A solemn and silent Italian shortdoc on the marble quarries of Carrara.
2013 | 5 - 10 | Documentary | Italy | Live-Action | Man and Nature | 1988
A blinding white, a barren nature that’s pure and precious at the same time. We are in Carrara, Tuscany, in one of the quarries where marble is extracted. The clash between nature and machinery is violent, almost brutal. If the act of extracting the marble blocks from the mountain is almost primitive, the later stages of processing and cleaning seem like a ritual, the rhythmic movements of the machines bring a subdued industrial symphony to life. When the relationship between man and rocks gets closer, things change. The intimacy of marble workers with their “creatures” becomes is almost symbiotic, we look at the the physicality of craftsmanship that is disappearing with time.
This is Bianco (italian for “white”), an observational documentary, devoid of commentary and words, where the images themselves are the ones who communicate. The sound design , which combines digital sounds to live recordings, goes along perfectly with the clean and attentive direction, making the images appear as if they’re suspended in time, very real and almost unknown at the same time. A quiet reflection on the immortality destined to oblivion and decay of one of Italy’s most valuable resources.
We spoke to the director Damiano Daresta and sound designer Brian Burgan about the making of the short.
How did the idea of documenting the processing of marble come about?
Damiano Daresta: I attended film school in Milan and I had to make my final course documentary. After reviewing my proposals, my teacher told me to be more daring, not to take the easy way… and she mentioned the marble quarries as an example of a harsh and difficult place. I instantly took the challenge, because it meant being able to work Carrara in Tuscany, which is close to home, without ever thinking about the poetic implications or the production difficulties. I just instinctively caught the opportunity. After a first visit I realized the richness of the environment that, at the time, blew me away: the quarry is like an alternate universe worthy of Herzog’s attention, similar to Aguirre’s Amazon. The short rose from the direct contact with that land, forged or defeated (depending on your point of view) by man.
Letting the images speak for themselves has a great impact, and the sound design is particularly interesting. At times it seems to echo the sounds of marble being extracted, was it intentional?
D.D.: I’m happy that this characteristic of the sound design, created by Brian Burgan, comes across. At first, given the very short time I used some fragments of music by Anton Webern. The editing (done by Alberto Ubbiali) has been set to these fragments. Once I graduated I decided to make some edits to the cut and to change the soundtrack. Brian’s contribution has been crucial. His music has given “Bianco” a personality it didn’t have before. It was his idea to integrate the sound recorded live in the soundtrack .
Brian Burgan: The sound design was made in order to accompany the images of the process of life, transformation and “death” (abandonment) of the marble. For this reason, most of the sounds were made by manipulating the live recordings, accompanied by digital textures that have helped create suspension and mystery. The basic idea of the process was that the sound designer is going to act on sound like the sculptor works on the marble, giving new life to pre-existing material and attempting to make it an art form.
Marble masoning seems to be one of the many crafts that are dying, did you get to talk to the stonemasons?
D.D.: I talked to the masons during the various stages of processing. I’d say that the Apuan Alps are a mirror of Italy: there’s the same iconflict between economy and environment. There are those who’d like to shut down the caves because of their environment impact and others who defend their economic return and workplace. In “Bianco” I only tried to show things without any judgment . I confess that , without underestimating the environmental issue, from an aesthetic point of view, I’m fascinated by the way in which human activity has altered the land and by the contradictions and the decay that it brings.
Where did you find the various statues eroded by the time that we see towards the end of the short?
D.D.: Those are the the tombs sculptures from the Monumental Cemetery of Milan, that I chose for sentimental reasons, as at that time I was living in Milan. I think it was the perfect place to highlight the underlying levels of meaning of the short (the parallel between the marble and human cycles of life).
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