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Switzerland / Italy

Michele Pennetta • Director of Il mio corpo

“The neglect I show in my doc mirrors the type we see in Europe”

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- The Italian director discusses the documentary he shot in Sicily, which is a Silver Ribbon nominee and is released on-demand in Italy today, 26 February

Michele Pennetta • Director of Il mio corpo

After completing a lengthy festival circuit (a world premiere at Visions du Réel before screening in Cannes’ ACID line-up, Film Fest Gent, Busan IFF and the IDFA, to name a few), September saw Il mio corpo [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Michele Pennetta
film profile
]
, by Michele Pennetta, set out on a tour of France’s major cities, including Paris, organised by ACID, before hitting national cinemas in November, courtesy of Nour Films. The film was also released in Switzerland via Sister Distribution that same month, as well as in England and Ireland via Curzon Artificial Eye (currently streaming on the curzonhomecinema.com platform). Acquired by a German distributor (with a release planned for March), the film is now arriving in Italy and will be available on-demand from today, Friday 26 February, via Antani Distribuzione, in collaboration with Kio Film, on the Zalabb, #iorestoinSALA and CG Digital platforms. A candidate for the Silver Ribbons, the film follows the parallel stories of Oscar, a little Sicilian boy who spends his days sifting through illegal landfills in search of scrap metal, and Stanley, a Nigerian immigrant who cleans the village church in exchange for food and lodgings.

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Cineuropa: Il mio corpo concludes the “Sicilian trilogy” which you began in 2013 with A Iucata and which you continued in 2016 with Fishing Bodies [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, all of which explore recurring themes.
Michele Pennetta: I tried to develop a viewpoint, to examine a specific reality that speaks to a wider audience. I discovered Sicily in my first film A Iucata, where I managed to get a foothold in the microcosm of illegal horse racing. It was the first project which opened my eyes to these parallel worlds. In my other films, I decided to explore other worlds, those on the margins, downtrodden groups. I’m told that my stories are like Verga’s, but modern versions. As it happens, Il mio corpo is actually based on a Verga story, “Rosso Malpelo”, which explored sulphur mines. I made that reality my own; I explored it from my own viewpoint.   

It’s a version of Sicily which could just as easily be anywhere else.
I didn’t portray a downgraded version of Sicily, and, actually, the location is never stated (or only once). This island simply holds up a mirror to Italy and Europe; these are realities which are typical of our societies, which show neglect on the part of institutions. It’s the reason why the film was so well received abroad. In France, they asked me whether I’d shot it in Marseille, North Africa or the Balkans. Ironically, the universality of these two tales comes from the Sicilian dialect and the Nigerian language which come to form a common tongue, as does the simplicity of certain moments and of certain actions, which everyone can identify with.

Is it the duty of documentaries to talk about this global, sea change?
The images surrounding migration have reached saturation point. How do we help people understand that these worlds are closer to ours than we think? In my film, I wanted to demonstrate that the other, that difference, isn’t only represented by migrants. We might always look to find differences between us and them, but certain problems, such as a lack of work, are common ones. It took a lot of editing to try to link the two stories with a subtle thread.

Are we witnessing a rebirth of the documentary form?
I’d say more of a rediscovery. I left Italy - it sounds absurd - but I went to Switzerland to be able to study film. I cultivated a passion for documentaries here, in the Francophone zone which has links to the great tradition of documentary-making in France, which is by no means a recent thing. In Italy, Gianfranco Rosi is credited with legitimising the documentary form, winning the Golden Lion with Sacro G.R.A. [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gianfranco Rosi
film profile
]
, and the boundary between doc and fiction was broken down some years ago. But producing a documentary is still a complicated thing. Il mio corpo is the first co-production that I’ve made with Italy. In Europe, documentaries have enjoyed a change in status, from a distribution standpoint, too; they’re finally no longer a niche genre within the film world. Audiences are now more willing to be confronted with the realities they live in.

We’re seeing the beginnings of change in audiovisual consumption habits, and in the balance between cinema viewings and home viewings. In your opinion, is this an advantage for films which find it harder to crack cinemas?
For the post-pandemic period, I think this cinema-platform alternation could lend greater visibility to certain films. We need to rethink physical cinemas, but what actually awaits us is a near future where films will be released in cinemas and after a few days they’ll land on the platform of that same circuit. Whatsmore, many festivals have become hybrid as a result of the pandemic, and I don’t see that as a bad thing; it might help independent cinema to become more accessible and to reach outside of cinephile circles.

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(Translated from Italian)

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