasformarmi in ogni ruolo. Tra febbraio e marzo, ho un ruolo in un film che si girerà tra Roma e a Trieste. Dopo ben 12 anni trascorsi a Roma, sono rientratato da un qualche anno in Basilicata e mi sposto da qui sia per provini che per lavoro. Sono molto legato alla Lucania al punto di aver creato un marchio di abbigliamento che si chiama SeeMoreTee (che vuol dire vedere di più, guardare oltre ciò che stiamo vedendo) che è un progetto che porta l'arte la cultura in movimento. C'è questa voglia di esprimere diffondere l'arte, la cultura lucana attraverso la moda. Il mio marchio parla anche dell'identità lucana, della cultura lucana, dell'arte lucana. Quindi promozione, del territorio, promozione della cultura, promozione dell'arte e dell'artista lucana che disegna le opere per il mio marchio SeeMoreTee. Il sito e-commerce è il seguente

What made you want to be an actor?
I spent part of my childhood and adolescence living between Potenza, the capital of the region, and Gallicchio, a small town. I was raised being in close contact with nature and the people who cultivated the land. Thanks to my grandfather, a man who just turned 93-years-old, and spent two and a half years of his life in a Nazi concentration camp and another 14 working underground in a mine, I learned that life must be taken to heart and that family values must come first. When I was 5-years-old on a Roman holiday, I entered a cinema for the first time and I was lucky enough to see E.T. by Steven Spielberg. I was totally fascinated. Back home, I did nothing but talk about this film to anyone I met. 

Come hai cominciato a lavorare nel cinema? Quando hai realizzato che volevi fare questa strada?
Ho saputo da sempre di voler fare l'attore. Ho lasciato la Lucania e gli studi universitari a Napoli per frequentare l'Accademia di Arte Drammatica a Roma all'insaputa dei miei genitori. Ho trascorso parte della mia infanzia e adolescenza tra il capoluogo di regione ed un piccolo paese lucano, Gallicchio. Le mie radici a stretto contatto con la natura e il rapporto con mio nonno, un uomo di 93 anni (di cui 2 passati in un lager nazista e 14 in miniera) mi hanno permesso di tenere ben saldi i piedi a terra e di prendere di petto la vita e di seguire la strada per realizzare il mio sogno..quello dell'Attore. A 5 anni in una vacanza romana, sono entrato per la prima volta in un cinema ed ho avuto la fortuna di vedere E.T. (di Steven Spielberg) e ne sono rimasto totalmente affascinato. Tornato a casa non facevo che parlare di questo film a chiunque incontrassi. 

Tell me about your experience working with the great Pupi Avati?
Actually, I was on the set of Il Papà di Giovanna just to make an appearance as an extra. While I was there, they chose me to recite a couple lines. These were the first lines I said in cinema: "The war is over, the war is over". I portrayed a student who gave the news of the end of the war to Silvio Orlando's character. Being my first time on a set, I was very anxious, but the master Pupi Avati was very kind in reassuring me. It was a wonderful experience.

Dimmi della tua esperienza lavorando con il maestro Pupi Avati.
A dire il vero ero sul set del Il Papà di Giovanna per fare la comparsa poi sul set mi scelsero per fare una figurazione speciale. La prima battuta che ho detto nel cinema è stata: "La guerra è finita, è finita la guerra" studente che dava la notizia della fine della guerra al personaggio di Silvio Orlando. Essendo la prima volta su un set, ero agitato e molto ansioso. Il maestro Avati é stato molto gentile nel rassicurarmi. Esperienza bellissima.

8 Giugno '76 premiered on December 4 in Italy at the Casa del Cinema. Follow the film's Facebook page for information on future screenings. In the meantime, watch Giovanni Andriuoli in Giuseppe Marco Albano's tourism spot Basilicata is than more a film.

- Jeannine Guilyard

Monday, December 18, 2017

Laura Bispuri's New Film in Competition at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival

The first seven films in competition at the Berlin Film Festival have been announced. Representing Italy is Laura Bispuri’s new film Figlia mia (My Daughter), the story of a
9-year-old girl torn between the loving mother who raised her and the biological mother who wants her back. Starring Alba Rohrwacher and Valeria Golino as the mothers and newcomer Sara Casu, the film was shot in rural Sardegna, which has vast landscapes that contrast the film being set in the present. 

