Like any good Neapolitan, Luciano Stella is a great storyteller who, every spring, for eight years, has organized a “festival of words” in his hometown of Naples. “L’arte della felicità (The art of happiness) is a festival of con- versations and meetings involving sociologists, philosophers, theologians and the protagonists of the world of entertainment such as Oscar winner Gabriele Salvatores or Marco Bellocchio, to talk about life”, he explains.
What has that got to do with animation? After a meeting in India with the Dalai Lama and other experiences, Stella had accumulated so much material that he was about to turn it into what it should have been: a documentary. “But after seeing “Waltz with Bashir”, a new world opened up to me”, he explains, “animation makes everything more interesting”. This led to the creation of L’arte della felicità, an animated movie for adults which was recently presented at Cartoon Movie in Lyon.
A budget of just 800,000 Euros for around 80 minutes of film, co-produced in collaboration with Rai Cinema and Cinecittà Luce, realized in the space of two and a half years. The result of this adventure was the establishment, in 2010, of MAD Entertainment, which stands for Music, Animation and Documentaries, as well as being “in praise of madness”, with Stella as CEO. However, Stella is not all that mad. He knows the world of cinema like the back of his hand.
In the 90s he had the first multiplex in southern Italy and the second one as well. He is the distributor of big Italian theatrical brands like Lucky Red and Bim for the central-south region of Italy. He was also the first president of the Film Commission Campania.
Today he is the director and founder of Stella Film which owns around 80 cinema screens in the center-south of Italy and, of course, a found- ing member of MAD, a young all-Neapolitan factory where around thirty people with various creative and professional skills are employed on a permanent basis. Together with Rai and two European partners, they are about to embark on their first international co-production – A Skeleton Story – after two TV specials, the second of which, La cantata dei pastori, brought Italian animation to Rai’s flagship networks at Christmas.
“We made 52 minutes of Cantata in 11 months at a low cost, demonstrating great expertise, which is important for a co-production. It seems we have got the right team together for A Skeleton Story (picture above), because it is important who you co-produce with, it is not just a question of money. We feel ready”. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alessandro Rak and Andrea Scoppetta, A Skeleton Story is a fantasy noir set in a highly imaginative, dreamlike world, filled with skeletons and zombies. A grotesque universe, the protagonist of which is Will, a skeleton who pretends to be a detective, Burma, a strange, mute, fat zombie and an adorable 4 year old girl. The series is directed by Alessandro Rak, a talented Neapolitan cartoonist who is also the director of L’arte della Felicità, his first animated feature movie.
“In addition to TV animation, we want to continue to produce low budget independent films modeled on L’arte della Felicità”, explains Stella. “We currently have La gatta cenerentola in pre-production, an animated noir musical set in a potential future port of Naples, directed by Ivan Cappiello.
The archetype is that of Cinderella, but the true protagonist is traditional as well as modern Neapolitan music, which is famous all over the world. It is a big challenge,” admits Stella, “to use animation to tell stories for adults. Stories that are deeply rooted in our culture and have the ability to speak to the world. We can learn a lot from Miyazaki about this”. The project already has an Italian distributor on board (Videa cde) and a potential international partner. The estimated budget is around 1,200,000 Euros.