Time certainly flies! When I first interviewed you, the film was just released. What an amazing journey this has been for Waiting a Documentary. You have won several film awards, including the 2015 Big Apple Film Festival Cityscape Award. Has the film exceeded your expectations?
Certainly. My personal challenge was to finish the film at all costs. That was a first necessary step. Then, to reach as many people as possible. You never know how people will react to a movie. Before every screening, I was a little nervous. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone; on the other hand, I felt I’ve done what needed to be done for an indie film. I wore many hats to bring this project to light. The feedback after each screening was very positive. I’ve reached a level of empathy, with this film, through the telling of the stories (no preservatives added). I believe it is an honest film.
The film was finished in the summer of 2015, after 25 editing versions. It’s an Opera Prima. After only a year in festivals, I could say it has been well-received. All of the festivals were astounding experiences. We received awards from many of them, and the audiences responded very well. People wanted to talk to us at the end of the screenings; they wanted to share their feelings and how they have connected with the stories and the subjects. I enjoyed it because it came from people I didn’t know, and many of them, especially in New York, weren’t even Italians.
Awards are a great joy. It means your work is being accepted and recognized and definitely appreciated. We won Best Documentary at the New York City Independent Film Festival and at the Salento International Film Festival, but our first festival award was New York City Cityscape Award, at the Big Apple Film Festival right after our world premiere. I’m quite fond of that one in particular, not only for being the first, but also for being chosen as the most New Yorker of films in that edition. The City plays a part, a very important one.
John Turturro’s narration is excellent! How were you able to cast him for the film?
It was great working with him. He gets you right away. He’s a very smart human being. I always wanted Turturro to be the voice, even before I knew if there were going to be a narration of any sort. I started to ask friends, and peers and I approached him twice. The first time didn’t work and then, all of a sudden, when the editing was almost done my neighbor, who’s a casting director, invited me to his newest film: it was Fading Gigolo. I stopped him right there and said I needed a favor. Turturro emailed me the answer in less than 24 hours.
Turturro seems to fit perfectly, not only for his background, He is one of the few Italian-Americans that make movies in Italy. The Truce back in 1997, a film by Francesco Rosi and recently Mia Madre with Nanni Moretti. He also directed a documentary about the Neapolitan Song called Passione.
My film is about second chances, but it’s also about building bridges between the former generations of immigrants and the new one, and his voice embraces the long standing heritage of Italians and Italian-Americans in the history of New York City.
What has been the most awarding experience in this journey?
All my life I’ve been asking myself: where is home? The place you were born? The place you grow up? Or, the place you choose to live? Maybe it is a combination of all three. Home is also where you keep your memories, and from that point-of-view I have more than one place I’m proud to call home. I remember reading an interview with Baz Luhrman somewhere and he said, “Everyone here (in New York) is pretty much from somewhere else, and you’re not judged on your background or your accent or where you went to school.” It’s true. My blood is Italian. My parents and grandparents and so on; they’re all Italians. How do you get rid of your DNA? I’m an outsider. That feeling is always with me. Sicilian, Tuscan, Sudamericano and very much a New Yorker.
With WAITING, I thought of all the cultural heritage I possess, but I also paid attention exclusively to storytelling, to all human values that were at stake in those stories. They’re unique in their particular context; but they have a universal scope. Waiting is a reflection of my path as a constant immigrant. I see myself in many elements of the stories. Finish this film was considered my second chance, same way for the boxer was fighting for a world title. I felt it was my last train for a chance at filmmaking. I experienced it that way. So, I don’t throw away anything in this journey – the outcome and every step to get there: the wise choices and the fear, the mistakes, everything.
I learned to trust my gut. You have to believe in your story; you have to challenge it. I learned to never give up, because, at least, once a day you’ll be tempted to do so. You learn to live with rejection, and never make it personal. If someone doesn’t like your film, or doesn’t get it, but you know you gave it your all, then you have nothing to worry about. The next film will be a little better than the previous one.
Could you share a special moment in the making of the film?
There is a turning point and it has to do with editing. I took on the commitment of editing my own film from scratch. I wouldn’t have been so disciplined, if it weren’t for Robert McKee. I had to let go of three editors. Two of them were fully paid. I was in a crossroad, wondering if I should look for another editor, or should I edit it myself? In the meantime, I took Robert McKee’s seminar and it changed my life. It was a ground-breaking. The seminar was about Story and Writing, but also about turning professional and keep at it even if you fail tremendously at your first attempt (or the second or the third).
Let me paraphrase him: “Stories are about discovery and worlds that are unknown to the audience. That’s first and second once you’re there and see the humanity of your
subjects or characters you established empathy and therefore you find yourself.”
I had to tell these stories. I wanted to build an imaginary bridge between the new generation of immigrants and the previous one, who have definitely paved the road for us. I’m an immigrant who moved here and tried to accomplish something. It’s close to home.
I structured this documentary using storytelling principles. I took my subjects, once the filming was over, and started to see them as fictional characters. I asked them questions and looked in the footage for those answers. I tried to understand what values were at stake; what do they want to achieve and what was stopping them. I organized each story creating scenes, sequences, acts, with an inciting incident, an act climax, and a story climax. Let’s say I combined them by ear, musically. I wanted to keep a rhythm that would keep the audience interested – “the urge to migrate is no less natural than the urge to settle”. It was a very important sentence for me and I think it helped to pace the film. It was revealing, as a point-o-view. We see the act of moving, of leaving a place for another as a disruption, not a continuous line, especially when we are OK. Movement is natural. Once I established that I pay attention on the motivation of my subjects.
As the film continues to collect awards from various film festivals, are you considering producing a sequel?
I’ll keep exploring some of the issues confronted in this movie: validation and fear of failure, for example. Immigration, or life as an outsider, is an element I will repeat in future projects, consciously or not.
I would love to take these stories to the stage. Take the core of the subjects and their struggles and turn it into a play. I have such respect for theater and this could be possible only if the right people come along. So, if you know a playwright that will fit this project, I’m all ears.
If you could do it all over again, would you change anything?
Absolutely Not! I try to live in the present, as much as possible. I’ve learned so many things; I’ve met incredible human beings. I’ve grown both personally and professionally. It wouldn’t have been the same.
The circumstances that gave life to this film are unique. The next one will come with its own requirements and challenges. I bet they will be different from the previous one.
Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
Live is tough in NYC, and if you have seen WAITING or any other New York story, you know what I’m talking about. Of course I have a number of projects I would like to develop, and I’m working in one in particular. It’s for a documentary about an Italian sportsman. That’s all I can share right now.
What’s next for you?
WAITING is playing online on Vimeo on Demand for only $2.99
Cheaper than one espresso… Don’t miss it:
Watch: WAITING a Documentary
Headshot credit: Patrik Andersson (http://patrikandersson.com)
City People Films – USA (2015)
Documentary, 77 minutes (w/ English & Italian Subtitles)
2016 Best Documentary – New York City Independent Film Festival
2016 Best Documentary – Salento International Film Festival
2016 Best Director – Chain NYC Film Festival
2015 Cityscape Award – Big Apple Film Festival
2015 Special Prize for Directing – Foggia Film Festival
Three Contemporary Italian Immigrants aim for a second chance in life in New York City.
A Professional Boxer looking for self-validation.
A former Actor reinvents himself as an Opera Singer.
An aspiring Entrepreneur acknowledges addiction and fights against it.
WAITING is a documentary about finding the strength to give up an old familiar world to find identity and get a chance at self-realization, to find home in a strange land. It’s a longing for validation as a modern settler.