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Moving reels... a real story

Canadian film director Sergio Navarretta who was in India for the just-concluded IFFI says his intention is not to sensationalise but to project the truth

Sergio Navarretta's film "Looking for Angelina" is a serious creative effort to recreate the 100- year-old tragic life of Angelina Napolitano, an Italian immigrant, which was featured at the recently concluded International Film Festival of India-2005 in Goa. The pathetic conditions of immigrants, their struggle for survival and the tragic consequences of domestic violence are projected in a narrative form and cinematic style that captivated the audience. It won the best feature drama award, a Quintus award of distinction at the recent Quintus Montreal Italian Film Festival.

Talking about his film, director Sergio says, "A lot of research had to be done in making the film. The records were not easy to obtain. Angelina, the 26-year-old woman who was mother of four children killed her abusive husband Pietro Napolitano with an axe as he lay asleep. The way the trial took place and the unfortunate woman was sentenced to hang created worldwide protest, demanding her release. The trial was completed in three hours and the defence lawyer was given only a few hours to study the case."

Domestic violence

Nurtured by well-known acting coach Rose Dubin, Sergio has developed a passion for making films. He is concerned with domestic violence, which is responsible for making the lives of families miserable.

"This kind of violence is taking place all over the world among all classes. The high society is also not immune to this inhuman practice. In fact, it is society that is responsible for domestic violence and we should empathise with both the victim and the perpetrator of cruelty," he says.

"My purpose is not to sensationalise the murder and the tragic life of the woman but to project the truth in a realistic manner. The film also makes a serious attempt to look critically at the Canadian legal system in the early 1900s."

About the structure of his film, he says, "In fact, initially it was decided to make a documentary film but as we gathered more and more information about the case, interviewed the Italian immigrant community to which the unfortunate woman belonged and studied 100-year-old court proceedings of the case in archives, we thought to make a docu-drama. We had to write a script, creating characters to enact the life of Angelina, her husband, her bitter relationship with him and her deep love for her children, but our emphasis was to remain close to the truth, depicting the socio-economic conditions of the immigrants and their troubled emotional world in an authentic manner."

Sergio has made several award winning films like "Over a Small Coffee", which was premiered at the Los Angeles Italian Film Awards in 2001. He has also made a series of television films.

A talented Canadian film director, Sergio is inspired by Italian neo-realism propounded by masters like Roberto Rossellini, Vitto, De Sica and Visconti. He calls it a new realistic approach to focus on the human condition and relationships. "But the process of discovering neo-realism is continuous. It has to be widened, recreated and reinterpreted according to changed socio-economic realities. Masters are a source of inspiration. We have to discover our own style, cinematic language and narrative structure."

Realism is the artistic credo of Sergio but he has also been influenced by the commedia dell'arte, a form of popular Italian comedy in vogue in the 16th and 17th centuries, and aerial acrobatics. Using the elements of commedia dell'arte, he has produced Commedia in an operatic style.

Though research work took considerable time, the shooting of "Looking for Angelina" was completed in two weeks. "The story is so tragic that while shooting, the crew members were also moved. There are many emotionally tense moments in the film. I avoided cinematic cliché, but I cannot avoid making these scenes melodramatic. However, my editor Paul Whitehead toned down high melodrama. When the film was released the response of the audience was amazing."

The young film director used to dream of visiting India. Now he is happy that his dream has come true. "Apart from my attraction towards Indian spirituality, I love Indian cinema, which is star driven to keep audiences entertained. What I feel is that it is in the process of evolving new style, new themes and new technique."


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