C. Photo Credit: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary

Jonas Carpignano, Director of A Ciambra ​(2017)

To describe Jonas Carpignano as charismatic, is an understatement. The director, whose first feature film Mediterranea premiered in 2015 to raving reviews, lights up the room with his outgoing presence. He offers you water, starts chit-chatting and reverses the roles after the interview by starting to ask you questions -no business-as-usual kind of exit.

It is probably this manner of genuine interest in his interlocutors that allows him to delve that deeply into the stories of his protagonists. Like in Mediterranea, Carpignano has found the characters of A Ciambra in the locals of the Southern Italian town of Gioia Tauro. Everybody plays themselves in stories based on their actual lives. Many of them turn up in both films, but this time the story is focused on Pio, a young boy of the local Roma community who needs to step up and assume a new role in the family when his father and older brother get into trouble.

People say that the second film is the hardest. Yet you’ve completed yours only two years after the first, and it is again being shown at the biggest festivals. How was that for you?

Jonas Carpignano: I live in that town where the film was made. I think that when people say that they find their second film to be the hardest, it’s because they feel pressure from the world around them to do something. People keep asking: What next, what next? I don’t have to worry about that. I live in a town where I am the only filmmaker around and no one cares about that,wondering what’s going to happen next. Since I’m removed from a lot of things like that, I can concentrate on work.

How do your protagonists feel about you making more and more films about them?

JC: At this point, whenever I see them, they ask me: when are we going to make another film? First,  because it’s fun for them, second, because it’s the only job they’ve ever really had. So, there is a desire to do it all over again.

Do you develop their characters’ stories together with them?

JC: They’re not engaged in that part of the creative process, but they do put the flesh in the script. For example, writing a dinner table scene, I know that it has to be in the film, but it would take me much longer to fill out everything they’re going to say. So, I piece the scene together over the course of three, four months of sitting at the dinner table with them, using things that are actually said and done. Not done in a formal meeting, but rather with me sitting with them and absorbing things.

What was your angle on Pio’s story after you decided to focus on him?

JC: Making a film, it’s important to me that it’s told from the perspective of the people at the centre of it. I didn’t want to go to any of these towns, say that this is what it’s like, and shoot it the way I think it is. It’s much more interesting to see it from the eyes of the people living there. Pio was the perfect entry point into that world because he doesn’t marvel at the things we would marvel at. He wouldn’t stop and comment on the fact that the trash is always there or that the kids are smoking cigarettes. The coming-of-age idea was about a kid who is coming to a different understanding of his role in that place. You see him change, but the rules of the place don’t ever betray the way he is experiencing it.

Does the theme of growing up make this film more personal to you?

JC: Before I even met Pio, I followed this little brother–big brother relationship in my very first draft of the short film, where the younger one is always trying to be with the older guys. That is something I have always felt as a kid. Once it was that older brother and Pio, the film took a different shape. It became about them and not me. The first idea was to show why a kid wants to grow up really fast: because he wants to emulate someone that’s close to him.

Family structures portrayed in A Ciambra are very patriarchal with mostly the men and boys active in family matters. How did you manage to keep the portrait realistic and be true to all of the characters at the same time?

JC: It’s Pio’s perspective, and I think that he wants to grow up to be a man, setting his goals within the male world. Still, you can see that the real boss is his mother. She is the one who commands and runs everything and she is the one he has to reckon with.

After the father is gone…

JC: True. But I hope you could see that she is a strong person, once she makes that step up. My next film is actually about a young girl who has to find her place in her family. I’m not doing that because I wanted to tell a young girl’s story but because this specific young girl shows best the contradiction of whether she should remain in this town where the tradition says she has to live a certain way, or not. She is brought up in the mist of the Calabrian gender roles but she is so much fiercer than that. It’s interesting to me because you get to see what the pros and cons are of living within your tradition.

In A Ciambra the camera is always on the move. How did you develop that?

JC: I have always thought that everything – colours, camerawork – have to convey how the protagonist feels. I wanted it to match Pio’s look but also his energy. He is such a rambunctious, high-energy kid, so the film has that as well. When we were shooting we would ask ourselves: how would the camera experience this place if it was Pio?

Did he have any role in choosing the music of the film?

JC: It’s all music that we listened to together. The last song, for example, was the only song that wasn’t mentioned in the script. It had come out while we were shooting the film. Pio would drive his little car around and he would listen to that song every single day …While editing the very last scene, it felt like I almost passed out, my hands took over and the song ended up in there. It feels like it’s from that place. In case the film succeeds in accurately showing what their world is like, then this song will feel right with it.

A Ciambra has got a lot of attention for being funded by Scorsese. I assume your next project is similar in style and scope to your fist two, but could you see yourself doing a Scorsese-type film?

JC: It looks like the next film will be made with him as well, even though the film’s scale and feel will not differ much from Mediterranea and A Ciambra. That said, I’ve moved around too much in my lifetime to just say: This is it, I wanna stay and work in this place. At the same time, I ended up in Gioia Tauro never thinking I would end up there. I’m very open to letting things inspire me and change my direction. Right now, I want to stay in this town. I have other ideas for my next films but I’m not thinking about it actively. I’m not going to try to make this big film so that one day Harvey Keitel [whose picture is on the opposite wall – C.F.] is going to see it so I can make a bigger film with them. I don’t have a grand plan. Every film that I make needs to be worth it. I need the feeling that the time I spent with the community will be rewarding in itself.


Writer Profile

Interview with Jonas Carpignano
Director of "A Ciambra" (IT, USA, FR, SE)
KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Horizons



Name: Cora Frischling

Nationality: Germany

Contact: cora.frischling@gmail.com