Citrullo collective makes docs on New York kids, Malick

ROME — Rome filmmaking collective Citrullo Intl. has been plugging itself into U.S. relationships to help bring the varied interests of its principals to light. The paradox is that the collective’s latest film — three years in the making — is set in darkness.

“The Dark Side of the Sun” is an English-language docu with manga-like animation segments about Camp Sundown, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., that caters to children with xeroderma pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic disease that causes severe sun-sensitivity disorders. The Italo pic bows Nov. 3 at the Rome Film Festival.

The collective’s four Italian filmmakers — Carlo Hintermann, Gerardo Panichi, Daniele Villa and Luciano Barcaroli — got together about 10 years ago. They tried to start a small movie theater, which was not successful. But they got a gig to write several books about directors they loved, including Otar Iosseliani and Takeshi Kitano.

Hintermann helmed “Dark Side of the Sun” — the Citrullo philosophy doesn’t mean they co-direct, just that members share a production company and assist each other when needed. The idea for the docu came from a New York Times article, but Hintermann was leery about sensationalizing the subject matter. So he and Villa, who acted as producer, went to Camp Sundown and asked if they could run video workshops where they delved into the inner worlds of kids with XP.

“I wanted to see things from their point of view; see what it’s like to live in a situation where night is your day,” Hintermann recounts. During the workshops he gathered elements for the narrative and the animation sections, which are re-enactments of the children’s dreams. These are dubbed by the kids themselves, under the supervision of Los Angeles-based dubbing director Gregory Snergoff, the specialist who adapted all of Japanese anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki’s works for the U.S. market.

“It’s a totally crazy project,” says Panichi, who says he “repeatedly risked having a heart attack for going over budget.” In the end, the film came in at €400,000 ($550,000), huge for an Italo docu.

Of course crazy is in Citrullo’s genes. While the name comes from a contraction of the words “cinema” and “Trullo,” their Rome neighborhood, it also means “half-wit” in vernacular Italian.

Luckily, Citrullo had RAI Cinema as a co-producer, while Italy’s Rainbow Studios — makers of the “Winx Club” kiddie toon franchise, in which Viacom has a stake — came onboard, along with Japanese TV net NHK, Danish TV net DR and Finnish TV broadcaster YLE.

Another production challenge was having to shoot without lights that emitted ultraviolet rays, so filmmakers developed a custom-made LED system, with zero UV emissions, plus flying lanterns, floating candles and flame lighting.

It wasn’t the first time Citrullo found a U.S. subject to portray. In reaching out to directors it admired, the collective earlier had contacted Terrence Malik about making him the subject of a docu. After an initial refusal, they managed to talk the helmer into the project.

Titled “Rosy-Fingered Dawn: a Film on Terrence Malick,” it has led to a collaboration with Malick, including a “Tree of Life” production credit for a brief “Tree” segment shot in the Villa Lante and Bomarzo parks outside Rome. And they’ve got a book about Malick, in English, natch, in the works for Faber & Faber.

“After making the documentary — in which the point was not to talk about him, but to hear from the amazing people he worked with — we developed a rapport,” Hintermann says. “And we learned that Malick is a very curious and generous filmmaker.”

Citrullo’s first narrative feature film project, “The Book of Vision” — also English-language and also to be directed by Hintermann — is in the works. The pic focuses on the history of the doctor/patient relationship, told from the perspective of an American grad student doing research, and toggles between the present and the 18th century. Italy’s Rita Rusic is the Italian producer in tandem with Citrullo. Pic is being set up as a U.S.-Germany-Italy co-production.

Other projects in the pipeline include a docu by Panichi about Italy’s Clean Hands corruption scandal which rocked the nation in the early 1990s.

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