Jytte Holmqvist meets Alina Marazzi at the recent screening of “Vogliamo anche le rose” at Co.As.It. in Melbourne
Interview with award-winning Italian documentary filmmaker and screenwriter Alina Marazzi, Melbourne, 17 February, 2019 - (Photo Alina Marazzi prior to the screening of Vogliamo anche le rose at CO.AS.IT, Melbourne, 15 Feb., 2019. Photograph by Jytte Holmqvist)
Thank you very much for making the time to see me. You are not in Melbourne for long. Is it the first time you’re here?
The second time. I have very good friends here, so I am at home. It’s like being with family so it’s very easy, I like it and its summer.
And there is also a considerably large Italian community in Melbourne.
Yes. It was very nice to have the screening at CO.AS.IT . The other time I was there was 21 years ago. I remember going to their centre, so it was interesting to go back.
I would like to ask you a bit about your filmmaking and your background. You are mind-blowingly intelligent and so are your movies. It was very interesting to listen to you at the screening of Vogliamo anche le rose here in Melbourne the other night.
First of all, could you please tell me what prompted you to become a filmmaker and what keeps you inspired?
I guess when I was younger I was always attracted to visual language and at that stage after school I wasn’t always clear about what I wanted to do. I was interested in film and photography so I went to film school. So I followed from there.
What keeps me inspired? I am interested in challenging the cinematic language. This is why I mixed all these different materials and genres and I am also interested in telling stories about women from my own perspective. I am interested in pursuing that; you know, women’s films and women’s stories.
So, would you say your main contribution to the world of cinema and the world at large is to tell stories about women?
I guess so, yes. So far it has been like that, yes. I think so. There is a need to see more stories on screen that can represent different types of women. I think that most representations are very stereotyped and there’s not that many variations so I don’t mean there is no right representations but there could be more images of women on screen, yes.
When you first set out as a documentary film maker, was it hard to make headway in a profession often dominated by men?
Not really but then again my work experience is being quite particular so I didn’t sort of go into the big film industry wanting to become a film director. The documentary world is much more open and somehow I learnt by doing and I always worked on smaller projects so that makes it easier, less competitive, and then I started making these very personal films and I became known for these types of films and one projects leads to another. This is the way I work. I am not out there in the big film industry.
With regard to your mother, has her suicide in 1972 acted as a catalyst in some way?
Well the film I made in 2002 is a very particular film because it exists because of her. I used home movies. I found these home movies and I could not ignore the fact that these images were lying there and I was already a filmmaker. I used my skills and of course there was a personal need to rearrange history and her story so that’s how I approached that [project]. Una’ora sola ti vorrei is a very important film for me not just on a personal level but on a creative level because it was really a fantastic time of trying out different things and doing it my own way because it was not a commissioned work.
So that was shown by the BBC in England?
Yes, it was shown on BBC. The first public screening was at a festival in Locarno, Switzerland, in 2002. It’s a festival that has always been open to documentaries and independent films more than Venice, for instance. Then it went to many different festivals around the world and I tried to go to as many screenings [as possible], especially in the beginning. And the film then was shown on Italian TV and other European TV channels. It’s out on DVD. It’s quite a well-known film which keeps circulating.
How was the film received in England?
It was received well and they asked me to actually dub the film for the British broadcast. The film is with my voiceover in Italian and they thought it would be better to have my voice in English and since I also went to film school in England [they used my voice].
There was also a screening of the other film (Vogliamo anche le rose) at the independent London Film Festival two years after that.
Do you think watching Vogliamo anche le rose made British viewers perceive Italian women differently?
Yeah well that film is also a fun film to watch; you can laugh at certain ideas and stereotypes and it’s interesting also for me to see Vogliamo anche le rose screened outside of Italy, with different audiences from different cultural backgrounds (and she mentions the different audience reactions in Amsterdam, Istanbul, etc.). The audience reaction in Melbourne the other day was quite a passionate viewing.
It’s almost like the death of the author; once the work is out there it is open to different interpretations.
In terms of Italy, were there more conservative reactions because it’s too close to home do you think?
Not really, it was released in cinemas at the time of political campaign for elections and one of the issues on this campaign was to go back over the law that made abortion legal in Italy. There was a big discussion. The film provided food for thought.
Going back momentarily to Un’ora sola ti vorrei, in terms of the narrative that you put together would you say it is quite an accurate portrayal of your mother?
Who can say? I guess so. It is her writing, it is what she felt but then again the images were shot by her father … [and I drew from] classic home movies always depicting the happy moments so it’s a representation of life. But it was interesting that the film puts the visuals and the words in relationship, creating a dialogue between both.
