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#12 – And Yet It Moves!

Posted on Jan 3, 2016 in The Wall | 0 comments

Esther Elisha in Tutto può succedere

And Yet It Moves! Italian Film and TV Industry as Seen Between 2015 and 2016

The year that just came to an end left us two good news. For a start, in a 2015 Italian domestic box office that matched a 10.4 per cent recovery on grosses compared to 2014 (634.390.150 Euros), and a 8.2 per cent increase on viewers (98.926.760) but was definitely miser for Italian films (only 4 titles have overcome 5 million Euros, entering the top 30 chart), we may say that at least two on four of these titles present a role of some consistence given to an Afrodescendant performer. In top 100 chart we meet at number 8 Si accettano miracoli (Miracles Accepted, 15.474.263 Euros) by and with comedian Alessandro Siani, also starring Algerian actor Miloud Mourad Benamara, in the role of an always cheerful abusive street vendor; number 22 was reached by Il professor Cenerentolo (Professor Cinderello, 5.568.829 Euros) by and with Leonardo Pieraccioni, featuring Italian-Senegalese actress Lorena Cesarini as the spicy, mixed-race adoptive child of a prison warden. Getting off, we meet also other actors involved, that is Tunisian-born Ahmed Hafiene, who plays a role in political thriller Suburra (4.675.525 Euros) by Stefano Sollima, and Ivorian-born Rufin Doh Zeyenouin, also starring in Edoardo Leo’s comedy Noi e la Giulia (We and Giulia). Of course, we can discuss about the complexity of those characters (note that some other minor roles with black actors are in the full cast), or about the way in which they reinforce rather than distancing themselves from certain stereotypes, but this data has some relevance in industrial terms. Maybe Italian producers, directors, screenwriters, and casting directors are really starting to come to terms with the existence of many performers of migrant or post-migrant origins, most of which have been living and working in Italy for many years, are here to stay, or were even born or at least raised here, being second generation migrants, adopted, issued from an “Italian-Italian” or mixed family.

Some other titles were out in theatres this 2015. Let mention them briefly, in release order: Non c’è 2 senza te by Massimo Cappelli (with a soundtrack by Jonis Bascir), La scelta by Michele Placido (featuring non professional actor Mejdi El Euchi), L’amore non perdona by Stefano Consiglio (with French-Tunisian Helmi Dridi), Le frise ignoranti by Antonello De Leo and Pietro Lo Prieno (with Italian-Congolese Rosanna Sparapano, and costumes by Claudette Lilly), Profumi d’Algeri by Rachid Benhadj (with a huge cast of Algerian actors and filmmakers, among which Adel Djafri, Ahmed Agoumi, and Chafia Boudraa), Pitza e datteri by Fariborz Kamkari (another wide cast, including Mehdi Meskar, Maud Buquet and Hassani Shapi), Una storia sbagliata by Gianluca Maria Tavarelli (featuring several Tunisian actors, among which Mehdi Dehbi, but also Adel Bakri in the local crew), In un posto bellissimo by Giorgia Cecere (also starring non professional actor Faysal Abbaoui), Storie sbagliate by Stefano Chiantini (with Tarek Ben Abdallah as DOP), La nostra quarantena by Peter Marcias (starring some non professional Moroccan actors), Alaska by Claudio Cupellini (also starring French-Moroccan Roschdy Zem and Italy-based Tunisian Anis Gharbi), Vacanze ai Caraibi by Neri Parenti (with Yohana Allen). Yes, many of those titles had a very limited release and sometimes were not even distributed in homevideo, but those data can reinforce this idea that something is changing also in Italian film and TV industry.

I say this, also because some other titles, even if presented in Italian or international film festivals and widely appreciated and awarded, couldn’t find a buyer and so were cut off from commercial distribution sector. The most outrageous case is that of Mediterranea by Jonas Carpignano – featuring Koudous Seihon, Alassane Sy and a cast of almost all non professional actors – to which we abundantly referred through the blog and our social media, a debut film inspired by the riots of African workers at Rosarno in January 2010, premiered at Cannes Film Festival, candidate to LUX Awards 2015, awarded at Cairo, Munich, New York, Stockholm, Zurich, and sinfully ignored by Italian distributors. Still don’t have a distribution also Seconda primavera by Francesco Calogero, starring Desiree Noferini and Hedy Krissane, and Zio Gaetano è morto by Antonio Manzini, featuring Kelly Palacios, but the list is quite wider.

