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Francesca Mazzoleni • Director of Punta sacra

“It made me angry that this place and its people weren’t being portrayed as they really are”


- We chatted with director Francesca Mazzoleni about her documentary Punta sacra - the victor of the Visions du Réel Festival - and the tenacious community of Idroscalo di Ostia

Francesca Mazzoleni  • Director of Punta sacra

Director Francesca Mazzoleni, who made her 2018 debut with That’s Life [+see also:
film profile
, a teen movie based upon a book by a well-known YouTuber, triumphed in the international competition of the Visions du Réel Festival’s online edition with her second work, the social documentary Punta sacra [+see also:
film review
interview: Francesca Mazzoleni
film profile
. The film gets right to the heart of the community inhabiting the illegal houses of Idroscalo di Ostia on the outskirts of Rome; a strip of land between the river and the sea which is at risk of being cleared.

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Cineuropa: Your second film is very different from your first work. How did it come about?
Francesca Mazzoleni: My works are born out of a spark which I follow without thinking too much about it. Essentially, I like to wander through genres, asking myself what we, today, can do to make a genre fresher and more personal. In my mind, the more that documentaries and story-based films can interact with one another, the better it is. With That’s Life we were also open to the unexpected. We worked a lot on improvisation with the young actors. When we worked with the youngsters in Punta sacra, on the other hand, we sometimes treated them like actors rather than simply “stealing” from them, and they came up with some very interesting ideas.

The idea for the film came about when I started to learn the history of Idroscalo, where I ended up for the first time seven years ago. It made me angry that this place and its people weren’t being portrayed as they really are and only being shown in a negative light. Then, after That’s Life, I had the opportunity to make a quicker, more independent work of my own. The aim was to make a documentary that was less purist and a little bit pop, using all possible resources, including non-diegetic ones.

How much time did you spend with the Idroscalo community?
We filmed over the course of three to four months, for 30 days in all. But we built up our relationship of trust over the course of seven years. I went to all their Christmas celebrations; they give off a very pure energy that’s different to our “urbanised” version, it’s their way of saying “we’re here, we’re proud and we want to celebrate”. I didn’t just want to turn up and switch the camera on; we tried to integrate within the community and gain some understanding of each and every character. It’s an approach that I even applied in the editing process, which was very long. Elisabetta Abrami and I spent a lot of time writing to decide whom we should focus on and in which order. The film doesn’t evolve laterally, it’s a character-based film.

The picture that emerges is that of a community of female warriors. Was the strong role played by women an element that you had in mind from the very beginning?
The idea of focusing on the women came about naturally; this community has a very matriarchal structure. The first family to place their trust in me was Franca’s. When you walk into her house you find yourself surrounded by women: her daughter, her three granddaughters, her friends… The men were out working or, for a variety of personal reasons, were absent. All matters relating to the ongoing land battle, the management of houses and relations with political and administrative bodies are handled by the women. During the first clearance in 2010, dozens and dozens of women stood in the front line behind a cordon facing the bulldozers. But then I realised that it was worth making room for a few of the male characters in the film: the Chilean rapper, the priest, the philosopher… It’s one huge extended family.

The community of Idroscalo feels a strong connection with the land. Even the youngsters, despite their hardships, have no intention of leaving. What do you think the future holds for them?
This place has existed since the 1960s; the houses were all built by their parents and grandparents. It wasn’t a degraded patch of land back then. It originated out of a pure and beautiful story about less well-off families who got to live in a house by the sea. Some of them hope the area will be revived once again. There’s a real sense of community; they say: “If they put us in tower blocks on the city outskirts with hundreds of other people, we’ll lose our way of life”. At this point in time, the young people I’ve portrayed are still only 13-14 years old and they’re attached to their family and the area. But there are huge question marks over whether they’ll continue their fight in the future.

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(Translated from Italian)

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