Quick, what comes to your mind when you think about the word “island?”
It’s not a coincidence the word swings between two opposing associations: on the positive end, it offers exotic escape, away from it all repose, while on the negative – a sense of forced seclusion, and disconnectedness from rest of the world.
The same duality we find in Giovanna Taviani’s latest and charming documentary I had the opportunity to catch last week at Open Roads: New Italian Cinema, a festival hosted by Lincoln Film Society in New York. In fact, the film’s original title explicitly expresses this duality: Fughe e approdi (Escapes and Shores).
But first, a bit of context: in order to fully appreciate this film, you need to know that the lead role in this film is marvelously played by the Aeolian islands (volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Sicily). The islands serve the settings for both the personal story of the director, growing up in the island of Salina, and for myriad stories told by the islanders that hosted some of the most prominent cinematic gems shot there from early 40’s until the present. From this perspective, the film is truly an ode for the Aeolian islands and their remarkable cultural and political history.
Second, Giovanna Taviani, is the daughter of Vittorio Taviani of the famed Brothers Taviani and was featured as little girl in their masterpiece Kaos (Paolo and Vittorio Taviani -1984). So growing up in the island of Salina, being the daughter of, and participating in this iconic film – provide effective themes to weave the story of the Aeolian islands from a very personal perspective of a director that attempts, and in my opinion, succeeds in finding her own cinematic voice despite her privileged background.
And that’s tough.
Original boat and fisherman from Brothers Taviani’s 1984 Kaos as a narrative bridge
between space and time
Taviani demonstrates a skillful storytelling strategy by using several personal anchors such as personally narrating the film (almost as vocal diary), and the use of the original boat and fisherman Franco Figlio d’oro from Kaos. I especially liked the way Taviani is in fact taking the audience on a majestic voyage both in space: having the red sailed boat as scene connector, hopping from island to island – and time: the occasionally humorous interviews with the islanders and archive footage to bring historical and cinematic events to life.
Beyond the personal aspects, the film provides a highly educational review of some of the most important historical events associated with the islands such as the confinement and escape of anti-fascists Carlo Rosselli and Emilio Lussu from the island of Lipari and slew of cinematic masterpieces shot on the islands. From mid- 40’s, the pioneering work of Alliata, Maraini and Moncada who founded Panaria Film, historical production company that produced Italy’s first submarine documentaries, 1954’s Isole di fuoco (islands of Fire) by Vittorio De Seta – to more renowned films by Antonioni with “L’avventura”, Rossellini with 1950’s “Stromboli” featuring Ingrid Bergman on the island of Stromboli and the ensuing volcanic scandal of Anna Magnani, offended by Rossellini’s breaking up with her for Bergman, and as result shooting “Vulcano” on a nearby island; 1993’s Dear Diary (Caro diario) by Nanni Moretti and Massimo Troisi in 1993’s Il Postino – to name a few.
As I watched the film, I experienced this unique blend of the wildness of the islands with their volcanic eruptions and historic rough times they inflicted on islanders, but at the same time – the islands’ sheer and intoxicating beauty as magnet for the greatest Italian cinema directors. I guess, I am a little biased since I visited the Aeolian Islands exactly a year ago and the place is indeed beautifully inspiring: the conquer and perseverance of the human spirit over the forces of nature.
Taviani represents a new generation of documentarists that is not only charting her own path but also paving the road for other directors to follow and get exposure. As such Taviani ideated and is the artistic director of SalinaDocFest – an international documentary festival, that after reading the above – you can easily appreciate why it takes place on the island of Salina. I’d love to go back and attend the festival this coming September. We’ll see. But for now, I leave you with a wonderful interview i-Italy.org has recently conducted with Giovanna Taviani.
And as always, don’t take my word for it make it your own experience.