The second good news came from Rai TV series and was widely commented here and on our social media. Of course we refer to the fact that finally Italian producers and authors start to see and acknowledge if not necessarily to promote Afrodescendant talents. First came Ahmed Hafiene, hired to play the role of the father of Jamal (Simone Coppo), unjustly accused of murder and in love with Valentina Rengoni (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), in the third season of contemporary drama series Una grande famiglia (The Family), created by Ivan Cotroneo, Stefano Bises and Monica Rametta, directed by Riccardo Donna and broadcasted on April-May. After the summer came then the miniseries Anna & Yusef, filmed between Italy and Tunisia, directed by Cinzia TH Torrini, featuring a wide cast of Afrodescendant actors, France- (Adel Bencherif), Italy- (Desiree Noferini, Awa Ly, Daphne Di Cinto, Mohamed Zouaoui), or Tunisia-based (Rabiaa Ben Abdallah, Ali Bennoor, Souhir Ben Amara and others), and aired on early September. Ahmed Hafiene, with model Elisa Sednaoui and other young promising actresses (Zaina Dridi, Giulia Bertinelli) were episode actors in detective series Non uccidere (Close Murders) directed by Giuseppe Gagliardi and broadcasted in September-October. October was the month of È arrivata la felicità (That’s Happiness), a family series created again by Cotroneo, Bises and Rametta, directed by Riccardo Milani and Francesco Vicario, starring Djibouti-born former model Tezeta Abraham, at her first consistent role, that of Roman 30 something bookseller Francesca. In December was premiered the TV movie Le nozze di Laura (Laura’s Wedding), inspired by an episode of the Gospel, directed by veteran Pupi Avati and starred by Italian-born Valentino Agunu aka WADO, hip hop singer at his first relevant role, that of a Ciadian traditional prince student of medicine in Bologna, who pays for his study working as farmhand in Calabria region. On 27 December was finally aired Tutto può succedere (Anything May Happen), a 24 episodes family series produced by Cattleya, adapted by NBC hit Parenthood, filmed in Rome and its surroundings, directed by Lucio Pellegrini and Alessandro Angelini, and starred by Italian Esther Elisha, in the role of violin player Feven (instead of the dancer Jasmine), and by little Sean Ghedion Nolasco in the role of her child Robel. None of these TV production was a top audience hit of the year but, with the negative exception of Non uccidere, whose latest six episodes have been postponed to January 2016, all the other series and TV movies had a good receipt, in line with the average audience score of flagship Rai channel.

It is too soon to develop an analysis on Tutto può succedere and particularly on the character of Feven. For sure, as said before here, it is an important chance for Esther Elisha, but hopefully also a sign of a change in casting strategies of Rai producers. Up to now, the most relevant roles of Afrodescendant characters in Rai TV series were given to almost inexperienced former-athletes (Fiona May in Butta la luna), salesgirls (Fatou Kine Boye in Bakhita), former models (Tezeta Abraham) or singers (Valentino Agunu): with due respect to these sometimes promising but still non professional actors and actresses, it is time to promote Afrodescendant performers born and/or raised in Italy, professionally trained in acting schools, experienced also in theater, and Elisha, graduated at Civica Scuola d’Arte Drammatica Paolo Grassi in Milan, and grown as performer in art house, independent films like Guido Lombardi’s Là-bas and Take Five, Francesco Prisco’s Nottetempo and Stefano Incerti’s Neve, deserved an opportunity to confront herself with mainstream audience, as she represent probably the most talented and ready Italian-born Afrodescendant performer available in film and TV industry now, even if other actors and actresses with a similar background would need an equivalent opportunity.