Can you please comment on the merging of personal narrative, experiences and memories with the public screening and exposure of the film?
That also was a process because the film I made for myself. I didn’t make the film for other people but then it grew and so it was shared by people, collaborators, and then it was shown at the festival and immediately there was a very passionate reaction from the audience and so it had to go on, you know. I had to learn to detach from myself and to share. It has given a lot back to me, the feedback from other people, and listening to other people. It’s interesting, it’s an ongoing process.
So it’s a process of self-therapy and a therapeutic experience for the audience as well?
For some people, certainly. I have received many letters of feedback from people with similar experiences and the film somehow helped them to talk about certain things. The shared viewing of the film encouraged people to come out. I know [the film] has been used in that sense also.
Yes, most definitely. Could you please explain the meaning of the term “technologies of memory”?
I think it’s to do with working with found footage, working with images that were produced in a time in the past with an intention or a meaning that was different in the time they were produced compared to the meaning they have when they are reused. And so this element of time changes and shapes the meaning of these images, even with private home movies, and it’s interesting how time changes the original function of these images. When they are reread and reassembled together in a different narration they take on a different meaning. It’s not just what is shown within the frame but we as viewers are also aware of what was happening in that moment when the image was shot in the 1950s. I think this is also true for what happens in Vogliamo anche le rose because the footage there belongs to a past era but the themes are still so relevant. And people were very articulate about what they were saying about those times.
That reminds me of the cinematic “photo effect” – “the paradox that the photograph presents an absence that is present” – “the cinema makes present the absent … objects and people are conjured up yet known not to be present. Cinema is present absence: it says ‘This is was.’” In the case of Vogliamo anche le rose the film achieves the same effect when the past is addressed yet the issues dealt with both thematically and narratively have a bearing on the present, and the themes are universal (the film is also being shown at colleges for educational purposes).
Yes, it’s great and it’s a way for younger generations to access and approach these themes, growing directly from the documents of the time rather than from storytelling from parents or grandparents, already mediated by someone’s experiences. So whenever I took part in the discussions with high school kids they were so excited to talk about things that they thought relevant like sexuality and abortion, motherhood and so on, and they could relate to this language very well, this collage style.
Yes, I was thinking about that as I was watching the film, that you embrace so much. You are very bold in the way that you don’t shy away from certain themes: the idea of females going through maternity, abortion, feminism, women and men, women losing interest in sex, women bonding with women ̶ also on an intimate level. How do you become so bold? You touch on very important topics.
I don’t know if it’s a matter of being bold but it’s true that the material I drew from was just so fantastic. It was a matter of enhancing what was there.
A member of your Melbourne audience the other night asked you a question relating to the “Me too-movement.” It’s easy to see how your future work could be touching on these issues. What are your thoughts?
I think the “me too-movement” takes on different identities according to the different countries and I did sign a paper when [the film] first came out that women from the film industry produced in order to denounce not only the obvious cases of discrimination but the kind of attitude that is always there present in the workplace toward women … That’s just part of the culture, not just in the workplace ̶ it’s everywhere. It’s also difficult to define the line and the boundary because women are also engaged in this kind of way of relating to men. Seduction is part of the dialogue in the relation between men and women, between men and men, and women and women ̶ so how do you draw the line? So on the one hand it’s good to speak up and the cases that have been denounced I support them but I think there is another kind of work that needs to be done and which would take much longer so maybe my work and other people’s work fall into this; creating consciousness, awareness and also sharing with the younger generation.
You’ve been holding seminars at a number of universities in the US and Canada, in particular. Could you please comment on this?
Yes, I was teaching a course at New York University last spring about the re-use of found footage.
This is interesting as it would be rather uncommon for filmmakers to also be teaching about film?
Well it’s been happening in the last 2-3 years and it’s interesting because it puts me in a different position and sometimes it gives me the time and space to also study myself.
This leads me to my next question: how do you as a practitioner take filmmaking to a more theoretical level? How do you marry theory and practice when you are engaged as a lecturer? Is it difficult to partly detach yourself from filmmaking as a practice and talk about filmmaking as an art form to students?
The course I taught at NYU was very short but I went out to look for other people’s work relating to found footage … With the students it was a matter of encouraging them to reflect on the changing status of the images and the memory images. At the same time they were encouraged to produce a short piece of film. It was interesting to be in this position of mentoring.
Moving on to Vogliamo anche le rose it begins with a closeup of a woman and a few words: “Sei donna, curiosità”, etc., and then later in the movie you add the words “Ho paura del piacere, del sesso e del essere donna.” Is this changing for women now?
