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Dancing with Maria has a lot of me in it”

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Ivan Gergolet • Director


- Dancing with Maria, by Ivan Gergolet, is the fascinating portrait of Argentinian dancer Maria Fux and has been selected for the EFA Awards

Ivan Gergolet  • Director

Dancing with Maria [+see also:
interview: Ivan Gergolet
film profile
is the debut feature documentary film by Ivan Gergolet. This fascinating portrait of Argentinian dancer Maria Fux has been selected for the EFA Awards, the ceremony for which will be held on 12 December in Berlin. We asked him how it feels to be nominated, considering that Italy has never won in this category, and the only documentary maker to have ever been nominated before now is Gianfranco Rosi. “I wasn’t expecting to be nominated for an EFA at all”, admits the director, “and I’m delighted and proud as is the entire production team. It’s an important result for Italy and for the other two co-producing countries, Slovenia and Argentina. I was born and raised in Italy, my mother tongue is Slovenian and a large part of my family lives in Argentina, where my aunt emigrated to in the 1930s. There’s a lot of me in this film”. 

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Cineuropa: The film was originally supposed to be a private documentary. How did the project evolve?
Ivan Gergolet: This film was born during a trip to Buenos Aires in February 2010, when I accompanied my wife to a seminar held by Maria Fux. Before leaving she asked me to bring my camera to do an interview with Maria as a memento of the trip. At that point in time all I wanted to do was give my wife a gift, although I was curious to know more about this elderly dancer. I showed the material to producer Igor Princic, who sent me back to Buenos Aires to ask Maria Fux if she would agree to take part in a film project. Over the next three years I went back several times, spending long periods of time filming Maria’s work. I never would have imagined that some of the sound bites from that interview I did for my wife would end up in a film nominated for an EFA. 

Do you think Italy is starting to take more of an interest in documentaries, given that they now feature in the competitions of festivals (such as Venice and Rome) that usually only select works of fiction? In many European countries, documentaries are more visible, whilst Italian documentaries struggle to get into theatres.
Distributors and operators are still very cautious when it comes to documentaries in Italy, but the public is starting to become more aware of them. Even those who don’t go to festivals are starting to realise how powerful a documentary can be when it is shown on the big screen. I like to think that Dancing with Maria has also contributed in some small way to this new heightened state of awareness. 

I don’t know if you’re a big fan of the term ‘docufiction’, but the film adopts a very “cinematic” approach that makes it more intense. How did you get close to this 92-year-old dancer, whose work seems to have a miraculous quality, capable of changing people’s lives?
I don’t consider Dancing with Maria a docufiction, because nothing in the film is staged, except the final frame. This “cinematic” approach that you mention is something else. It probably would have been easier to make a TV biopic, but I’ve always wanted to make this film for the big screen, to try to capture Maria Fux as she is today, in her present state as a dancer and teacher. So I tried to integrate myself as much as possible into her studio to film it from within, as that was the only way to capture the miracle of what she does. 

What did you get out of this experience on a personal level?
Making a film is about experiencing the world I’m filming with every fibre of my being. At the same time, however, I let myself be permeated by Maria, her work and the people I met. It gave me a glimpse of reality through the eyes of an exceptional artist, and this is an experience that has a lasting effect on you. 

In an age in which we are surrounded by increasingly “strong” images with increasing frequency, is it becoming more difficult to photograph bodies and portray them successfully to the viewer?
Filming the body is not so much about photography or aesthetics, but above all ethics. That’s the basis for an encounter with the viewer. I tried to use my camera to internalise Maria’s gaze upon the bodies of the people she dances with. Often they were bodies very similar to her own: old, injured and imperfect, but pulsating with life in every breath.

(Translated from Italian)

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