WAITING is a feature Documentary about the lives and aspirations of three Italian, middle class immigrants, in modern New York City. The stories shape each poignant and individual journey throughout challenges and the constant fear of failure. This genuinely personal look into their daily routines and dreams tells about their difficulties and achievements as they pursue and setup a path of their own. I had a chat with Director Christian Piazza January 2015. Less than a year has passed and the film received several accolades, including winning special selection at the 2015 Big Apple Film Festival. A new interview is in the works. meanwhile, check out this one.
Directed by Cristian Piazza
Voice Over by John Turturro
OM: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What’s your background? When and what made you get into filmmaking?
CP: That’s a million dollar question. I was born and raised in South America, in Venezuela, although there’s a strong connection also with Argentina. My great grandmother migrated there in the sixties and I lost count of how many relatives I have in Buenos Aires.
This is what I feel: I was born and raised overseas with my Italianity not only intact but improved with different cultures and languages. I spent entire summers in Italy as a kid and now I visit as much as I can. I think of citizenship based on these terms. My parents are from Sicily and there is an important link with Livorno from my maternal side. Being a New Yorker (I’m here since 2001) will sum up all these stories into one.
People sometimes get offended if you mention one and not the other. It’s what you feel, where your heart is, it’s also what you want to be. Everything works as a background but it doesn’t define you. I always feel at home no matter where I live and at the same time there’s a sense of separation. I don’t have to buy the whole package of pre-settings that comes with any citizenship. You can customize that experience. To sum up, I’m a bit Tuscan, a bit Sicilian, a bit South American and much of a New Yorker. Take it or leave it.
Filmmaking is for me a natural way to be creative. For years I couldn’t find the right channels to express myself, to be fully open and creative. It’s been a long process. I grew up next to a theater. My grandfather, my dad and my uncle ran a sort of luncheonette attached to the theater, they were independent from the theater’s hours but it belongs to the same building and when the movies were running there was a door that gave access to the attendees to buy soda and chocolate at my family’s place. I remember a big popcorn machine close to the register. The theater’s golden days were in the past when I was a kid. The place was slowly fading. The charm was that I got access to the projection room and watched movies for free, like in Cinema Paradiso.
OM: Is this your first documentary? Why did you decide to film it? Tell us more about the documentary.
It’s the first one, yes! I’ve been involved in a couple of documentaries but with minor roles. I felt it was the right time to jump in. I was working for an Italian network in NY for a specific online project and after 4 months, they cancel the project for lack of funds. My head was spinning for a week, trying to figure out things. Having worked in restaurants myself and being an immigrant, having met very interesting people in there, with serious dreams, I said: that could be a great story.
People tend to think of Italian immigrants as a thing from a distant past. Something that happened seventy, eighty or a hundred years ago. Which is true. There was a massive wave of Italian immigrants all over the world. We all have seen the pictures; we all have visited Ellis Island. I thought there was something new to say about this new generation and at the same time it worked as a connecting bridge. I’m an immigrant like my parents and my grandparents and we all went through this somehow: what it means to start over, being away from your family, learn a new language. That pretty much set up the engine for me.
This Documentary is about second chances, about validation. You might fall repeatedly but as long as you keep that thought of rising back and start over… to carry on (says the t-shirt). You might be completely mislead, or lost, not knowing exactly what are you looking for, but as long as you don’t stop searching there’s a possibility, a nuance into something new.
The tagline would be: “Three Italian Immigrants move to New York to get a second chance in life.
We have Floriano Pagliara, a professional boxer looking for self-validation. His fixation is to prove himself that he is a real fighter. After a humiliating defeat back in Italy, he needs to regain confidence. He finds a new trainer and the most acclaimed gym (Gleason’s), which gets him a shot at a World Title against an American Champion. What will do it for him? Going the distance or winning the title?
Then Paolo Buffagni, a former actor without any formal musical instruction, who falls in love with Opera at 30 after moving to New York. With little support (for its new passion), he is constantly hesitant and fearful about his real potential and talent. However, his progress as a tenor takes him to his first major role in Verdi’s Traviata, where he faces those long-standing uncertainties and worries. He’s looking for the recognition he couldn’t get back home.
And finally, Paolo Inferrera, who had a comfortable family lifestyle and felt entitled to his way of living. Marked by his parent’s divorce he moves to New York with no leads and turns into a slacker, avoiding facing reality or any strong emotional connection. He tries to figure out what to do with his life but instead he finds parties, drugs and sleepless nights in New York’s busy nightlife until he hit rock bottom. He needs to choose between redemption and self-destruction.