In an interview with Variety, Gregorio Paonessa of Vivo Film called the plot a “very contemporary theme.” He said the film is "totally in line with Laura’s journey as a director” explaining, "her films have always been meditations on the female condition. In the first one it was gender identity, now she is taking further a step and tackling the theme of maternity.” Bispuri has said that American writer A.M. Homes’s memoir The Mistress’s Daughter was her inspiration behind the film.

This is Laura Bispuri's second time presenting at the Berlin Film Festival. In 2015, she presented her debut feature film, Vergine giurata.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Guest Post: Lucia Grillo Interviews Director Marco Danieli

Inspired by a story related to him by an acquaintance, Marco Danieli’s "Worldly Girl" is a rare account of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy. Besides winning Best New Director at the Davide di Donatello Awards, Danieli won the Venice Film Festival’s Brian Award, established by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics and named in homage to the Monty Python film, "Life of Brian." Sensitively executed, "Worldly Girl" deftly and astonishingly portrays the devastating realities of class and religious oppression.

Afforded a lengthy interview with the director in the buzzing press room of Open Roads: New Italian Cinema at Lincoln Center, Danieli and I talked about creating a film from an atheist perspective. What Danieli reveals about this way of looking at the world might provide some insight to those unfamiliar with secularism and I am glad to be able to share this aspect of our conversation, in which Danieli also touches upon the recent spike in trend of religion-themed films.

Always refreshing to hear a man, particularly, speak frankly and thoughtfully about sexism, Danieli discusses how his film is more powerful with a female protagonist – to effectively portray the clear male chauvinism within the religious environment he explores in "Worldly Girl," as well as in our greater society.

Sara Serraiocco as Giulia in "Worldly Girl"

Among other themes you will discover while reading, these two: critical thinking and consciousness of the woman question, are central to this interview, in which Danieli also describes in detail the particulars he discovered during his research of Jehovah’s Witnesses for the film and how the film resounded around the world, in diverse communities.

The film is very tactful and sensitive. Did you come at it from an atheist perspective? What inspired the story?
First, thank you. The film was sparked by the testimony of a friend who had a similar experience as an adolescent. That is, she fell in love with a “worldly” boy, as they say in Jehovah terminology. The boy was a small-time dealer, had drug problems. So, falling in love with him, the girl made a leap into the “world,” only to discover it was all more complicated than she could’ve imagined. My co-writer, Antonio Manca, and I fictionalized the story. We didn’t want to make an ideological film. It’s not a statement against Jehovah’s Witnesses. Clearly, it’s a secular film - even if only because we are not believers – but we sought not to make an ideological film, so all the characters – from the protagonist to the strict elder Witness, who has to make the toughest decisions where the girl is concerned, all have humanity. Obviously, controversial aspects emerge. For example, the role of women is officially subordinate to that of men; or what is called ostracism of the disassociated person: a strong reaction against a person who abandons or is expelled from the community. It’s an extreme reaction: they don’t even say “hello.” So, again, it’s not an accusatory film, but certain aspects – We tried to treat a very complex subject in a multifaceted way, so it was difficult to reduce it to a slogan.

Are there atheist-themed films that inspire you?
Religion is a theme that is back in style the past few years. There are even a number of religion-themed films. I don’t personally have a film I used as a model but the topic has certainly been revived, partly because the Western world is growing more secular – people are coming away from religion, even in Italy – while a minority of the population might be attracted by a more radical form of religion. Most likely because not having strong cultural references – apart from religious ones – someone who needs to find their bearings might find it in the more radical religions – be it Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormon or Catholicism. What interested us was something more universal that goes beyond religion. Having had the opportunity to bring it to festivals in different countries – from Venice to Japan, Ireland to Israel – it was nice to be able to ascertain that even people from vastly different cultures understood the film and were moved by it,  perhaps for something different than religion – maybe the conflict a person experiences belonging to a certain cultural context not necessarily religious, and aspiring to be free.

