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BIFFF 2021

Alessandro Tonda • Director of The Shift

“The film is dedicated to all those who fight without using weapons”

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- The Italian director talks about his fast-paced thriller, telling the story of a young man driven by fundamentalists to threaten the city of Brussels with a suicide bombing

Alessandro Tonda  • Director of The Shift

The programme of this year's BIFFF featured the debut feature by Alessandro Tonda. With The Shift [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Alessandro Tonda
film profile
]
, the Italian director has created a fast-paced thriller, telling the story of a young man driven by fundamentalists to threaten the city of Brussels with a suicide bombing. We talked to the director about his idea of using an ambulance as the main location for his story and the challenges of shooting in such a small space.

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Cineuropa: Why did you want to tell this kind of story?
Alessandro Tonda: The real reason is that the period of the attacks was very particular for me. I was shocked to see in myself as well as in others this fear of the different and of others. This distrust of others made me afraid and influenced me. One point of inspiration was also my father. My father works as a volunteer with the Red Cross and drives an ambulance. I wondered what would happen if a normal person like him were to find themselves in one of these situations. Then, reflecting on the fact that these bombers are often very young, I thought back to my own youth. I recognised this anger. I also recognised this vulnerability that others are willing to abuse in the name of religion and fundamentalism. I wanted to answer something. I don't have any real answers yet, but the film is a way to deal with the subject.
From the beginning, I wanted to make a genre film, a thriller, because that suits me well. But it couldn’t be just an entertainment film, it had to also have depth. With the film, I want to draw attention to the phenomenon and say that this is not religion, that Islam does not mean terrorism, and that a Muslim is not necessarily a terrorist.

How did you do your research?
I don't take other films as a reference, instead I want to base myself on reality. So I was inspired by the press, by the news and by videos on YouTube. My goal was to be almost documentary. That's why I prepared for a long time, talked to advisors and those affected, such as the police and firefighters. Especially for the portrayal of the attack in the school, it was important to adapt the script to the advice of the police in order to portray it realistically.

What inspired you to use an ambulance as a location?
My father was the first that inspired me to it. An ambulance, at the same time, is very ambiguous. It should bring salvation, but in the film it becomes an instrument of death, a ticking bomb. I thought it was an interesting and original way to tell this story. There are many films on the subject, most of which are purely entertainment films, so it was important to find a special approach.

Shooting in an ambulance creates a claustrophobic atmosphere which you certainly aimed for in the film. But what were the technical and logistical aspects of his kind of shoot?
I wanted to shoot in a real ambulance and not in a studio, there had to be nothing unnecessarily artificial in the film. It was a challenge to shoot in a 3x2m space with a cast of three characters and technicians. I wanted to tell the story in a spontaneous way, so it was necessary that we could shoot in 360 degrees. My DoP came up with his own shooting technique for this. He attached rails to the roof of the ambulance and was able to move the camera to all sides. It was important to maintain the freedom of a handheld camera. 
Since we were really driving the ambulance through the streets, we had to establish the routes and get permissions.

The handheld camera adds rhythm and suspense. What was your aesthetic concept for the film in general? 
It was clear from the beginning that the film needed a handheld camera aesthetic. The camera had to be in contact with the characters and the story. I also wanted to create a resemblance to the videos on YouTube, so I also wanted to use as little artificial light as possible, everything had to look as realistic as possible. The actors had to be able to feel and play the emotions out of themselves. I said what I wanted, but the actors needn’t feel forced and had to be able to be as natural as possible. 

How did you find your protagonists? 
I already knew Adamo (Dionisi), who plays the Italian ambulance driver, and had worked with him before. For the others, I did a lot of casting in Brussels, Liège and Paris. For the boy, I wanted a real boy from the streets. I wanted to see authenticity, sensitivity, anger and fear in the actors. 

Did you know the area of Molenbeek before you started working on the film? What is your impression of it?
Before I prepared the film, I did not know Brussels. I had only heard about the area as the terrorists' quarter, since many would hide there. I got to know it as the lively home of people from different cultures. 

What did you want to film to communicate? 
The film is dedicated to all those who fight without using weapons. I would like to say that there should be no barriers between us because as long as we are afraid of difference, we will never solve anything. We must learn to understand each other and there is no need to hate each other or make war. 

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