VIFF 2019 Interview – FORGIVENESS director Marcello Cotugno

“FORGIVENESS is about how sometimes life can be hard. Destiny chooses for you without giving you a plan B option.” Director Marcello Cotugno on FORGIVENESS which screens at the 2019 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival. 

Congratulations on your film playing and welcome to VIFF! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

Yes, it is my first time at VIFF. Unfortunately, I will not be able to come, with my great disappointment. Now I am in Napoli rehearsing a play by Roland Schimmelpfennig, with a great cast of actors, such as Valentina Acca and Emanuele Valenti, two of the main characters of the TV series My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. It also stars Giovanni Ludeno and Valentina Curatoli. Then I’ll be leaving to Beirut to perform one of my last shows at The Lebanon’s International Theatre Festival and I will be holding a workshop for actors too. And, last but not least, this is the most important one, me and my wife irene will be leaving for Bogotà on October 19th to meet our adopted daughter! We will be there for 45 days and we have to prepare a lot of stuff before leaving.

So how did you get into this business? Talk to me a bit about how you got your start and what you have worked on in the past.

My career started in theatre; since 1996 I have directed more than 60 plays, focusing on contemporary drama. For instance I have staged many plays by American playwright Neil LaBute, who also is a good friend of mine. I started working on movies with Italian actor and director Sergio Castellitto, being assistant director for his first movie: Libero Burro. Then, in 1999 I attended the New York Film Academy in New York. Since then I have directed 9 short movies, winning awards in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Valencia, Trevignano, Napoli. FORGIVENESS was awarded in Cortinametraggio and has been one of the five finalists at the Italian Golden Globes 2019.

How did this project come together for you? Give me a rundown from the preparation, to shooting, to post-production to now!

Dario iacobelli, who wrote the story was a great friend to me and Lino Musella, the main actor of the short movie. When he sadly passed away in 2013, me and Lino wanted to shoot some of his numerous and brilliant stories. It’s been a long process, because we first had to shoot it in 2016, but then something went wrong, until we find Paolo Rossetti of Panamafilm who believed in the project and helped us through the producing steps. It was shot in 3 days in Napoli, with a great troupe: a brilliant D.O.P. Cesare Accetta, who worked with directors such as Mario Martone and Giuseppe Bertolucci; and, strangely enough, during the shooting I discovered that he and Dario used to hang out as teens. Also the musician, Luca Canciello was one of Dario’s best friends. 

He is a brilliant electronic composer living in Berlin who has done the perfect soundtrack to this little movie. Giada Esposito, the set designer was fundamental for her work but also because she scouted the perfect location for the story: his grandparent’s house who was closed since 10 years, i.e. from when they passed away. The house was still full of furniture and stuff inside the drawers, so it was a kind of magic situation to shoot. Nunzia Russo, the dresser, although young, has realized the perfect dress for actors. The cast is something about I am very proud of, all excellent actors, coming from theatre but with a great skill on cinema too, having been starred in important series as Gomorra, My brilliant Friend and others. Lino Musella, the main character is one of the best Italian actors today in italy, and working together, as we are long date friends, is always a pleasure. Editing was tough, as all the process has big technical challenges, but I love to edit, and I think is important for a director to edit his stuff. Especially short movies. We had good reviews in festival, being awarded in Cortinametraggio 2019 for Best Actor to Lino Musella, and we were finalis at the Italian Golden Globes. Now, besides Vancouver, we have screenings in Catania’s Corti in Cortile and at the Napoli Film Festival.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

I usually sleep a lot in the morning, as theatre is a night-work. But every time I get to shoot a movie I easily wake up at 6 a.m There’s something magical driving you to all the process, and I really hope next time it will be for a full feature. I have a couple of projects going on, but still in an early stage. Too much coffee and cigarette as Jim Jarmusch would probably say!

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The big challenge was running against time. Luckily enough we had a great troupe who supported us in shooting some extra time beyond the two and a half days schedule. The most rewarding time was when we were told we were finalists at the Italian Golden Globes, we did not win, but still for me this is a great goal achieved by FORGIVENESS.

I’m about to get technical, but I would love to know about the visual design of the movie; what camera did you film with, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed. 

We wanted to do a dark movie, with not much light in it, creating an atmosphere. With the low budget of short movies in italy, it was a big challenge for Cesare to light the set as we wanted, but with his great experience, I think he did a great job. We filmed with Red Dragon in 6k, an amazing camera with an astonishing resolution and aperture. Recently I have been told that in Catania’s Corti in Cortile, FORGIVENESS was awarded for Best Photography!

After the film screens at Vancouver, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

Right before Vancouver, Catania and Napoli, after we don’t know yet, we’re waiting for some answers from festivals.

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Study a lot. Then call everybody, keep on doing it, somewhere, sometimes maybe  in a remote location, there will be someone looking for someone like you. Then study again. And again…

I think the only and important things are two: doing a great equation between money you have and time to shoot; the second is linked to the first, as David Mamet said as an advice to young filmmakers and screenwriters: KISS – keep it simple stupid.

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?

Only one is difficult, if I can go to three: Fanny & Alexander, Mulholland Drive and Once Upon a Time in America.

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