Italian producer Domenico Procacci, after shepherding more than 100 movies and several TV series, including Netflix’s upcoming Elena Ferrante adaptation “The Lying Life of Adults,” via his Fandango shingle, is debuting as a director with six-part documentary series “The Team.” Variety speaks to Procacci exclusively about what prompted him to go behind the camera for what he says is just a one-off experience as a director, and debuts the English-language subtitled version of the trailer, above.
The project is a deeply researched reconstruction of the complex – and sometimes comical – dynamics behind the Italian tennis team that won the 1976 Davis Cup and reached the finals for this trophy three other times between 1976 and 1980.
In “The Team,” which is being presented as a work-in-progress at the Torino Film Festival, the protagonists are the team’s players, Adriano Panatta, Corrado Barazzutti, Paolo Bertolucci, Tonino Zugarelli, and its captain, Italian tennis legend Nicola Pietrangeli. It’s a story of friendship, clashes, defeats and great victories, but also an in-depth look at professional tennis during the 1970s and Italian society at that time when tennis and politics intersected, and clashed, as was the case when Italy defeated Chile to win the trophy.
For “The Team,” which is being sold by Fandango Sales and has been acquired by Sky for Italy, Procacci also interviewed several international 1970s tennis pros, such as Chile’s Jaime Fillol, and is planning to interview other big names including Björn Borg, Ilie Nastase, and Australia’s John Alexander and Tony Roche, who will broaden the show’s international scope.
Meanwhile, the Italian 1976 Davis Cup team, and its captain, will all be attending the Torino “Team” work-in-progress premiere on Sunday just as the city of Turin also hosts both the ATP Finals and the 2021 Davis Cup tournaments.
Excerpts from the conversation with Procacci follow:
What drove you to directing after producing more than 100 movies? I know you love tennis.
Yes. I had met several members of this team because I love tennis and I like watching live tournaments. On the sidelines I met Panatta and Barazzutti, and I became really curious about them. They always say, ‘It’s better not to meet your icons,’ and my generation grew up with the myth of that team. But, instead, when I met them my esteem for them grew; they became much more human. I thought it would be really great to tell their stories and how the vicissitudes of this team played out over an arch that spans the entire 1970s.
The narrative is characterized by rapid-cut counterpoint between the protagonists, which is really entertaining. Was that how you always envisioned the story?
Yes. But to be totally honest, what I did is not really directing. It’s not like directing a movie. I interviewed the protagonists. I had an idea of how the narratives could be weaved together, and we went that route. But a lot was done in the editing [done by Giogiò Franchini (“The Consequences of Love”)] with the ample archive materials we were able to gather. That said, when I did the interviews I would tell each of them what the other members of the team said, or what had been told in books. And that helped provide the multiple points of view that are sometimes very funny. It’s actually, at its core, an Italian comedy. The four players are basically Italian comedy archetypes: Panatta is Vittorio Gassman; Bertolucci is Ugo Tognazzi; Zugarelli is Nino Manfredi and Barazzutti is Stefano Satta Flores.
Then there is the political aspect since there was so much leftist opposition in 1976 toward Italy playing the final in Chile, which at the time was ruled by Augusto Pinochet and his brutal dictatorship.
Yes, of course that is very interesting because there is an aspect that has to do with the interference of politics with sports. But I also knew I could not center everything on that, and that it had to have a broader arch. I thought that with a broader arch the series could becomes a prism through which to depict the game of tennis and also the sociopolitical aspects of Italy in those years.
What is still left to do?
A few more interviews and a bit more editing with archive materials. I think it will be completed around March and will play on Sky in Italy in May.