In the first few months of 2020, huge swathes of Northern Italy were hit by the COVID-19 virus. Soon the death toll in the city of Bergamo reached such heights that an army convoy had to transport coffins out because its cemeteries and crematoriums were full.
In his powerful doc “The Walls of Bergamo,” which world premieres on Friday in Berlin’s Encounters section, prominent Italian documentary director Stefano Savona – whose “Samouni Road” won the Golden Eye prize in 2018 at Cannes – and a team of student filmmakers take the pulse of the city when it is on the brink of collapse and, subsequently, as Bergamo begins its healing and recovery process.
“Three years ago, in March 2020, we traveled through a deserted Italy to arrive in Bergamo in the midst of an unprecedented crisis,” Savona says in his director’s statement.
“On tiptoe, we began to film the lives of those who, risking firsthand, were trying to face, understand and overcome the emergency that was overwhelming us all,” he adds. Savona goes on to note that “Every night for many months we gathered to look at the images we had collected, trying to find the invisible connections that united them, as the streets and roads of a city do with people.”
Then, for the following two years, Savona and his students returned to Bergamo “To document this collective ritual of grieving that we had seen come into being,” which is the film’s narrative backbone.
“The need I had felt from the very beginning to multiply points of view of the cinematic narrative certainly clashed with the need to be able to maintain a strong unity of the overall look,” the director points out. It was not easy, but he believes they succeeded by essentially working as a collective body.
“The Walls of Bergamo,” which is produced by Italy’s ILBE and RAI Cinema, is being sold internationally by Fandango Sales.