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“In animation, there is meaning in everything you put on the screen”

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Alessandro Rak • Director


- The Italian filmmaker explores time, space, sadness and happiness in his film The Art of Happiness, shown at Brussels’ Anima Festival

Alessandro Rak  • Director

Italian filmmaker Alessandro Rak is continuing to tour the festival circuit with The Art of Happiness [+see also:
film review
interview: Alessandro Rak
film profile
, his ambitious and philosophical debut animated film. Cineuropa talked to him after the title was screened at Brussels’ Anima Festival.

Cineuropa: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the making of The Art of Happiness?
Alessandro Rak: Everything was a challenge. We started from scratch, and we didn’t have any studio or any means to produce an animation. We only had the idea of our producer, Luciano Stella. He thought that animation would be the perfect way to talk about the film's theme. This theme is actually the main one of The Art of Happiness, the festival he organises every year in Naples, about traditional art and how it is passed down from generation to generation. It was really hard to make a film that would tackle all of these issues and that would entertain the audience. 

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In spite of its title, the film is mainly about sadness. Is it impossible to talk about happiness without talking about sadness?
It is quite a Taoist issue. Opposites help us to understand a concept, which exists only because of the opposites. I thought that it was an interesting opposite to show Naples the way it is shown in the film. Naples’ lifestyle is, at the same time, very different from India’s lifestyle, which Sergio’s brother tries to embrace. Places in the East are sometimes places where you can “open up” time. Together, these opposites create something very special.

The story is set in Naples, but the film covers a lot of ground… Did you want to link happiness to time, rather than space?
There are many reasons why we chose Naples, but there’s also an artistic one: I wanted to open up a dialogue between the people and the city in which they live. This city is full of contradictions… and there is the permanent threat of Vesuvius. We can all be happy, but we have to bear in mind that the threat surrounding us is real. And life itself is only a limited time… At the same time, the perception of time itself is different at each moment of your life. Places and people help you to feel that. Working on your own perceptions is therefore a good way to understand the concept of time, of life, of reality.

How important was symbolism in the making of the film?
Symbolism was important to me. But displaying it was hard, too. When you work on an animation film, you have to create everything. When you work on a feature film, it is different as you cannot control what you show. In animation, there is meaning in everything you put on the screen - there is a choice behind everything displayed in the film. Working on symbols was, to me, the best way to create an intellectual environment without making it too obvious for the audience. 

What was the reasoning behind your choice of visual techniques?
The film was like a place to understand more about the visual language. But I must say that I don’t really know if I have a reason why I chose this visual. We had to find the right compromise between the animators’ different work techniques and abilities, as some of the animators who worked on the film were able to draw, while others were not. But all of us had the will to work to achieve our goal. 

How do you see the situation of the animation industry in Italy?
It is difficult. A lot of journalists talked about our film, and it definitely helped us. But the industry is not well established in Italy, and certainly not in Naples. We don’t have a culture of animation, and most people also think of it as childish. So it is very difficult, as films are not well distributed, and everything is overly related to money and economic means, rather than culture and humanity.

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