“WAITING” is a Documentary about a longing for personal and collective validation from the standpoint of a modern immigrant.
OM: What equipment did you use to shoot the documentary?
We used mainly a SONY Full HD EX-1 camera. We had a boom connected to the camera and also “lavaliers” on the subjects. We used additional cameras in the main interviews as second cameras.
OM: Where did you film the documentary?
The film was shot mostly in NYC (Brooklyn and Manhattan to be exact) This city is the fourth subject of the film; It’s my declaration of love to New York, a place that became home. It would have been an entirely different movie without this city. There’s a quote in the opening scene that points out New York as a muse and a destination. How every single person creates its own definition of the island.
We also filmed in Albany, NY; Mount Pocono in Pennsylvania and Italy. We went there to interview their relatives. Their point of view in the film is crucial. For some it was a catalyst, for others an antagonist force, an educational character in the story, a counterpoint or a true force in their determination to step up. The places we visit in Italy were Cecina, a coastal town in Tuscany. Casole d’Elsa in the hills of Siena and Magreta in the province of Modena.
OCCHI: What has been the response to the documentary? Was it what you expected?
The film will be released this 2015. The response has been very positive. We made an initial trailer a couple of years ago to start getting the word out. People felt connected with the stories. Not only Italians. I got comments saying that the film is also very New York-centric and they feel related to that. Let’s see how well is recieved in festivals. I have an immense respect for audiences; I’ve been one of then for most of my life.
OCCHI: If there was anything you could change about the documentary, what is it and why?
I wouldn’t change a thing in terms of footage. I would have loved to have more funding. Everything else allowed me to grow as a professional and as a person. It took me five years to put this project together. I was inexperienced in leading a movie from beginning to end. I started to interact with my three subjects and to know them.
I was just paying attention. There were two turning points. The first one was committing to make the film. Once your mind is set to that, you won’t give up. I took restaurant and translation jobs to fund the film, I wouldn’t let go of the film.
The second turning point was sitting for four days with Robert McKee in his Story Seminar. Things weren’t working out with Editors. I tried with two people for months and talked to a few more. The timing couldn’t have been any better for that seminar. I wouldn’t have changed anything, because those previous awkward moments led me to where I’m now. I wouldn’t have been so disciplined if it weren’t for Robert McKee’s memorable phrases. Sitting in that Auditorium for four days blew up my mind and rewired my understanding of work and craft.
I found myself with hours of footage in my hand. The seminar was about Story and writing but it was also about turning professional and keep at it, even if you fail tremendously at your first attempt (or the second, or the third). I realize I was the Editor I was looking for. So I set up an office space (instead of my comfortable home desk headquarters) and started to show up everyday, long hours, and all of a sudden things started to make sense again and to flow. One scene a day, maybe two if I was lucky, and a vast road ahead.
OM: Tell us about the filming process? Did everything go according to plan?
Ideas don’t have to be too elaborate; they’re just a starting point. I wanted to follow new Italian Immigrants in NYC, middle class, with jobs in restaurants (hence the name WAITING) with a willingness to work things out. All of them are dealing with attachment and failure, just to name a couple of things. Initially, my approach was to profile these characters, follow them, show everyone how their life was. Later, as we got delay with filming or we have to wait for something to happen in their lives regarding their career, my perception about them shifted and the stories were taking shape. Time, in this case, was a blessing.
OM: What style of filming did you use?
As a Documentary it has an observational style particularly when we filmed. As I sat in the editing room I needed to see them as fictional characters. It’s a combination of Observational and reflexive styles. I believe that what is crucial to any storytelling is the emotional reaction and the empathy between the audience and the subjects. I treated the stories as in a feature film. The progression, the dynamic, the change in values from scene to scene, the climax of a first act versus the story climax that wraps each story. Facts are just facts if we don’t give them an order and choose what works and what doesn’t. The only direction I gave them was to be themselves and don’t hide from the camera. We filmed Hand held following our subjects everywhere.
OCCHI: Lastly, is there anything you would like to share, such as upcoming projects?
I don’t know anything about the future! However, I have two ideas for feature films. I want to take the time to write the stories. I keep notes and news clips for future documentaries. I’ll keep studying and learning, that’s for sure.