“We wanted a film that projected the past onto the present”
Industry Report: Documentary
Matteo Frittelli • Producer of Il Giardino che non c’è
The producer of the company Alto Piano talks about the importance of memory as a renewal, and about the distribution of art documentaries
Matteo Frittelli is co-founder with Agostino Osio of Alto Piano srl, an Italian production company specialising in projects for art and culture founded in 2017. In December, Alto Piano presented at the Turin Film Festival Rä di Martino's Il Giardino che non c'è [+see also:
interview: Matteo Frittelli
film profile], a biographical journey into the life of writer Giorgio Bassani, the novel of his life Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini. The docufilm also features Dominique Sanda and Lino Capolicchio, the protagonists of Vittorio De Sica's famous film adaptation, which won an Oscar for best foreign film in 1972.
Cineuropa: The Garden of Finzi-Contini is a cinematographic and, before that, literary work that is fundamental to Italian culture and international heritage. How did Alto Piano get involved in the project?
Matteo Frittelli: Several years ago, the Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, who was visiting Ferrara, was struck by the great interest of tourists in the Giardino dei Finzi Contini. He realised that many people come to the city fascinated by this book, looking for traces of it in the urban fabric. Where is the Giardino dei Finzi-Contini? It is a repeated and very frequent question in Ferrara. Dani decided to create a work for the city entitled 'The Garden that is not there' (which has remained unfinished to this day). Her daughter, Noa Karavan, took this as a starting point and devised the subject of a documentary film and told me about it. The idea of investigating the ability of art to create imagery and, in some way, shape reality itself and our perception of it seemed very interesting to us right away, a subject with great potential.
What kind of collaboration did you have with director Rä Di Martino for this film?
We invited Rä di Martino to direct the film because of the great admiration we have for her work. Rä is a visual artist capable of evoking complex places and imagery in her work, and she has often dealt with archives and with research into the influences of cinema and the media on our behaviour. Rä seized this opportunity with great interest. She worked very hard to develop a suitable treatment and certainly brought great vitality to the project, also through the creation of a sort of metacinema, in which the casting for a possible remake of the film arrives in the documentary, opening up very interesting and engaging windows.
Memory is a fundamental theme that runs throughout documentary cinema, from the works on Anne Frank to Joshua Oppenheimer's Indonesia. Here it intersects with art, the field in which Alto Piano specialises.
The transformation brought about by the creative process makes memory a moment of confrontation, but also of renewal. In a way, we wanted a film that would look back and cast a glance at the contemporary world. The reflection on social polarisation and on some of the themes addressed by Bassani is still terribly relevant today. I am thinking, for example, of the possibility offered to the protagonists to isolate themselves from reality in the garden of the large Finzi-Contini villa, while the world is collapsing under the grip of dictatorship and racial laws. Or of the universal question of unrequited love, which crops up throughout the book. Rä's marvellous intuition of bringing young actors onto the set makes these themes very topical, even if they can sometimes be confined to the stage machine.
The independent documentary genre and so-called alternative content suffer from an often difficult and uncertain distribution, which is necessarily limited in cinemas. Digital platforms perhaps offer new possibilities. What are your experience and thoughts on the circulation, national and international, of audiovisual products of art and culture, also regarding the support of institutions?
In 2018 we presented the project in Tel Aviv (CoPro), in Spain (Medimed) and finally in Amsterdam (IDFA). We also tried to join MIA, but we were not successful. After our participation in IDFA, where we managed to capture the attention of about 20 commissioning editors, we signed a contract with the Arte France TV channel and a French production company, Les Films du Poisson (co-producer). The film is therefore an Italian-French co-production. This was essential for the success of the production. We could not have made this film otherwise. It was a great opportunity and it's inspiring to see how quickly France believed in this project, right from the start. We have also had a lot of interest from diplomatic circles, embassies and cultural institutes abroad, who have seen the value of international dialogue for this film, offering us support in promotion and opportunities to present it. We are now in negotiations with some agencies for international sales. Digital platforms probably offer potentially greater opportunities than TV broadcasts for this kind of production. In Italy, we have several realities, some of them have recently contacted us promptly. At the same time, up to now we have not been able to receive the attention we imagined from the main national televisions, despite having a subject so linked to our country, with cultural, historical and artistic references of great interest.
It is clear that each independent company creates its own, difficult distribution. Especially in Italy. The investments made by France for the so-called 'cultural industry' have generated important results in terms of development and support for initiatives like ours. Italy has not yet taken this road, at least not with the same determination... but we will soon have, I hope, good news!
(Translated from Italian)
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