Well it’s also a very personal issue but I think women at that time eventually learnt how to speak up and share their personal feelings, and also men benefitted from this. They are also trapped in roles and stereotypes. So yes, there’s more of a habit now to talk about personal issues, but it’s a sort of coming of age.
You are a mother, too. How has being a mother affected your own filmmaking?
It has slowed it down a lot (and she laughs) but it’s a life experience.
In the film (Vogliamo…) you speak of the three women in the three individual chapters as women with a “psychedelic kaleidoscopic perception of themselves.” Why perception?
I was interested in finding different types of materials, different images that were representing the same historical moment, so this has to do with which sources you access and which material you choose when you do a work like that. That’s true for all research. So if I were to access material only coming from the Italian TV archive the film would be completely different. It would be just one representation of women, family and society. People at the time were starting to produce more experimental and personal stuff so more commercials and animations and that also is a representation of that moment, not just in terms of the style but also in terms of symbolism. So that’s why I was interested in trying out all these different materials.
Can you comment on the last movie in your trilogy (preceded by Un’ora sola ti vorrei and Vogliamo anche le rose): Tutto parla di te?
That film is partly fiction, partly documentary so it’s a different film because also the process of making it was different as it was scripted. There is this fiction plot, we worked with actors and so it was completely different. I started conducting interviews with mothers who had problems and so on and it made me think that maybe documentary style would not be sufficient to describe certain feelings and moments and then we also had a fictional plot that could also take in other languages and so it was quite a long process. It was experimental and it was difficult to get funding.
And just a few words on your experience working within theatre?
I’ve had two experiences directing operas. They were new productions. I worked with the composer and the playwright and the video element was conceived from the start. It made it possible, as well, to create a narration in space, not just in time. There were different actors and different languages. Surprisingly, I felt quite at ease. I thought it would be very complicated but in fact it was not.
How easy was it to get access to the material in the diary archive in Pieve di Santo Stefano, near Arezzo, where you found the diaries serving as material for your three consecutive narratives in Vogliamo anche le rose?
It was very easy. They have a very beautiful website. It is a small team of people who are very competent. They do a great job. And then depending on how you want to use the text they give you permission to do so.
And all three women narratively referred to in the film attended the screening?
Yes, they all came to different screenings. One came to the very first screening in Locarno.
And do they still identify with what they wrote back then?
Yes, they did even if one woman said “OMG, I was so young; I didn’t remember that I wrote such focused sentences in my diary.”
Can you please explain what you mean by “History doesn’t make us; we make history.” Is history something we shape organically as we go along?
History has always been studied as a series of dates and names and wars but there is a different attitude towards studying history these days. So drawing from personal materials. And history is also the history of what we eat, wear or what we think.
That is interesting as postmodernity, which is a style you embrace in your cinema, often seems to break away from the past and rather linger in the present. Yet your films are very much anchored in the past ̶ at least to begin.
Yeah it’s not dismissing the value of those materials. The interesting thing was to bring that material from the past up to the present. Even if I made the film (Vogliamo.., ) twelve years ago every time I watch it, it is as if I made it yesterday.
Yes, and also because of the first-person narrative which makes the stories come alive even more.
Could I please finalise this interview with a reflection by an Irani friend who I met last night. She suggested I ask you about migrant women in Australia. Seeing that you have an Australian connection, have contacts here and have been here several times – plus we all want you to come back! – can you see yourself making a film about migrant women and their experiences in Australia?
I don’t know about Australia but I know quite a lot about what’s happening in Italy and also all these women’s themes need to be addressed differently in Italy now because of all the Islamic women that are living in the country. So this is putting emancipated women in a different position and some things cannot be expected from women who belong to a different culture and there is a kind of a conflict in a way, as emancipated women see women from Islamic countries as not free. And so you just can’t go to these women and expect them to suddenly unveil themselves and change from one moment to another. This puts Italian women in a difficult position because it’s difficult to create a dialogue. So I think it would be wise and healthy to restart a public discourse on these issues with these women, but often the immigrant women are not able to participate because they are so busy looking after their kids and maybe trying to integrate and learn Italian and understand how it all works.
Thank you, that was a very well-considered reply. Finally, what project are you working on at the moment?
The next project will be on different women again, who are no longer alive, and who lived in the last century. At the moment I’m doing some research. I’m in contact with the family of one of them.
Thank you so much, Alina Marazzi. You have been very helpful and it was interesting to get an insight into your filmmaking and your various projects.
Thank you. I will spend the day with my friend and tomorrow I go back to winter in Italy.
Hopefully we will see you back here in the near future. Safe travels!