feStivale 2016 starts tomorrow and we couldn’t be more excited for this year’s lineup. Kicking us off at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park is Italy’s first superhero movie, Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot. The film garnered Director Gabriele Mainetti seven David di Donatello Awards (the Italian equivalent of an Oscar), including Best New Director and Best Producer, as well as a slew of other nominations and awards. Our Artistic Director Antonio Iannotta recently spoke with him about the film. Here is the transcript of their conversation.
AI: Hello Gabriele, thank you for taking the time to speak, and congratulations on your movie. We would like to ask you how the idea come about for Jeeg Robot?
GM: Thank you. I would say the idea for writing and creating Jeeg Robot is an extension of my previous work, specifically the two shorts: Basette and Tiger Boy. What we wanted to do with this work was to contextualize a superhero within a reality that is Italian and, most importantly, Roman. Jeeg Robot is a mecha robot created by Go Nagai, of course, but in the film we are in the outskirts of Rome. The characters speak, move, and live in the contextualized environment of Tor Bella Monaca, a suburb of Rome, which would be different from any other place. And I couldn’t have done it any other way. The saying from Spiderman “with great power, comes great responsibility” doesn’t make any sense for the simple thief and the crazy criminal of Tor Bella Monaca. The characters in my film respect the complexities of reality, neither all good nor all bad. Everything is more blurred and complex. To contextualize a superhero into the criminal reality of Rome was a pretense for making a film that can I can, first of all, enjoy as a spectator. I hope that I succeeded.
AI: You are a cinephile, a lover of music and comics – above all Japanese manga – but you’re also an actor. Did all of this help you to produce your first feature?
GM: On one hand, maybe yes, because I grew up in a stimulating environment. My uncle is a composer and I remember many afternoons spent at my grandmother’s house listening to his music. Among the composers I remember in that period, I was most impressed with John Williams who had collaborated a lot with Steven Spielberg. But on the other hand, my story is different as I wasn’t born into a world of cinematography. When I was 18, however, I started studying screenwriting with one of the most important Italian screenwriters ever, Leo Benvenuti, [writer of more than 130 screenplays, many of which were highly regarded in the genre of Italian comedy] because I wanted to become a director. Around that time, I became friends with Nicola Guaglianone. I graduated with a degree in Film History and Film Theory but I couldn’t immediately start working as a director. I started a successful career as an actor in theater, film and TV instead. I did it with pleasure until I had enough of the narcissism of acting. I put all my efforts toward finally doing what I really wanted to do, which was to become a director. The fundraising for the film took two and a half years. Among the producers that contributed funds was Rai Cinema, who reserved the rights to screen the film. Some funds were received from the government for a first feature film, and finally we had our distributer: Lucky Red. I had to create my own production and learn how to produce. All things considered, in the end it was a great success with both the critics and the viewers.
AI: How did you choose the actors and how did you work with them to develop their characters?
GM: I chose Claudio Santamaria to play the superhero. I have known him for many years since we studied theater together. He did an exceptional job interpreting the character, gaining more than 45 pounds and working hard on the voice. On the other hand, I didn’t know Luca Marinelli. To find the right actor to play the character of the villain, the Gipsy, we searched a lot. During the audition, Marinelli gave the character the sense of fragility that we were looking for, and he was absolutely fantastic. Ilenia Pastorelli was recommended to me by my screenwriter, Guaglianone. He told me that he had been thinking of her while he was building the character in the screenplay. Ilenia had never acted before. She was on the reality show Grande Fratello (Big Brother) and she provided a balance among the main characters that was inspiring. We worked hard during the writing phase and on the set to render a believable sense of conflict within each character. On the set, I often acted out the scenes first to inspire each actor, and everyone did an incredible job.
AI: Let’s talk a bit about your personal tastes. What is your favorite manga? And your favorite Italian comic, or Italian comic author?
GM: There are two manga that are beyond comparison, and influenced me a lot: Shamo by Izo Hashimoto and Akio Tanaka, and Ichi the Killer by Hideo Yamamoto. I consider them to be two absolute masterpieces. After them, I would say also 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa. Regarding Italian comics and authors other than Topolino [Mickey Mouse] (and my favorite character, the unfortunate Paperino [Donald Duck]), I would also say for sure Dylan Dog and Alan Ford. But I must say that all the popular comics had a big impact on my imagination.
AI: And regarding cinema?
GM: A relatively recent film that I absolutely loved was Old Boy by Park Chan-wook. For Italian cinema, I must mention L’ultimo capodanno by Marco Risi, a great movie completely ignored by the audience and critics, a real shame! Even though it was representative of that time, a sort of Italian parallel to Pulp Fiction, it was a complete failure. But it is what it is. What I don’t like, on the other hand, about Italian cinema in the recent years is the intimist genre, which has become a trend and, for me, that’s unbearable.
AI: You won many awards. For example, you received 16 David di Donatello Award nominations for Jeeg Robot and among them you won Best New Director and Best Producer. Which recognition makes you the proudest?
GM: First of all, it was really a surprise when I received so many awards. I didn’t expect that, and it gave me great pleasure. The award for best producer was indeed an exaggeration. I had the typical struggles that everyone would have encountered when creating a film like mine. I think the award creates controversy. To tell you the truth, Valerio Mastandrea should have won the award for Non essere cattivo (Don’t Be Bad). The award for Best New Director made me very happy but I found it to be a contradiction since my film was not included in the category for Best Picture, nor was I included in the category for Best Director. In that regard, I was honored and happy for the acknowledgment of my award during Matteo Garrone’s speech, when he was rightly awarded Best Director. By the way, in my opinion Garrone and Paolo Sorrentino are the best Italian directors today.
AI: And what are your feelings about how Jeeg Robot was received by the audience?
GM: I hoped that the film would be well received and have a large turnout, but the fact that it generated 5 million Euro, a real record for a first feature film like ours, I did not expect. It was a big surprise for everybody.
AI: Good. Last question. Can you tell us something about your next film?
GM: It will not be based on a manga. It will not be a sequel to Lo chiamavano Jeeg Robot… this I can tell you, but for the rest, you will have to find out.