Tag Archives: A Ciambra

Scorsese, Pio and making THE CIAMBRA

In our interview writer/director Jonas Carpignano talks about working with Scorsese, his young lead Pio Amato and the perils of shooting in The Ciambra.

A Ciambra clearly delineates the various tribes in Rosarno – the Italians, Romani and Africans – and shows how only Pio can move freely between them, which makes Pio’s relationship with Ayiva one of the hopeful elements in the film.

I fundamentally believe that besides the coercive political, economic and national structures, exposure to “foreign elements,” whether they be people, food, or music is the only way to dissolve the artificial boundaries between us. To me, Pio can move freely through the complex layers of his world because none of them are truly foreign to him. He has grown up in a Calabria that has now Africans, Bulgarians, Romanians, and so on. For him they are part of the social fabric of his world. That was not the case for the previous generation.

The same is true for Marta in Mediterranea. She doesn’t see Ayiva as an invader. For her, Ayiva is a worker like so many others. She didn’t know what Calabria was like before the arrival of the Africans. Both Pio and Marta see Ayiva as Ayiva. And while both films are realistic about the limits of this relationship, I think they both depict a path forward towards a more “integrated” Calabria.

Pio’s grandfather represents a way of life that has disappeared. There is a wonderful moment in the film in which Pio has a vision of his grandfather, what was the inspiration for this? 

History has a certain weight. We like to contextualize ourselves and to feel that we are part of something larger than ourselves, that we have roots and that we are the continuation of something that has come before us. This is true, to varying degrees, for all of us, but it is especially relevant in the Ciambra. Yet, if you really think about it, our connection with the past is more abstract that we would like to think.  I mean, we cannot physically occupy the past, we can never experience it for ourselves. The past is something that is constantly reimagined, often to justify who we are or who we would like to be.

The collective memory of a common past is part of what makes the Ciambra such an insular community, and I felt that it was important to show Pio’s connection with his past to better articulate his dilemma. I also wanted to convey this idea that his connection with the past wasn’t as concrete as his connection to his immediate surroundings. So, when confronted with the problem of how to cinematically render this, I tried to conjugate the abstraction of an imagined past with the realism of the film. The barley perceptible slow motion and the magical feeling of those scenes are an obvious departure from the rest of the film, but at the same time they are shot within the “rules” of the visual language we established for the whole film.

How did producer Martin Scorsese get involved? 

RT Features and Sikelia have created a fund to support first and second films. The producers at RT saw Mediterranea, they liked it, and they brought it to Martin and his producing partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who were immediately supportive and enthusiastic about the project.

The nature of making films in Gioia Tauro is such that everything outside feels very, very abstract compared to what is happening on the ground. I spent the last year knowing that Martin Scorsese was a producer of the film but it didn’t really sink in until we got to the editing process. I was lucky to have his notes on several versions of the cut, and his thoughts surely made an impact on the film. On a larger level, not only his work is massively influential, but his approach to and respect for the medium is what I particularly value.

How do you approach collaboration with crew? Do you prefer to work with the same crew from project to project? 

Yes. We’ve been making films in Gioia Tauro since 2011 and many of the people who were around at the beginning are still a major part of our filmmaking team. For example, my production designer Ascanio Viarigi has been part of the team from the very first short; one of the producers, Jon Coplon, had his first-ever filmmaking experience with A Chjana. My DP Tim Curtain was the operator of A Chjana and Mediterranea. It goes on and on. We are a tight knit crew for sure, and we’ve succeeded in creating a system for making films in a place where there was previously no film production. We all speak the same language now, and the basic grammar of our cinematic language is pretty well established.

Of course, people sometimes have scheduling conflicts and not everyone can be around for every film, but we always get people who have worked with someone that was part of the original crew. It’s great because the family keeps growing, but the vibe stays the same. Then there are also the people who see how we make films and steer clear of our unorthodox approach. It’s sort of a natural selection in that way.

What was the process for creating the look of the film?  What were some of the challenges in filming where you did?

While the building blocks were similar to the process for Mediterrana (and the shorts), the overall picture was very different and that came from the different perspective that the film inhabits. I always believe the film itself should feel like the main character. In that vein, Mediterranea feels very fragmented and closed in. The visual grammar is designed to mirror Ayiva’s perspective: he only has a fractured understanding of his surroundings and therefore the film only presents a fractured portrait of the place. In A Chjana, Pio’s grasp of his surroundings is more assured and, even though we used the same type of camera moves and editing style, the perspective is much larger, more comprehensive.

Shooting in the Ciambra was the challenge. It’s impossible to fully articulate what the Ciambra is like, but from the film I think you get an idea. It is a wild and unruly place where anything that can happen will happen, often ten or fifteen times over.  Luckily we knew this before going in, so we gave ourself time. We ended up shooting for 91 days.

I think if I had to boil it down, the hardest parts of making the film were waking Pio up in the morning, and directing the scenes that have tons of kids. I know they look all cute on screen, but when they don’t feel like working, man… I’ve got some outtakes and behind the scenes stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in Burden of Dreams.

Can you talk about the music? As always the score and the pop songs are on.

I love pop music. I got this question a lot while I was on the road with Mediterranea, and I’ll say now what I said then: pop music is the common denominator. No matter what language you speak, no matter where you are from, when the beat drops on a song that everyone knows, everyone is suddenly on the same wavelength. Everyone is moving to the same rhythm and I find that to be a major icebreaker when venturing into less familiar territories.

