15th BFI FUTURE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 
17-20 February 
Interview

Christian Schifano 
Bratus 

Section: In Someone Else’s Shoes  

Diego and Lorenzo are at the point of tension that anyone with a sibling a couple of years apart will recognise. Lorenzo is drawn towards the older kids and loses patience with his annoying little brother. But as Lorenzo breaks away, Diego stumbles across an unlikely companion who won’t get tired of playing in the cornfield.

Hey Christian, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?

Thank you for having me! I’ve been doing okay. I do wonder when we’ll stop calling these strange times though? Or if it’s going to be a permanent thing from now on?

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?

Well it was difficult at first, I found that when the world stopped moving my imagination kind of halted for a while too. But since things have been picking up again I feel that my thoughts and ideas have gradually started taking shape again. I somehow managed to make another short film in London a few months ago called “Hangers In July” in the midst of all the madness, so I’ve been currently busy completing that.

Although the one thing that the lockdown did give me was the space and time to do a lot of reading and research on topics that I otherwise would have struggled finding the time for.

What does it mean to be screening Bratus at the 15th BFI Future Film Festival?

 

It’s a big honour for me. I can’t count how many times I’ve been to the BFI Southbank to watch films, so to be there presenting my own film feels quite surreal.

Bratus is going to be in the In Someone Else’s Shoes Section of the festival, are there any nerves ahead of the festival?

Yeah, there’s always a bit of nerves in these situations I think, but I’ll channel it into excitement. I’m super glad that the festival is going to be mostly in person this year too so I’m looking forward to seeing the other films on the big screen and meeting the other filmmakers.

Can you tell me a little bit how Bratus came about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?

At the time, I knew that I wanted to tell a story that revolved around two brothers. I have a brother and we both grew up playing football together so I felt that I could draw from the important life lessons that I learned growing up. Football is also very much like filmmaking I find, it’s a team sport that implies collaboration but at the same time it requires a lot of solitude in order to improve yourself.

Another important idea that I wanted to explore was the notion of learning through failure. I find that success can only provide someone so much insight on themselves. So I knew that I wanted the main character to gain a new perspective that came from losing rather than winning.

When working on a short film like this how close where you able to keep to your screenplay once you started shooting, did you allow yourself much flexibility?

I treated the script like a blueprint. I had a structure in place that guided me throughout the shoot and I knew what events had to happen in what order and that grounded everybody on the team, which helped inform our decisions. Although, I was always flexible when it came to the dialogue. I hadn’t worked with child actors before and I wanted to make sure that their performances felt authentic, so before each scene we would rehearse and rephrase anything that didn’t feel natural to the two boy actors. There were also some moments that I invited improvisation when I saw that the actors were in a creative zone.

What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Bratus to life?

The biggest challenge was probably the casting process. I had a very specific kind of personality in mind for the character who was to play Diego, the younger brother. So one day Francis Chapman, the producer, and I decided to street cast in the small town of Canegrate, Italy. We walked around the town for hours and finally saw a group of children playing football under the scorching summer sun in the central plaza, so we joined in. There we saw Diego for the first time, who was just beaming with confidence and personality and I knew he was going to be the right fit. Coincidentally, it turned out he had some acting experience as well, so it worked out perfectly. We found all the extras the same way, and not to forget the beautiful German Shepard as well.

Since making Bratus what has been the most valuable lesson you have taken from making this film?

I learned a lot of things in the process of making this film, from finding fantastic collaborators to creating a working discipline for myself that kept the urgency of making the film alive from pre production to delivery. But maybe the most major lesson that I took away from making Bratus was the importance of making the story personal to me. I found that by attaching my experience to what I was telling it gave me a sense of certainty and purpose whilst making decisions. Grounding the story in my own experience also fuelled the project with tremendous passion and now making stories personal has become something which I take with me as a guiding principle whenever I’m choosing the next project to work on.

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I’ve had the storytelling instinct since I was very young I believe. I used to regularly write small skits as a child and present them to my family after dinner. That later evolved into making small shorts with my brother using whatever we could find. But I guess my passion became more prominent during high school, when I started watching a lot of different kinds of films and studying them more attentively, paying particular attention to the style and the craft. I became more aware of what I liked and what I didn’t like in the films that I was watching and tried to cultivate my sensibility that way.

What has the experience for you been like attending the Raindance Film School BA Course?

I started the program when I was 18, I had just moved to London from Parma, Italy right after high school, so the transition was extremely exciting to me. I was eager to make use of the new resources available so from the very first week I was shooting all sorts of things and experimenting with form and style. The course is very practical, which is what I needed at the time. The experience was very beneficial to me also because the professors there really emphasise that every student should try to find their own voice and unique way of telling stories. There wasn’t a house style that was being imposed or anything so it was very inspiring to be in a space where anything, as long as it was told with care, was allowed.

"There is so much to be discovered through the medium as well, I like to think that there are as many stories as there are people in the world."

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Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?

Absolutely. I think there are so many angles and perspectives that haven’t been explored yet and I think that there is a great need for viewers to broaden the kind of stories and media they consume. The prospect of exploring new ways of seeing things and translating them onto the screen gives me great hope for the future. There is so much to be discovered through the medium as well, I like to think that there are as many stories as there are people in the world. I guess the challenge for filmmakers today has become to try to make what is personal as universal as possible.

For anyone out there thinking about making their first film do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?

The best advice that I feel that I can give at this stage in my life is to trust your instincts and to tell the story that you truly care about. I feel that at the beginning everyone more or less has an idea of what kind of film they want to make or who they want to emulate stylistically and such, but these things can confuse someone while trying to get a project made. I find that the most important thing is to stay close to your core and use that feeling to guide you rather than intellectualising things too much. I find there to be truth in the old cliche, “follow your heart”.

Also, I think it’s important to bring specificity to the story you are trying to tell and to boil things down to their most simple form, I find it makes things feel truthful.

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Bratus?

I hope that people come away from my film feeling comforted and reassured. There is surely a melancholic tone throughout the film and an emphasis on loneliness too, but I want the audience to feel that ultimately there is great solace in finding companionship with yourself.

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