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Bismillah by Alessandro Grande: Winner of the David di Donatello Award 2018 for Best Short Film

Exclusive interview with the director winner of the most important Italian prize

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Bismillah by Alessandro Grande is the winner of the David di Donatello Award 2018 for Best Short Film. Tender and sharp, this powerful and moving look at the migrant crisis in Europe will be representing Italy in the Oscar race and has been selected as one of the 265 short films in the running. The short is centered around Samira, a 10-year-old Tunisian girl who’s living illegally in Italy with her father and her 17-year-old brother. When this latter got really crook, she will find herself alone facing a problem that is just too big for her.

Alessandro Grande started shooting short films since he was graduating in History, Science and Techniques of Performing Arts at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome. His first short, In My Prison, screened at Tokyo, Amman, Madrid and Thessaloniki and depicted the reality of the prison universe through the story of a young detainee (and his knife). Margerita, premiered at Giffoni Film Festival, won awards at 78 international festivals and entered the Silver Ribbons (Nastri d’argento) shortlist. In this case, Grande told the story of Efrem, a gypsy boy and skilled pickpocket who faces his first theft in an apartment, an experience that changes his life.
The festival agency Zen Movie, run by Giulio Mastromauro and Virginia Gherardini, has nabbed worldwide and festivals rights to Bismillah. Looking forward to the international festival run, we had a little conversation with Alessandro.

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Watching your short films, it seems that the lack of freedom and the need to break down prejudices are your recurring themes. Is the case of Bismillah too?
Yes, that’s true. These issues are a component that I have always, almost involuntarily, been carrying along with me.

Your short deals with sensitive issues such as immigration and inclusion. Have you ever been afraid to fall into commonplace or rhetoric?
I would be liar if I said no. At the beginning I was very afraid that I could fall into the stereotype, but then I thought better of the whole thing and since the central focus of my short film is not immigration, I moved on in the production without asking myself this question anymore.

Not least because, when we talk about immigration, the temptation is always that of social denunciation. Instead, you pointed to the humanity of your characters. Why?
Exactly, the heart of Bismillah’s story is the feelings experienced by the characters inside the film, with which we can only identify ourselves and break down any discriminatory barriers.

Could you explain your attitude toward the European crisis about migrant and asylum policy?
As long as there will be gaps in wealth and development between the countries of the world, emigration will remain an important reality and one with which we will have to deal. I hope that there will be even more opportunities for more humane coexistence.

How and where did you find Linda Mresy, the child protagonist?
I met Linda to an audition organized in collaboration with the Tunisian socio-cultural center in Rome. She was immediately determined and this is a quality that cannot be ignored. Once I chose her, we spent the whole summer rehearsing, and when we couldn’t meet each other live, we rehearsed via Skype. I have tried to get her as far as possible into the part. I hope that it will be the beginning for her, because Linda has a great talent.

How did the collaboration with Francesco Colella come about? He plays the doctor who helps Samira.
I had seen Francesco in several plays and movies, I fell in love with his spontaneity to the point that I wrote the character of the doctor thinking about him. When I proposed the project to him, he was immediately available and enthusiastically embraced the production.

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What do you start from when you decide to create a story?
Usually the facts that happen around inspire me and I let myself be completely guided by the facts. The story of Bismillah for example was born during an afternoon, after I read that Italy in 2011, due to the Arab Spring, recorded the largest number of Tunisian immigrants and of these, about 12 thousand were considered ghosts in our country. So I asked myself – but for those who have done so overcoming fear and sea travel, are the problems over? I started with this question.

What is realism in cinema and art?
For me it is the most immediate and incisive language to express a feeling without filters. For good and evil aspects of life.

Have you ever wondered why you decided to become filmmaker?
There are so many reasons, certainly at the base there is the great power that the camera has, that is to recreate worlds and make the viewers live emotions even if they are culturally and socially different from me. Expressing these feelings sometimes becomes an essential need, as for a poet to compose verses.

Are there any short films that have changed your vision on (and about) cinema?
I approached movies and in particular directing thanks to a short film by Pier Paolo Pasolini entitled The Sequence of the Paper Flower. A work that I loved and that I decided to pay homage to, facing in my first short film the main theme of Pasolini’s film, the guilt of innocence. In other words, God condemns man because he does not know and because he does not want to know.

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Alessandro Zoppo

Alessandro Zoppo

Editor-in-Chief @ Good Short Films

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