The film takes on different layers of society: class, for example. What options does your young male protagonist have? And what human beings do for mere survival, because there is no other option. And these things happen here; they happen all over the world. This is why we make film.
The film is really about identity. It’s about a young woman in search of her identity. It has a great love story that dominates the film, but it’s more a coming-of-age story than a sentimental one, because Giulia is the true protagonist, whose love for this boy is a catalyst of change – for her personal and existential evolution – and not the end point of the film. Without giving away any spoilers..

Michele Riondino and Sara Serraiocco as Libero and Giulia in "Worldly Girl"

Given that the protagonist is a woman, and there are too few films by and about women, what does it mean for you, to make a film with female protagonists?
It wasn’t intentional. I didn’t set out to make a film about a woman and I wasn’t really conscience of it. This young woman told me her story and it fascinated me. I could have told the story with a male protagonist and it would have been similar but not as effective because the Jehovah’s Witness community is sexist, which reflects our society in general. As much as it’s evolved, as much as there have been big steps for women, there is still a creeping sexism. Among Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s official. When you read their orange booklet, it says women’s role is very important, but the man is in control. As we quote in the film, they say that just as Jesus’s master was God, so the man is the master of the woman. So, they are very sincere about women being submissive. They put it right out in the open. So, a female protagonist is much stronger. Also, the new script I’m working on, with the same writing partner, has a female protagonist.

Speaking of women’s role being established in this world, there’s a scene – spoiler alert – in which Giulia is judged by the three elders. I watched very closely to determine their intention, because they have a very “gentle” approach, yet it’s very invasive.
That is a pretty violent moment on a psychological level. This happens to both men and women. Obviously it’s more embarrassing for women because they are judged by men, and men that they know, who are a part of the community – friends’ parents, etc. – a very cohesive community, so they are judged by people they know well. It’s more embarrassing , say, than a judge in court. They enter into the specifics of the “sin,” and want to know every detail. If it’s sexual, they ask very precise questions so they can refer to the Bible and determine how serious the “sin” is. It’s a key moment in the film. We did a lot of research in writing this film. We interviewed current and former Witnesses, went to a Kingdom Hall, the actress went for her own research, we had a consultant who had been a Witness for 20 years.. We did everything possible to make it realistic. That scene in particular, which was very crude, was read by young women who had been through similar experiences, and they confirmed it. When the young woman who inspired the film saw it, she said it was very realistic and that scene in particular moved her because she had been through something similar, but that in her case, it was worse. According to her, we were not heavy-handed with it.

You won the Brian Award at the Venice Film Festival. It is very significant. What do you want the audience to take with them?
The Brian Award is given by the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agonostics. It’s interesting they gave me this award. I don’t consider this a film against religion. I don’t consider it a film against anything. It’s a film that wants to tell an honest story. We’re not journalists, so we can have a point of view and declare it; even if it’s subtle, it’s clearly a secular perspective on society. This story would be a perfect biblical parable if it didn’t end the way it does. Instead, the ending – as you’ll see – is different: the lost lamb does not return. It’s our invention, so it’s clearly from our point of view. The point of the film is that Jehovah’s Witnesses tend to demonize the world, saying the world is a place in which people get lost. I will agree that the world is dirty and one can get lost, and even a place where you need to find yourself. If you’re in a phase of life like our film’s protagonist, a transformational phase of seeking one’s own identity, it’s necessary to confront the world in order to understand who you are and not enclose yourself in a sort of castle in defense of the world.

You mentioned that your next project also has a female protagonist. Can you tell us about it?
Yes, it will have a female protagonist and a completely different context from the religious world, though it will still be around the theme of an individual’s relationship with a strong cultural context. Something I’m very interested in is the individual’s relationship with society – or as in "Worldly Girl," a micro-society, which, then again, Jehovah’s Witnesses in Italy compromise the largest of all Europe. So, the new film will have themes in common with "Worldly Girl," only outwardly, they seem completely different.

Watch the trailer for "Worldly Girl"...

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...