British Shorts Berlin | 2019
Francesco Puppini: "I have a Classic and Theatre studies background and I always liked to play with words. As a writer, you think in words. As a director, you think in shots."
VIRGINIA | Dir. Francesco Puppini
Virginia, a psychic living in a petrol station, doesn't want her son to leave home - an old memory of a fire haunts her, and starts to re-surface as a tragic flashback.
Hi Francesco, thanks for talking to TNC, how is your Monday going?
It's going well thanks. Thanks for having me.
What was the experience like for you to screen Virginia at British Shorts in Berlin?
I loved every minute of it. The festival, the people and the atmosphere. I wish I was still there.
Did you have any apprehensions before your screening?
Of course, and I was very happy too. It is my first short film screening internationally and it was a great pleasure to see it on the big screen.
Can you tell me a little bit about Virginia, how did this film come about?
Virginia is about a psychic medium who recalls the tragic memory of a fire. The film was made on location in Yorkshire with the fantastic support of The Northern Film School. It was part of my graduation programme and I made the film in my last year. Films from the North of the UK should get more recognition and I am part of that generation of filmmakers that want to be acknowledged for its multicultural background. The film includes an international cast and it builds on both Italian and English identity. It all begun with the screenplay I started writing in 2016 which was then selected by Andrew Piddington and a panel of film professionals who believed in the film and wanted to see it made. I knew the story was going to be about a foreign character in the Northern lands, I am Italian and my take on it would have been quite different. I liked the film to have an international and collective voice.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
One day I came up with the idea of shooting a film set in a petrol station. You know those amazing service stations you find in the US deserts. I probably saw them on a photography magazine, they really have something I can't quite describe. They just stayed with me. I crossed my fingers and hoped to find something similar in the UK. A few weeks later I came up with the idea of the characters - a psychic, her son - and an event - the fire accident. The script was the result of two screenwriting workshops where I shared with fellow writers the story and the pages, having feedback on the characters and the storyline.
As a writer/director do you find it hard to detach these roles or are you able to keep everything balanced?
I think they are actually very connected. I have a Classic and Theatre studies background and I always liked to play with words. As a writer, you think in words. As a director, you think in shots. They seem different but they are similar. I like to write about what I film because it helps me identify the pace, the rhythm of the dialogue and of the image. The challenge is not to lose track of the story and keep it on the paper so it shows also on screen. Having someone reading the lines and then leave the script aside for a while is so important to me. It helps me get some distance from the material and the characters.
"I observe, listen and test ideas every day."
What was the biggest challenge you faced bringing Virginia to life?
The subject of the film was a hard one to take into consideration. Many of the brilliant members of the crew I worked with were affected by a tragic event. That's what I meant when I said this film is a collective story. We had to find the best way to tell it. On top of that, the weather conditions on location were a big issue we had to face. Two weeks before we started filming it snowed and on the day of the shoot Lidia Vitale (Virginia), Pedro Tamames (Tom) and the whole team were shivering. The performance was a real tour de force and to reach those level of intensity took Lidia and I a big endeavour. It was definitely a memorable experience. I must say without those conditions, we would have made a completely different film.
Have you always been interested in filmmaking?
Here I quote a great master I had the luck to spend some time with, Cristian Mungiu. I remember him saying filmmaking is not just about making films. I was a bit surprised but I think he might have meant that filmmaking is the final part of a long process which is life and experience. A film is made when is the right time to make it. No exceptions. It is also a lifestyle that every filmmaker chooses to follow. We are a community and we live for it.
What feeds your creativity?
Commitment and perseverance are two aspects of it, but also observation and study. I hope this doesn't sound too pretentious but probably balance and chaos are what sparks creativity. I observe, listen and test ideas every day. Last week in Berlin I spent most of my time wandering and looking at people in the underground. This is how I like to find characters. The context is what inspires me the most.
How much has your style and approach to your films changed since your debut short?
I like to think this is my debut. I made some short films before which have been a great way of exploring film language and a testing ground for this project. I am still very young and I just started developing a taste for film. I always aim to be as realistic as I can, I don't like to get too far from real stories and real people. Sometimes is just a matter of taking a camera and find someone who wants to tell a story. Style is just a consequence of what I film, it is more about the instincts rather than the intentions.
As a filmmaker how important is the collaborative process for you?
Film is all about team effort. A friend of mine sent me a while ago a TED talk from a music conductor who ends a brilliant speech saying "If you love something, give it away". I think this is the motto every film production should have. I wish to thank everyone who exchanged their creative inputs with mines and who strongly believed in the film.
Do you have any advice or tips for a fellow filmmaker?
Make what you really like. Don't make compromises.
What are you currently working on?
I'm writing a new short film. It's set in Italy. I hope it will help me with my first feature project.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from this film?
A feeling. I hope they will connect with Virginia and they will understand her as a character and as a human being. I’m sure there are many Virginias out there.
Francesco Puppini is a European writer/director born and raised in Milan. A graduate from the Northern Film School in Leeds, he was appointed as a digital creative on the talent programme for the online relaunch of BBC Three. His first short film SOME BODY was nominated for the Audience Award at Leeds International Film Festival and screened at many film festivals internationally. Crossing boundaries between factual and fiction, Francesco explores themes such as memory, identity and change. He was selected to participate in a workshop run by director Cristian Mungiu, where he started developing his new project. VIRGINIA , his graduation film, is now on the festival run.