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VENICE 2019 International Critics’ Week

Ascanio Petrini • Director of Tony Driver

“When I met Pasquale, it was as if I was caught in a stream”


- VENICE 2019: Cineuropa chatted with Ascanio Petrini, director of Tony Driver, the only Italian title to be presented in International Critics’ Week

Ascanio Petrini  • Director of Tony Driver

We interviewed Ascanio Petrini, the Bari director who graduated from Bologna University’s DAMS institute and Rome’s Griffith Academy of Film and Television/Accademia di Cinema e Televisione Griffith, and who presented his feature film Tony Driver [+see also:
film review
interview: Ascanio Petrini
film profile
during International Critics’ Week at the Venice International Film Festival.

Cineuropa: Why did you decide to tell the story of Pasquale Donatone? How did the project come about?
Ascanio Petrini: When I met Pasquale, I’d just completed a screenwriting course led by James V. Hart, Chris Vogler and David McGee. The masterclass was delivered entirely in English and hosted by American screenwriters; authors, among others, of works which had had a marked impact on my life. When I met Pasquale, it was as if I was caught in a stream, first taking in a group of Americans and then one American in particular; first absorbing written films and then a life that seemed worthy of a film… He talks a lot and I can immediately see a film amidst his words. His tales find visual representation in my imagination, which is steeped in the American film iconography of the 70s and 80s that me and my generation grew up with.

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I decided to deepen my understanding of Pasquale in order to gain enough material to make a fiction feature and, at the same time, I filmed him. This allowed me to obtain material showcasing Pasquale’s acting abilities. The more I studied his story, the more surprised I was at his abilities. And the more I developed the character based on his life, the more I realised that the most original idea might be to make a film with him and, ultimately, about him.

How long did you have to follow the protagonist for? How did you manage to win his trust?
Maybe I still haven’t managed yet. It’s a daily battle when it comes to Pasquale. I’d say that I came close to winning his confidence and the best way of doing so, that I could find, was to not worry too much about it. You know what you’re doing, but he won’t know what you’re doing for a long time, so he has every right to doubt you. During the study phase, I was with Pasquale for around twenty days and, in this time, I gathered together the material I needed. Then, I worked on the writing and put together a teaser. In the end, we shot the film in four weeks, across Italy, Mexico and the US.

Which sequences were the hardest to shoot?
With a film like this, I don’t think we can talk about sequences being particularly difficult to shoot, because, ultimately, all of them depict the tranquillity of an everyday existence which might seem unusual to the viewer, but which, for Pasquale, is quite simply ordinary life. From a technical point of view, you could say that working in the Arizona desert was hard because of the climate, but that’s all.

Has Pasquale Donatone seen the film? What does he think of it?
Yes, he’s seen it, but he knows that what we’re watching on screen is only a film. He doesn’t pass judgement on his past life; he doesn’t cry about it or feel ashamed because, as he himself often says, “shit happens”. Furthermore, his journey, in the sense of a hero’s journey, isn’t yet over.

(Translated from Italian)

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