What 2016 has in store for us viewers attentive to diversity and particularly to film and TV experiences promoting filmmakers of African descent? The list of films and TV series in preparation, production or postproduction is quite impressive, but some of these won’t possibly never see the light or end up in a limbo of relative invisibility. So I will mention briefly only those titles for which a distribution has already been or will presumably be fixed soon. The first to be released (01 Distribution) will be on January 14 Giuseppe Tornatore’s drama La corrispondenza (Correspondence),  featuring German Jerry Kwarteng (My Life – Segreti e passioni). Italian viewers will meet other European or American actors, involved in projects aimed to reach international audiences. Already finished, premiered and ready to be released is low budget dystopic sci-fi Andròn – The Black Labyrinth (AMBI Pictures) by Francesco Cinquemani, starring Danny Glover and Skin, alongside Gaia Scodellaro. Still in postproduction is the Italian giallo The Day After, freely inspired to the case of Meredith Kercher, directed by Ruggero Deodato (back to feature film after 1992!), filmed in English and starring among others young Edward Williams. The same applies to the even more ambitious thriller Ustica – La verità (Ustica – The Missing Paper), by Renzo Martinelli, that will propose another explanation for the fall of airplane Itavia that in June 1980 cost 81 lives, featuring Belgian-Moroccan Lubna Azabal (Paradise Now, Incendies) and Yassine Fadel (The Expatriate, Diego Star), with Italian Jonis Bascir. I’m intrigued by comedy of errors Honeymùn by Salvatore Allocca, filmed in Basilicata, and starring French-Tunisian Nabiha Akkari (Che bella giornata) and Helmi Dridi as two Tunisian migrants escaped after 2011 revolution and headed to France. Even more choral will be the cast of Scoppiati, an autobiographical comedy by Simona Izzo, still in production, to feature also Egyptian star Amr Waked (Lucy, Syriana).

Also Italian-based actors will have their place to shine. US-born actor and singer Timothy Martin (Una pura formalità), in Italy since mid 1990s, will play a role in next Italian pic by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds), called L’estate addosso (Summertime), to be released by 01 Distribution. It will be Koch Media to launch 7 minuti, a choral feminine drama in an industrial setting, filmed by Michele Placido (Romanzo criminale, Angel of Evil) and featuring Mali-born Balkissa Maiga. In May we will see in Italian theatres next feature by Giulio Base (L’inchiesta, Mio papà), comedy La coppia dei campioni (Notorious Pictures), starring Italian-Egyptian actor and anchorman Livio Beshir (ACAB), that we will see also in Al posto tuo, another comedy directed by Max Croci. Santo Domingo born and graduated at Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia Miguel Angel Gobbo Diaz will be introduced to a feature in La grande rabbia, a drama filmed in Rome, Tor Sapienza, and directed by Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2, Palermo Milano solo andata).  In post-production also Il manoscritto by Alberto Rondalli (Il derviscio, Anita e Garibaldi), an adaptation of classical The Manuscript Found in Saragossa by Potocki, with a large cast including Italian-Tanzanian Giulia Bertinelli. It’s still just a rumor the upcoming fourth feature by Giada Colagrande (Open My Heart, Before It Had a Name), starring Esther Elisha, while there’s curiosity around Il flauto magico (The Magic Flute), to be filmed again in Rome, by musical producer and musician Mario Tronco and actor Fabrizio Bentivoglio, starring the members of celebrated multiethnic band L’orchestra di Piazza Vittorio, actually in pre-production. It is much awaited 40%, third pic by Andrea Segre (Io sono Li, La prima neve), a drama with an important role for an African or Afrodescendant actress, who is being chosen in these days.

And what about small screen? Well, at the moment, the only certainty is the upcoming miniseries in two episodes Lampedusa, created by Andrea Purgatori and Laura Ippoliti and directed by Marco Pontecorvo, most known as cinematographer: to lead will be Claudio Amendola and Carolina Crescentini, but Ahmed Hafiene will have a role, and possibly other Afrodescendant actors, as we may guess from the first teaser of the series. There’s no evidence still of a fourth season of Una grande famiglia nor of È arrivata la felicità, even if in this second case the announcement it is waited. Too soon to imagine a second season of Tutto può succedere, started with an audience score below projections but conceived to pluck long the heartstrings of prime time audience, while there are rumors about roles for black actors in next detective series I bastardi di Pizzo Falcone, directed by Carlo Carlei on the crime novels by Maurizio De Giovanni: shooting started in Naples on early December, the six episodes series is waited to be aired on Autumn 2016. No news on a diversity agenda came until now from Mediaset, Sky or Netflix Italy. As for You, Me and the Apocalypse, the fortunate British series aired also by NBC and starring our Gaia Scodellaro in the role of Sister Celine, Italian viewers apparently will have to settle for the Italian subtitles edited by fans on the web.

So this 2016 opens up with some more expectations about the future, even if these first signs of opening up point out the existence of a trend that is still weak, contradictory and uneven. We can’t afford the luxury to be negative about the future of diversity in Italian film and TV industry. Time is on our side. In 2016 we will finally see also Blaxploitalian – 100 Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema, the documentary that Italian-Ghanaian Fred Kuwornu is preparing about the condition of black Italian actor and actresses, and it will be a good opportunity to verify how much work remains to be done.

Contributors: Leonardo De Franceschi

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