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Does the Italian film system neglect short films and its emerging talents?

Our interview with Jacopo Chessa, the director of the Italian National Center for Short Films.

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In our latest article on the Italian Huffington Post we discussed a rather alarming fact: the very low presence and relevance of Italian short films  in the international festival circuit. We debated wether the Italian film system would is able to support its talents and effectively promote national productions (both shorts and features) abroad. We interviewed Jacopo Chessa, director of the National Short Film Turin’s National Short Film Center, to find out more about the matter.

Hi Jacopo, tell us more about the Centro Nazionale del Cortometraggio( CNC ) and your role in it. 

Hello Tommaso, the CNC is the film library and the promotion agency for Italian short films. It’s an Aiace project, developed in partnership with the National Film Museum which is also funded by the Mibact and the Piemonte region. The vocation of the CNC, which was created thanks to Gianni Volpi – great film historian and former president of Aiace – is fill the existing void between industry and the actual circulation of the shorts, as mentioned in the article. It’s been active since 2007, and we’re hoping that its work in Italy and abroad will become more and more structured .

You  just relaunched the CNC website. What’s new and what you have you planned for the future? 

At a time when shorts heavily rely on the web, it’s fundamental to have a site where anyone interested or working in short films can turn to. Our website features a summary of our activities, an (incomplete) register of Italian shorts and a festivals and events database. We also host some of the very few books published on shorts in Italy, all downloadable for free. Recently we’ve been working on the research and restoration of old films and on the promotion of contemporary shorts, especially abroad.

It is rare to find Italian shorts in international festivals, and it’s even less likely for them to win anything. What would you suggest to improve the situation? 

I think that the improvement of our role as the short film agency would greatly help Italian productions to step out of our borders. The Clermont-Ferrand Marché du film court, the most important European Short Film market, is a proof of that: every year we bring a selection of short films that are regularly selected around the world, or  bought  by TVs, VOD platforms, put on the market. But the agency can also only act as a “medium”, providing valuable informations. You have no idea how many filmmakers out there, even talented ones,  have no idea how to promote their works.

On several occasions we complained about the lack of an institution able to efficiently promote our films abroad, something like the various Film Institutes all over Europe. What kind of relations do you have with the institutions? 

The relationship with foreign festivals can vary a lot: it can be direct, as it has been for years with Clermont and other festivals, or may, as has recently happened with the Berlinale, be carried in collaboration with the Filmitalia department of Istituto Luce-Cinecittà. I agree with what you said in the previous article: compared to other European countries, there’s way less attention and care for emerging talents here. And it’s now common to find our own directors compete in big festivals with foreign productions, such as Adriano Valerio (Cannes 2013), Cristina Picchi – Zima, who won the Silver Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival 2013 or Mario Rizzi, in the Berlinale Shorts 2013 official selection with Al-Intithar.

What is the general situation of  Italian short films and our emerging talents? What is missing on the creative and productive side?

Let me defend Italian productions. Sure, I’m involved in it, but I’m also fully convinced the situation is no better or worse than that of other European countries. Of course, when you’re dealing with about 1,500 titles a year, it’s hard to expect a majority of good films. But there is a lot of experimentation – I am thinking in particular to the work of Anna Marziano, Canecapovolto (the Catania collective that’s been active in visual arts for more than two decades), Luca Ferri, Gabriele Di Munzio, and many others – which is the core of what we do and the most important aspect of short films. There are also movies like Valentina Carnelutti’s Recuiem, which are part of  the “official” industry, but still have the courage and the expressive power to deal with tough issues – death, so to speak – in a way that the Italian features wouldn’t dream of doing. On one hand, I see a true creative ferment,  and a lack of production on the other. But how can we expect investors to put money on short films if there’s no market for them in Italy?

Nowadays, the web is the place where many of the future filmmakers take their first steps, an ideal destination for  short films, where one can experiment with language, style and genres and immediately reach a large international audience. But in Italy there is still much skepticism about this format,  and people tend to idealize features and cinemas as the sole forms of enjoyment. What do you think about this? 

As you know, I partially agree with this feeling. Perhaps for generational reasons, or maybe cause of my training. In my opinion, ruling out the theater, or putting it on the background, is both a cultural and aesthetic mistake. It is true that the web is able to provide, free of charge, a huge audience to any director. But it is also true that, in the words of Jean Renoir – author of, among other things, what I consider the most beautiful short film of all time: Une partie de campagne - a bad movie can be saved even by a single shot, by a well done close-up.  I’m not convinced that that close up would have the same effect on a theater and a computer screen. I am convinced that an author must think about the format as a first thing. Here’s the cultural backwardness: the inability of italian directors to conceive films for the web. There needs to be a rethinking of the image, sounds, colors and everything else in accordance to new media, but also to certain requests coming from contemporary art.  I think the web is more likely to intercept more experimental films, nowadays, than a short thought for a movie theater. There’s a bigger grasp on the contemporary on the web. Still, the beautiful liturgy of a cinema theater remains for me the pinnacle of the cinematic experience. Ultimately, I think the web and theaters are still worlds apart and very different, and perhaps it is a good thing.

The “dissemination” is probably the key element of the short film. It is an hybrid and ubiquitous content that can be seen at the movies, but also in less “institutional”  places such as art galleries, planes, trains, waiting rooms, on the street, when, how and where you want. What are the main features of an ideal short film? 

The vast majority of Italian short films that I see, have a narrative structure that tends to have a final twist a. I think this is the sign of an attempt – almost always aborted – to write a mere screenplay and not a filmic approach. Whereas a short can be a field where to radically experiment with visuals, sound and rhythm. Looking at the past, it’s hard to miss how historical avant-gardes always used the short form on approaching the moving image: Un Chien Andalou by Bunuel and Dali, which is perhaps the most famous avant-garde film of the twenties, is fifteen minutes long. Anyway, not  everyone wants to experiment with their short films, and rightly so. I’d like to see in the future more shorts that don’t film like a failed feature film, but to see directors who have the courage to approach the short form not like a cage – time, money, resources, and so on. – but, as a tool of liberation, as a way to convey non-conformist thoughts.

Tommaso Fagioli

Flavia Ferrucci

Flavia Ferrucci

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