Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?
Albert Maysles, Errol Morris “The Fog of War”, Laura Poitras
What motivated you to make this film?
My home country, Italy, was in lockdown and struggling to cope with the first outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. As migrant farmworkers were deemed ‘essential’, they were even more exposed and vulnerable. The country was in turmoil, and concerns over food security forced leaders to face an uncomfortable truth: that Italy’s agriculture sector and food chain rely on a corrupt system based on the exploitation of migrant farmworkers, mainly from Africa and undocumented. It’s a story I knew already – an old story in many ways – but the country suddenly “woke up” to it and pretended to be ‘surprised’. Living in Washington DC, I was feeling powerless, I was seeing Italy struggling and I wanted to do something…So I thought, since everything is remote now, why don’t I remotely direct a film on this? In a way, the pandemic ’empowered’ all of us to transcend barriers and distance in a way.
Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.
Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.
We mixed original footage shot in 4K with the main character’s own cell phone videos, which he shot and posted on social media, almost ‘directing’ the farmworkers as ‘actors’ on stage. Using some of his videos was a necessity – because we had only limited access and only for a couple of days – but we made a conscious decision and it became a powerful narrative and stylistic tool. So the doc has this particular “look & feel” because it alternates beautiful, filmic shots in 4K with raw material from the shanty towns.
How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?
At the beginning, we wanted to do a full length follow doc. Or perhaps even a partially scripted opinion video… But access was very limited, and the story became very timely and ‘newsy’ – because Italy decided to pass a new law that was supposed to ‘legalize’ farmworkers (It didn’t…) and because the Pope spoke in support of migrants working in the fields. So when we realized that the story had a lot of momentum, we decided to do a short, impressionistic, first-person/opinion doc, instead of a full doc.
Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.
We were not sure we had enough material to make a doc, but we persevered, we worked very hard to collect all the material remotely, and to write a compelling script using just a few lines of text, to help the narrative. Carola did a great job editing the piece in a filmic pace and style, and it was very rewarding to see that, in the end, we had a film!
What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?
Choose a story that means a lot to you. If it had a strong impact on you, it will have an impact on your viewers.
What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?
Usually, I love being in the field with my ‘characters’ and directing in the field. (In this case, it was not possible, because of the pandemic, so the doc was produced and directed remotely with the help of a local cameraman.) I also really enjoy scripting – working on the best storytelling and narrative techniques – and editing my stories. In the end, editing is like writing again, but with images…
What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?
A notebook and a pen… I am a compulsive writer, I take notes all the time and I read them before I start scripting. That helps me stay close and true to the characters’ word, to their voices. I also bring a camera, or take pictures with my I-Phone.
Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.
At first, I thought this story could have been a scripted op-video. Since we had to do it remotely, I thought it would have made a lot of sense to do pre-interviews on the phone or Zoom, and then write a script based on the answers, and film it. But our source, Aboubakar, all of a sudden gave us access to follow him in the field in southern Italy, the next day… So we had very little time to make a decision. We decided to ‘go with the flow’ and follow him in the field, even just for one day, remotely. It was a risk, and a bit stressful because we had to find a cameraman and organize the whole shoot from one day to the other, but I think it paid off!
Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?
The main obstacles were coronavirus, the travel restrictions during lockdown, and the limited access we had with our source.
What do you want audiences to take away from your film?
That there is an emerging Black movement of migrant farmworkers in Italy who are fighting for a seat at the table, for equality, and for a more fair and transparent food chain. And that Italy – much like the U.S: and other countries – has to face its race problem and its inequities.
Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:
– the decision to produce and direct a doc remotely during Italy’s lockdown
– the decision to follow Aboubakar and use him as a guide into the story
– the failure of the ‘so called legalization’ of migrant farmworkers
– the struggle to live in the slums, and the fight to get out
– the need for a more ethical and transparent food chain, and immigration reform
– the conscious choice to mix 4K footage with cell hone videos, as a powerful narrative tool
Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?
Things have not changed much because the ‘legalization’ was not relevant. Migrants are still fighting for their rights, for dignity, housing, access to healthcare, and for a path to citizenship. Aboubakar has left the union he used to work for (USB), he is now leading a movement of ‘invisibles’ as an independent – including also other informal workers, and even non migrant workers and Italian workers, and might even launch a party.
What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?
They can follow Aboubakar Soumahoro on Fb, Twitter, IG, and possibly help fund some of his initiatives.
Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):
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