The fact that Pio and I dig a lot of the same music explains a great deal about our relationship. We were born and we grew up in very different circumstances, yet when we are listening to music Pio and I understand each other way better than he and someone born and raised in the same city would. Even though that someone speaks the same dialect, knows the same doctors, and had the same teachers – but they don’t share the same musical taste. So I find it important to the make the viewer listen to what the characters listen to. It’s a way in, a way to bring the audience closer to the people on the screen.

Writer Director Jonas Carpignano

Meet the Amatos – with THE CIAMBRA Director Jonas Carpignano

In the first part of a two part interview, writer / director Jonas Carpignano talks with us about about casting the Amato family in his film THE CIAMBRA.

Jonas Carpignano

Writer-Director Jonas Carpignano

How did you first encounter the Amato family? 

The first time I met the Amato family was in 2011 after the Fiat Panda filled with my crew’s film equipment was stolen. We were in Gioia Tauro (Calabria) shooting A Chjana (the short film which would later become Mediterranea). In Gioia Tauro, when a car disappears, the first thing you do is “go to the gypsies.”

That’s when I saw the Ciambra for the first time. I immediately fell in love with the energy of the place. Whenever I tell this story, Pio says that he remembers seeing me, but at the time I didn’t notice him – there was too much to take in. We had to wait three days to get the car back because Pio’s grandfather (the Nonno Emilian character is based on him) had just died and they wouldn’t negotiate the ransom for the car until after the funeral. Clearly that funeral procession made a big impression on me because five years later I wrote it into the film. Needless to say the entire situation had an enormous impact on me and soon after I wrote the first draft of the short version of A Ciambra.

It’s hard to generalize the position of the Romani in Italian society, and I don’t  have the space here to really get into the complexities of their situation in Italy or in Europe in general. The fact is that they are not a monolithic group. There are those who have risen to the top of the organized crime pyramid like the Casamonica in Rome; or the hard working blue collar Romani who have everyday jobs and are indistinguishable from other Italians; or the nomads who live in squalid trailer camps created by local governments on the periphery of many major Italian towns; and countless other examples. What is relevant for the film is the role the Romani of the Ciambra play in Gioia Tauro and their relationship with the newly arrived African immigrants in Southern Italy. While I think that looking at this example can, hopefully, speak to a more universal condition, the goal with this film was never to shine a light on these broader sociological factors. I am interested in Pio and Ayiva and I think the film clearly articulates their relationship – specifically, its potential and its limits.

Pio Amato stole the show in Mediterranea and your short film A Ciambra (2014). Was it always your intention to go back and write a film around him and his family? 

I met people who had all kinds of opinions while I was on the road with Mediterranea, but one thing that was consistent was the complete, utter love and appreciation for Pio. He has, as my friends in New Orleans say, it. Whatever it is, Pio has enough to burn, and I realized that the second I met him.

That said, I had intended to make a feature in the Ciambra before I ever met Pio, even before we started shooting Mediterranea. Casting the short version of A Ciambra was exactly like casting the short version of A Chjana. I went into the Ciambra with a rough idea of a story.  Once I met Pio, I revised the story to take into account him and his family. Biographical elements of the Amato family ended up reshaping and altering the story in the same way that Koudous Seihon’s story shaped Mediterranea.

In both cases, after meeting the protagonist, I tried to make the films as true to their protagonists’ experiences as possible, while keeping some semblance of dramatic structure. In the case of A Ciambra (the short), I was interested in telling the tale of two brothers. In the winter of 2013 I started going to the Ciambra regularly to cast the film and the first person I was drawn to was Pio’s older brother.

At first he was completely against the idea of being in a film. He was so reluctant that one of the producers encouraged me to find someone else. However, I couldn’t see anyone else playing the role, so I kept after him for months.

A week or so later, Pio and I began becoming closer. He had shed his initial distrust for an outsider and it became clear that he and I had a special bond. It’s hard to describe what and how it happened but both of us knew, pretty quickly, that we would be important to each other. In a lot of ways his relationship with Ayiva in the film is a combination of his relationship with Koudous and with me. The first testament to that was when Pio helped me convince his brother to be in the short. It was our first success, kind of.

Kind of? 

I say “kind of” because in reality Cosimo is played by two twins, Cosimo and Damiano Amato. I was always after Damiano, but for the short film I had to use Cosimo because Damiano wasn’t having it. Finally, by the time it was time to make the feature, Damiano came around to the idea and the film is all the better for it.


You have managed to get remarkable leading performances out of non-professional actors Pio Amato (and his family). What’s your approach in working with cast?

It’s different for each cast member. My approach to working with Pio was very different from my approach with Koudous, Iolanda, Pasquale or even my father, who played the guy at the train station. If there were one consistent element in working with all of them I’d say it was the atmosphere I tried to create. I am very militant on how many people are allowed on set, who is watching, and so on. Since we are always shooting in real locations, often in people’s houses, I never want to feel like we are altering the natural rhythm of the place. I always said to the crew that we need to adapt our approach to them, instead of trying to impose a traditional filmmaking infrastructure upon them. That would have never worked. So I think that by going with the flow, we were able to create a very safe atmosphere where people didn’t feel exposed. I’m not sure I could have gotten the same performances if I brought the A Ciambra cast to shoot those scenes on a soundstage in Rome, for example.

I also spent a lot of time breaking down barriers between the cast and myself. It was not a “professional” relationship. There was a deep familiarity between us which I think is why they were willing to go places when I asked them to. I can’t remember who said it recently, but I recall hearing: “There are two styles of directing. One where you stand still and demand that the actors come to you. And one where you go where they are and try to steer them in the direction you think is best.”  I clearly fall into the second category.

Read part two of this interview here.