Born in New York from an Italian father and an African-American mother, and partly raised in Rome, director Jonas Carpignano is at Cannes with Critics’ Week player “Mediterranea,” about two friends who make their way from Burkina Faso to Italy and experience culture shock and disappointment once they get there. The film was produced by Chris Columbus, and France’s Haut Et Court snapped it up before its official world premiere on May 19.
Q: Does the theme of this film come from something personal?
A: Yes. Growing up in Rome and having an African-American mother in Rome was clearly a very sensitive situation. Not that there was outward prejudice. That certainly didn’t exist. But you sort of become aware of being the kid with the black mom.
Q: As I understand it, your film stems from the short “A Chjana,” which won the Controcampo prize in Venice. How so?
A: I had gone to Gioia Tauro in Calabria thinking I would just make a short, and I ended up living there for five years. That’s because when I cast the short I met Koudous Seihon, who is both in “Chjana” and “Mediterranea,” and once I met him, heard his story, and got to know him, I felt that I had to make something longer. I had a sympathetic character and I could gain access to that world through him. I felt that was the right way to go.
Q: I know you worked on the script at the Sundance lab in the U.S. How did you mount the production?
A: Once the short was successful in Venice, the Sundance lab reached out to me and wanted to know if I had been developing the script, which I had. In fact I had just come back from a research trip in Africa re-tracing Koudous’ journey. Once I was accepted into the Sundance lab, they put it all together. They introduced me to WME and helped me find financing. Even though it’s an international production, it has an American structure. It’s pieced together with a whole bunch of small private investors, as opposed to going to government funding entities in Europe. This American independent cinema approach is very liberating.
Q: In terms of identity, do you consider yourself an Italian director?
A: It depends. Sometimes I feel like an Italian director. But I feel that when I make movies in Italy I bring a different perspective, a different methodology to it. A guerrilla filmmaking style like mine doesn’t really exist in Italy, so I feel lucky that I can bring my American experience into that.