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From the Dardenne brothers to China: “opening yourself up to a global market”

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Cristiano Bortone • Producer


- Marina by Stijn Coninx, a coproduction between Belgium and Italy, leading the box-office with the story of 1960s singer Rocco Granata

Cristiano Bortone • Producer

“A film with a genuinely European dimension” is how Cristiano Bortone defines it. Marina [+see also:
interview: Cristiano Bortone
film profile
, directed by Belgian Stijn Coninx, came out in Belgium in 38 cinemas, head to head with American Gravity. “A great result in a moment in which we are speaking about the great difficulties facing independent filmmakers. This is a great lesson that we need to open ourselves up to the international market.” Cristiano Bortone, a director and producer, who took part in the project with his company Orisa (through which he has also worked with the Dardenne brothers with Les Films du Fleuve). Selected in the Alice in the City section at the Rome International Film Festival, the film tells the story of Rocco Granata, who became famous around the world during the 1950s with his song Marina. In Italy, the film will come out on January 7 with Movimento Film.     

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Cineuropa: Could you tell us how the film was built, as an example of successful coproduction?
Cristiano Bortone: As is often the case, it took over three years to edit the film. This is now an average kind of time for Europe. It is a period film, set in the 1950s, which involved recuperating dialect from the time. There was a long preparation time. The film originally came from Eyeworks Film & TV Drama NV, one of the biggest production companies in Belgium - for television as well as for independent cinema. Producer Peter Bouckaert had the intuition to transform an autobiographical film by Rocco Granata, who is very famous in Belgium. Because it is a Belgian film, but with a very Italian story, Bouckaert looked for an Italian partner who could not just partner up financially, but also do so artistically. In a time when coproductions are everywhere, I am convinced that they should not just involve financial transactions, which is what many now do. Seeing as we are making films and not just anything, coproductions should also have artistic foundations: people meeting in order to make a beautiful film. So together with Peter Bouckaert, we decided to reconstruct the Calabria region, its language, a cast, we made artistic choices, which brought us to this result. Unfortunately, Eurimages did not provide us with the financial support we needed - something we really were relying on. This meant that mid-way through the project, we started building again. We ended up finding extraordinary partners, the Dardenne brothers, from the other francophone part of Belgium. It is beautiful that both parts of Belgium came together to tell an Italian story. This film really has a very European dimension to it.

So in a moment of asphyxia, there might be an opportunity to open up to a more international market?
We continue to think of cinema as our own house, we are very blind when it comes to a world that is now global. Stories are global, financing is global, the public is global. We can export our stories beyond the confines of our own market. A film is a cultural product, which can interest the world, not just our public.

But the arrangement of Italian television networks, which do not invest in production but influence the making of films, discourages coproduction. You have been looking beyond these confines for quite some time though.
After Marina, my new frontier will be China. I am going back to directing with Caffè, which will be produced by my own Orisa and English Ipso Facto Production by Christine Alderson (Irina Palm [+see also:
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interview: Sam Garbarski
interview: Sébastien Delloye
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) as well as Chinese Ray Productions, a company specialised in art-house cinema, which also produced Jia Zhangke. Starting in the spring, I will be teaching at the Cinema Academy in Beijing and I signed a joint venture with Chinese company Road Pictures for a series of films: either in coproduction, following the treaty which was just agreed upon (news), or for the Chinese market. My intention is to tell Chinese films they can promote our identity, our culture, the beauty of our country. I hope to bring my project of Chinese emotional comedy in Italy to a close. I see it as a new way of thinking of cinema, with a view to new horizons. Lost in Thailand, a low-budget comedy, which was very successful in China, made €180 million and made tourism go up 38% in Thailand in the space of a year.

(Translated from Italian)

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