Italian director Valentina Pedicini, known on the festival circuit for observational 2019 doc “Faith,” about power dynamics within a reclusive spiritual sect of kung fu practitioners, as well as other female-centric works, died on Friday of liver cancer, her publicist said. She was 42.
“Faith” world premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) last year and went on to play at many other prominent festivals including Berlin’s Critics’ Week, Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX and DocsBarcelona, where it won the top prize.
Variety critic Guy Lodge in his IDFA review praised Pedicini’s immersive work for being “disciplined and intriguingly opaque as the men and women it studies,” while also “attempting to unlock the nature of the group through mesmeric observation of routine and ritual,” he wrote. Lodge also noted that “Faith” marked Pedicini’s potential international breakout, which despite the coronavirus pandemic had been indeed occurring.
Born in the Southern port city of Brindisi on April 6, 1978, Pedicini in her teens moved to Rome to attend university and subsequently enrolled in the ZeLIG school in Bolzano specialized in documentary filmmaking.
Pedicini’s first work was doc “From the Depths,” about a woman named Patrizia, who was the only – and the last – female miner in Italy.
“A film turns into a human experience,” Pedicini called her debut in her director’s statement: “1 director; 2 years of work to get exclusive access; 4 crew members who lived in the mine; 26 days spent underground; 70 minutes of a film to take you into the darkness,” she said. She went on to describe “From the Depths,” which launched from IDFA in 2013, as a doc of “long silences, the editing suspended, and a lone voice – of a woman. A film about absence, struggle and a life in the dark.”
Pedicini in 2017 also debuted as a feature film director with “Where the Shadows Fall,” a drama set in a Swiss nursing home inspired by a dark little known page of recent history known as the genocide of Switzerland involving the persecution and genocide of Roma and Sinti populations. Produced by Domenico Procacci’s Fandango, the film launched at Venice from the Venice Days section and traveled widely.
With “Faith” Pedicini had returned to documentary filmmaking by going back to the isolated community of kung fu practitioners led by a domineering man known as “the Master” 11 years after she had made a short doc there about the sect. There she spent more than three months with “the Master” and his devoted acolytes, who consider themselves both Shaolin monks and devout Christians, having been granted unique access to a way of life defined by discipline, emotional abuse, and, ultimately, submission.
“Today Valentina is no longer with us. The night that has passed was her last one. It’s hard to accept,” said “Faith” producer Donatella Palermo in a statement.
“I think of her ‘From the Depths,'” she added. “It starts with a descent into the obscurity of the earth, an image that becomes increasingly darker and a woman who says: ‘Breathe, breathe slowly, don’t be afraid; soon your eyes will get used to the dark.'” And at the end of the film a woman walks along the horizon and these written words appear: ‘And I don’t know how to swim through this night | I did something against fear | I sat down to write | for those who want to sit.’
“Valentina did not make it through the night, but she wrote her films. We can sit and watch them and something of hers will remain. ‘And the night now is less scary’ (from ‘Faith’).”
Pedicini is survived by her parents and a sister.