"Terraferma is a film about the freedom to go elsewhere"
by Camillo de Marco
06/09/2011 - Terraferma [trailer, film focus], shown in competition at the Venice International Film Festival, will be released in Italian theatres tomorrow by 01 Distribution on a 207-print run. Emanuele Crialese’s film is a French co-production and producer Riccardo Tozzi is certain it will get a wide distribution as was the case with Crialese’s other films.
Crialese rejects the “film about immigration” label. He said: "I would like it to be defined as a film about everyone’s freedom to go elsewhere".
Cineuropa: Did you get inspiration from the news items about immigration and the boat landings or did you work from imagination?
Emanuele Crialese: The news we read in the papers at that time pretty much represented everything we knew we had to put in our film, it was a major source of inspiration; all the news we gathered on the subject was put in a stock to be used to transform and tell a story that moved away from the canons of television and documentary. I was particularly struck by the story of a boat that remained adrift for three weeks, with 79 people on board: 76 died, three survived, and when I saw in the newspaper the face of Timnit, the woman who was among the survivors, I felt deeply upset. She had the face of someone who had gone through hell and had arrived in heaven. I immediately wanted to meet her, I was still in a very early stage of the screenwriting, undecided about whether to use actors or people who had really lived through that experience.
What did Timnit’s inclusion in the cast bring to the film?
She didn’t want to tell her personal story, it was as if she wanted to create a separation between her life before the boat landing and her future life, she didn’t want to give me any details about her experience. At that point, I asked her if we could reinvent a new story together, offering her the one I had written and asking her to correct it where she thought I’d got it wrong. I was able to do it because at that point the screenplay still allowed us a large degree of freedom. She’s a woman with a very expressive face, great dignity and she’s always smiling and has a deep desire to forget. Working with her was a major life lesson for me.
It’s a fact, the law of the State goes against the moral duties of the civilian world, leaving people to die in the middle of the sea is a sign of immense savagery, an absurd barbarity. We’re bombarded with news on TV and in the newspapers and sometimes we no longer even realise the tragedy that lies behind these desperate boat landings, we let it all wash over us. It’s a problem of moral direction; my fisherman has never lost his moral compass but the majority of people in Italy today have lost theirs. These people are labelled with the horrible adjective “clandestino” (translator’s note: the English equivalent is “illegal” immigrant), this is how the media in Italy describe the protagonists of this tragedy that is exploding in our sea, and a huge part of the responsibility lies with the State and much of the media.
Did you feel the pressure to stay politically correct?
I believe I’ve made a film that doesn’t judge anyone; it’s a story, an open analysis. I film and ask myself questions, I don’t have to provide any answers. If a film like this sparks debate, that’s a good thing, but... I’m unable to make films motivated by themes or theses. My ideal audience is a seven-year-old child.