by Eric J. Lyman
In a room dominated by an afresco of the Last Supper by Tuscan Renaissance Maestro Nicodemo Ferrucci, Tuscany’s newest maestro – American film director Spike Lee – talked about the role the region has is now played in his career.
Lee was in the decadent Villa San Michele in Fiesole- flanked by the town mayor Fabio Incatasciato in order to receive the 41st Fiseole Maestro of Film award, only the third American to receive the prize (after Orson Wells in 1974 and Stanley Kubrick nine years later).
But he was also in Italy to scout locations for his next film, “Miracle at St. Anna,” which will be filmed predominantly in Tuscany starting next October.
Based on the novel by the same name by James McBride, the film will tell the story of four black American soldiers in World War II.
On the run near German lines, the men get involved in a local plot to uncover a traitor in a community of Italian partisans.
50-year-old Lee said he has been to Italy at least 20 times over the past two decades and has always wanted to make a film in the country.
But until he read the Mc- Bride novel in 2004, he never had the story he needed to actually start such a project.
“I wanted to make a film in Italy for a long time, but I didn’t have a story that I could make a film from,” Lee said in an interview. “I’d like to make a film in Rio de Janiero or Paris, as well, but my job is that I’m a story teller, and, so, without the right story, there can be no film.” Though a small part of Lee’s “Malcolm X” was filmed in Egypt, this will be his first film made almost entirely abroad.
And it will be an “international” project in every sense of the word, produced by the Italian Cicutto and Musini’s On My Own together with Lee’s 40 Acres A Mule Filmworks, an Italian crew, and a cast from the U.S., Germany, and Italy.
Work will be split between Tuscany, Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, and New York.
With most of the shooting far from Lee’s traditional base adding to transportation costs and logistical headaches, there’s no doubt that the film’s estimated $45 million (33 million euro) budget could have been reduced substantially by making the film somewhere that looked like Tuscany, even if in another part of Europe. But Lee said he never considered that possibility.
“This story is set in Tuscany and so Tuscany is the only place it could be filmed,” he said.
“Find another place that looks like the place the film is supposed to be set? When I was making films in New York, I never shot in Toronto and pretended it was New York, and I’m not going to go somewhere else and pretend it is Tuscany.
I don’t do that. The place has to be real.”
All told, Lee was in Italy for about two weeks in June and July, mostly scouting out locations for the film.
He said he looked at the area near St. Anna, where the actual story took place, several small villages in the area, and said he definitely wants to include some scenes of the Tuscan hill alternately called The Sleeping Man or The Dying Man.
“I don’t know which name is correct,” Lee joked. “But I’m an optimist. I prefer to think he’s just sleeping.”
Fiesole’s Incatasciato introduced Lee at the lighthearted press briefing at the Villa San Michele, recalling seeing Lee’s 1989 classic “Do The Right Thing” in Florence as a young man.
To most Italians, the iconoclastic Lee remains best known for that film and for more recent films like “Jungle Fever,” Inside Man,” and the alreadymentioned “Malcolm X.”
But what is less well known is that Lee considers himself a fan of Italian films.
“Some of the best films ever made come from Italy,” Lee said. “I hope to channel some of that success with this next film, which isn’t going to be an easy one.”
Spreading his arms and looking up toward the Nicodemo de Ferruzzi afresco and heaven, Lee continued: “I call on the spirits of Di Sica, Rossellini, and Pasolini to help me with this project,” he said. “I may need all the help I can get.”
Cinema&Video International n. 8-9 August/September 2007