After Siberian Education, his 2012 film about the ‘honest criminals’ of the Urka region, with an international cast that included John Malkovich and Peter Stormare, Gabriele Salvatores is back on Italian turf. Between September and December 2014, two new films by the Oscar-winning director are due to be released: “Italy in a Day” and “The Invisible Boy”.
I caught up with him in Rome, in a short break between two editing suites, to chat about collective cinema, Italian producers, and superheroes.
Let’s start with your Venice-bound film, “Italy in a Day”. This is the Italian scion of “Life in a Day”, a ‘social cinema’ project launched by Ridley Scott together with YouTube. The idea was to take a selection of amateur videos shot on a single day anywhere in the world, and create a cinematic mosaic out of them, a feature film that had a collective soul but was edited and assembled with an auteur’s eye. Kevin Macdonald directed the original “Life in a Day”; since then, the project has spawned two ‘franchises’, Britain in a Day and Christmas in a Day. What prompted you to make an Italian version?
The idea came from Lorenzo Gangaraossa, who is producing the film with his Indiana Production company.
When he managed to get the Italian state broadcaster RAI involved, he asked if I would be interested in directing.
I wasn’t familiar with the Ridley Scott project but I watched “Life in a Day” and “Britain in a Day” and realised how contemporary the idea was. In a single day, what you see outside your window, or something you’re afraid of, or a thought that comes into your head, becomes a sort of census of the emotional state of the country in that precise moment.
So what’s the current mood of Italy, as captured in your film?
I’ve actually become a little more reconciled to my fellow countrymen, because what comes out of all these images, thoughts and reflections is a great will to live, to turn things around, a need for tenderness, a need to feel part of a team. I hope some Italian politician sees the film, because I can assure you it says a lot more than what you hear rehashed on TV most days.
The film’s producer, Lorenzo Gangarossa, has defined it ‘the first Italian social movie on a national scale’. Do you see it as an experiment in cinematic democracy?
Yes, but careful: I’ve never believed that anyone with a video camera in their hands automatically becomes a director.
But I liked the idea that at a time when anyone can film anything, by selecting the things that struck me as interesting, and by keeping a certain distance from the material, I could perform a kind of collective Italian therapy session.
Is Ridley Scott involved in Italy in a Day?
Not directly, but he sent a lovely letter wishing me all the best.
I have to say however that we’ve taken a slightly different approach compared to “Life in a Day”. That was a cinematic mosaic along the lines of Koyaanisqatsi, here we’ve tried to home in on certain characters and follow their stories through the film.
You chose 26 October 2013 as the day when all the footage had to be filmed. What kind of response did you have?
We were sent almost 44,500 videos, amounting to over two thousand hours of footage.
In comparison, Britain in a Day was assembled from just 11,500 submissions, four times fewer.
That must either mean that we Italians are a nation of exhibitionists, which is kind of true, or that we have a pressing need to express our problems, our fears, our desires – which is also true.
Let’s move on to talk about the other film you currently have in post – “The Invisible Boy”, which 01 Distribuzione will release in Italy on 11 December. You’ve called it “the first ever live-action Italian family fantasy movie”, and it’s a decent-sized production, with a budget of around 8 million euros. The title’s not an allegory: it really is about an adolescent boy, not the brightest of scholars, not particularly fortunate in love, who discovers one day that he can become invisible.
How come Gabriele Salvatores, the Mediterraneo guy, is directing a film about an Italian teenage superhero?
Well, the idea of doing a genre film came from my producer on this project, Nicola Giuliano of Indigo Film.
He has teenage kids, and one day he asked himself why there are no contemporary Italian films that he can go and see with them.
I suggested making a superhero movie, but from an Italian viewpoint, and he said, “Fine – as long as you can do me a cheap superhero”.
That’s when the invisibility idea came along. Except we then discovered that invisibility is quite expensive – it costs less to make your hero fly.
What do you mean by “a superhero movie… from an Italian viewpoint”?
The film starts off as the story of a normal kid, then slowly becomes a full-scale action movie, but it stays rooted in the feelings of a 13-year-old boy, in a poetry of the everyday which is maybe more European, more our territory.
At the end of the day, we’ve all wanted to be able to become invisible, or else we’ve all feared it – because we’re worried that nobody sees us, nobody values us. So it’s actually quite a spiritual superpower.
I’m reminded of the Swedish film Let the Right One In, which used the vampire genre to say something quite profound about teenage loneliness…
Bravo, that’s exactly the right comparison, except The Invisible Boy will be less disturbing. For me another parallel would be the first part of the very first Superman film, before he’s invested with his superpowers.
Why did you choose the city of Trieste as the location?
Because it’s not a place you associate with the TV news. It’s quite an aloof, untouristy city, a kind of Vienna-By-Sea.
It’s a suspended city, where there’s space for the subconscious – it’s no accident that historically it’s been favoured by psychoanalysts and by writers from Ippolito Nievo to Italo Svevo to James Joyce. And it’s a border city, with a very recognisable architecture all of its own.
You don’t immediately know where you are, though everyone’s speaking Italian.
The Invisible Boy will be released on Italy on 11 December 2014. A Gabriele Salvatores Christmas movie – who would ever have guessed?
When Rai Cinema and 01 Distribuzione saw the film, they said: “You know, we could make this our very own Christmas film”. I was a bit alarmed at first, because you’re playing in another league at that point. But we’re going to give it our best shot, fight our corner, and see what happens.
Ever since the 1980s, when you founded Colorado Film together with Maurizio Totti, Diego Abatantuono and Paolo Rossi, you’ve been involved in producing as well as directing films. Is this because it gives you more creative control over the final product?
I’m always looking to collaborate fully with producers, right from the first genesis of the idea for a film, whether or not they’re my business partners. For example, on “The Invisible Boy”, Nicola Giuliano and Francesca Cima have been with me every step of the way. It takes me back to the years in the 1970s and 1980s when I was directing theatre at the Teatro dell’Elfo in Milan – when everything was decided together.
And what’s your view of the state of Italian cinema in general, from a production point of view?
I’m noticing some green shoots, a spirit of renewal, especially among a younger generation of producers.
As well as the two companies I’ve been working with on these two films, Indiana Production and Indigo Film, there are several others, from Carlo Cresto-Dina’s Tempesta Film to Wildside… à propos of which, just yesterday evening Nicola Giuliano and I bumped into Mario Gianani from Wildside outside the editing studios in Via Margutta, in the company of directors Paolo Sorrentino and Saverio Costanzo. Something of the climate there was in the Italian film industry in the 1960s is coming back, where I show a fellow director my film before anyone else to get his feedback. There’s a desire to talk, to compare projects, to work out where we’re all heading. There’s a new desire to make cinema, not just to be a money-making industry. Personally, I’m optimistic.