“Directing is the easier part, the problem is the writing”- Fabio Grassadonia, Director ‘Sicilian Ghost Story’

Day three at Talent Talks saw Sicilian directors Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia talk about their partnership and careers as well as their film Sicilian Ghost Story, which is competing here at the VFF this year.

On asked about how the duo came to work together, Fabio explained how whilst working as a teacher and journalist in Torino, met Antonio who was then his student. They quickly formed an instant bond on realizing their shared a vision, not just an artistic one but also an anthropological one. After moving to Rome and working as screenwriters for some 10 years, they decided to start telling their own stories, Sicilian stories. “What and who we are as human beings is connected with our experiences” says Fabio who spoke about how their departure point to create their first film Salvo came exactly from this need to explore some feelings that connect with experiences.  On articulating further about their process, he explained how the idea first comes from the theme they wish to explore, which then leads to a extensive research process, going deep into the things that are unknown to them. Then comes the writing – “directing is the easier part”, says Fabio, “the problem is the writing.”

The idea for Sicilian Ghost Story comes from a tragic event that took place in the 1990s in Sicily. For a long time Fabio and Antonio thought that it would be too difficult to tell this story, for a number of reasons, but perhaps especially because this story has no redemption to its ending. However, they eventually found their way after reading a short story by an Italian author who dealt with similar content but added a layer of the fantastical to the reality of the story. Fabio and Antonio both stressed that they did not touch any facts from the story to their film and explained here how this genre actually enabled them to take their story elsewhere and “crush against reality in a more violent way.” Nevertheless, for the filmmakers, this film tells of a great and impossible love story, and like Romeo and Juliette, shows how love in all its strength, can defeat death.

When asked about what makes them constantly look to Sicily for inspiration, Fabio was quick to reply; “rage and hate”. They went on to say how this film was a particular painful experience to make but also a necessary one in order to experience how pain can transform into joy and life. In the end, they felt that the ‘exorcism’ in telling this story allowed them to close certain issues they had had with Sicily and move on.  They are looking forward to moving back their and start work on new and different stories.

Ziad Kalthoum is here in Valletta with his film Taste of Cement, a documentary that shows the lives of Syrian workers in Beirut, constructing buildings whilst their own houses are being destroyed in Syria.

Ziad, who is Syrian himself, talked about his experience escaping from the clutches of the military, refusing to fight against his own people, and seeking refuge in Beirut. There he found himself waking up to the sounds of construction every morning. Curious to know who was behind these sounds, he discovered that these were Syrian workers who, like him, sought refuge in Lebanon, but were now facing a modern slavery with no rights to even go outside after 7pm. Here presented the next challenge for Ziad – to talk about these workers and show the world their reality, to put the audience in front of this situation where in 2017 we live in a world still dealing with slavery. Yet he also says how his “challenge was also to find my own language in this documentary, to explain the situation in a different way.” In Taste of Cement Ziad shows us how the act of building is contracted with the act of destruction, telling us how Lebanon has experienced 25 years of bombing and is now experiencing 25 years of re-constructing all that was lost.

Ziad’s previous films Oh, My Heart, and The Immortal Sergeant both face a similar challenge in telling, showing the world, what is going on in Syria. Through filmmaking, Ziad aims to give a voice to those who have no means and no right to speak up. He stressed that these films are not only for the world to see but also for the Syrian people themselves to know what is happening.

Written by Sarah Chircop

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