A few words and much more from director Jonas Carpignano
Even in his childhood Carpignano regularly visit Italy, the homeland of his father. In 2011 he made the decision to move long term to the Calabrian town of Gioia Tauro. The port-region is a transit point for migrants passing through, whilst also being a home to many Romanian families. It is here that Carpignano’s most recent film, PIO, takes place, following its protagonist with a quasi-documentary style and bringing life on the margins of Italian society into the spotlight.
An Interview with Jonas Carpignano
In PIO, we get to know the Amato family, which belongs to the Roma community. How did you meet the Amatos?
I met the Amato family in 2011 after the Fiat Panda that contained my crew’s equipment was stolen. We were shooting A CHJANA (the short film that later became MEDITERRANEA). When a car disappears in Gioia Tauro, then “you go to the Gypsies”. That’s how I met Pio and his family.
Pio Amato stole the show in both MEDITERRANEA and your short film. Have you always wanted to make a film about him and his family? Could you give us the inspiration for this film and how you turned it from idea to print?
While traveling for MEDITERRANEA, I met people with outlooks. But they all had one thing in common: a lot of love and appreciation for Pio. As my friends in New Orleans used to say, “he has it.” He has “it.” Pio has plenty of whatever “it” might be, something I realized the moment I met him. Beyond that, I wanted to shoot a feature film in the Ciambra before I met Pio. With a rough idea for a story, I met Pio and reworked it to accommodate him and his family. Biographical elements of the Amato family had a great influence on the story and, after getting to know the protagonists, I tried to make their experience on the shoot as authentic as possible, without sacrificing dramaturgy. At first, however, Pio did not want to have anything to do with the movie. It was only after about a week that we started to get along better and better. He had abandoned his initial distrust of strangers and it became obvious that we both had a special relationship.
In both your films you’ve managed to extract remarkable performances from amatuer actors. What’s your strategy when working with the cast?
I’m very rigorous when it comes to how many people are allowed on set, who is allowed to watch the film and so on. Because we always shoot in real places, often in homes, I never want to feel the authentic dynamics of the environment change. I kept telling the crew that we needed to adapt our approach to them instead of pushing the traditional infrastructure of a movie shoot.
On top of that I spent a lot of time trying to overcome the barriers between me and the cast. We had a deep trust of one another, so that when it came to it they were willing to knuckle down if I asked them.
“Mr. Carpignano has a shrewd sense not only of the character’s psychology, but also of the audience’s expectations, and our tendency to confuse realism with magical thinking”NY Times
There is a sequence inspired by an old story of Pio’s grandfather, in which the grandson has a vision of his grandfather and his horse. A departure from the realism your films are known for. What inspired you?
History has a certain weight. We like to put ourselves in a certain context and believe that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that we have roots and continue something that has come before us. This applies to all of us, to varying degrees, but is of particular relevance in the Ciambra. However, if you think about it more closely, our relation to the past is much more abstract than you might think. We cannot retrieve the past and experience it personally. The past is constantly being reinterpreted, often to justify who we are and who we would like to be. The collective memory of a shared past is part of what makes the Ciambra such a unique community, and I found that this was important in showing Pio’s relationship to his past in order to better express his dilemma. So when faced with the problem of filming it, I tried to combine the abstract concept of an imaginary past with cinematic realism. The magical mood of these scenes are quite different from the rest of the movie.
Martin Scorsese was one of the producers of the project. In what ways has he influenced your cinematic creativity?
When you shoot movies in Gioia Tauro, everything that happens outside of it feels very abstract compared to what’s going on there. I knew all of last year that Martin Scorsese would be a producer of this movie. But I only really became conscious of it during editing. I was fortunate enough to be able to draw on his comments over several editing versions, which without question had a major impact on the film. I especially appreciate his approach and respect for the medium.
What challenges did you face during the shoot?
The shoot in the Ciambra was a real challenge. It is impossible to describe the Ciambra, but in our film you can get an impression. It is a wild, unruly place where everything is possible and often happens. Fortunately, we were aware of this in advance and therefore took our time. In the end there were 91 days of shooting. The hardest part was waking Pio in the morning and shooting the scenes with many children. I know they all look very cute on the screen, but if they do not feel like working, oh man …
The movie ends with a boy maturing into a man, but not without paying a price. Do you feel the end is optimistic?
In private, I tend to be a very optimistic person. However, I also try not to classify my films as optimistic or pessimistic. In the end, I want to teach the audience how I perceive life where I live, and for them to decide for themselves what they think about it. Although they are not “objective” films, they have no specific agenda and are not intended as a call-to-arms. They are designed primarily as character studies. It’s about characters in conflicting and contradictory situations who must try to navigate them in the best possible way.
Although this film also deals with issues such as racial conflicts, poverty, prejudice, crime and the like, it’s all about Pio, his person, and what he becomes.
Direction & Book: Jonas Carpignano
Cast: Pio Amato, Koudous Seihon, Damiano Amato u.a.
Pio ist now available digitally.