The European Independent Film Festival 2022
8th - 10th April 2022
Vanja Victor Kabir Tognola
Talponi / Moles
Section: Student Film
Anna, Francesco and the eight years old Giorgio can't afford a fancy holiday. Afraid of losing their reputation, they decide to fake the vacation. They hide in their own house and they post on social medias photoshopped pictures of the family at the Bahamas. Inebriated by likes and followers, the parents forget their son's needs.
Hey Vanja, thank you for talking to The New Current, how have you been holding up during these very strange times?
Daily doses of movies help me survive through these times of madness.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Well, "Moles" itself is a creative product of the pandemic. We shot it in the summer of 2020, a brief moment of calmness when the covid restrictions loosened a tiny bit. Funnily enough, "Mole's" editor Lars Mulle is also my flatmate, so being forced to be stuck at home afterwards was actually a great opportunity to focus on the post-production.
Congratulations on having Moles part of the 17th ÉCU Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be screening your film in Paris?
This is the first time one of my short films get screened in France, so having my graduation project screened in an important festival in the capital is definitely a satisfaction, I'm very happy that ÉCU decided to give it a spotlight.
Can you tell me how Moles came about, what was the inspiration behind this film and what was the message you wanted to convey with it?
A few years ago a friend of mine read an article regarding a strange phenomenon happening in Italy: due to social pressures thousand of people passed their summer hiding at home, telling their friends they left for a fancy vacation. This information stayed in the back of my mind for years and it popped back when I had to write the screenplay of my graduation film. This sick relationship between people and technology is something I've found completely absurd, yet funny and sad at the same time, definitely a theme worth bringing to the screen. The story portrayed in my short film is of course an hyperbole, but I believe that exaggerations can show, like a magnifying glass, some small truths of real life.
When working on a film like this once you start filming do you allow yourself much flexibility or do you like to stick to what you’ve planned to film?
I think a good shooting plan is fundamental for a film. But no matter how good the plan is, there will always something not going as planned. For me in those cases the first thing to do is check if it is actually a problem, or an opportunity. In my little experience, countless times mistakes or accidents improved my movies. I mean, if you are shooting a scene and suddenly an UFO lands next to your protagonists, would you yell “CUT! Get that UFO out of the scene!”? I would keep the camera rolling to have a honest reaction from the actors, and then maybe do another take, asking the aliens to land more slowly to have more options in the edit.
"I remember my younger self always writing stories and contemplating the idea of doing a short film, but never actually doing it."
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced bringing Moles to life and looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
The casting was probably the most crucial aspect to get the movie right. I believe that when you find talented actors that already have in them sparkles of the characters you have written, directing becomes way easier. For “Moles” it was particularly important, since it's a comedy and the two families had to have a good chemistry. I was very lucky to find Gerardo Maffei and Catherine Pagani as protagonists, they have a great comic timing and showed a wonderful chemistry already during the casting. Both Gerardo and Catherine are Italian speaking actors that work in another language, as they live respectively in Paris and Zurich, so they have a different acting style than most actors in Italy and in the Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland. This made the casting of the neighbours really difficult, as I've noticed that mixing acting styles didn't really work. The solution was to look for actors that, just like Gerardo and Catherine, spoke Italian but worked in another language. Vera Bommer works in Basel and Roberto Guerra flew all the way from Berlin, a solution a bit extreme maybe, but absolutely necessary for me, as the two together really nailed it.
About the things I would change.. The only scene I wasn't really happy with was the first one in front of the green screen, when the parents give the video game to the kid. With some better blocking I could have given more depth to the scene. At the end of the day the scene works anyway, so it's not a big problem.
What was the experience studying for your Bachelor of Arts in Film at the Zurich University of Arts, how much has your time there helped prepare you for your filmmaking journey?
I started studying at the Zurich University of the Arts with ideas, but without much directing and set experience. The school allowed me to fill that gap. In addition, I think one of the biggest advantages of film schools in general is being able to meet so many talented people. Working on their sets taught me a lot and allowed me to make wonderful friendships, I'm sure that in the future there will be opportunities for further creative collaborations with them.
In 2021 you represented Switzerland at the 13th Tashkent International Film Festival where your short film Chicken Dinner won the Best Screenplay at the festival, did you imagine you would get this type of response for your film?
Absolutely not. It was a surreal experience being invited to Uzbekistan to write and shoot a short film in the Uzbek language for a festival there. Somehow I ended up writing "Chicken Dinner", an absurd story about a talking chicken asking a stranger to be bought and saved. It's a silly film for which I didn't expect any recognition, so having it awarded Best Screenplay, handed it to me by Luc Besson, was definitely a shock. If there wasn't a video recording I would think I just had a fever dream.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
My father is a director as well, so as a kid I was always exposed to filmmaking, first as a tiny actor and then as part of the crew. I always knew I would end up doing films, but despite this I tried first to pursue a “normal” career. The urges to be creative were too strong though so I ended up studying film anyway.
How much has your style and approach to your films evolved since you started out?
My first film directed at the Zurich University of the Arts was “Danzamatta”, a comedy with quite absurd and nonsensical tones. My later films, “Brothers Again” and “Moles” are more down to Earth and cynical, as I used for inspiration the Italian satirical comedies of the 60s. I am happy with how they turned out, but I think in the future I want to retrace my steps and explore more the absurd..
Do you think filmmakers should continue to push the boundaries of the stories they want to tell?
Absolutely. Film is a language in constant evolution and filmmakers can't allow to leave it stagnate with the same stories.
For anyone out there thinking about getting into filmmaking do you have any tips or advice you would offer them?
Just do a film! I remember my younger self always writing stories and contemplating the idea of doing a short film, but never actually doing it. Also: be truthful to yourself, make the stories that you love and that move you, and not the ones you think other people will like.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Moles?
I hope they have fun first and foremost. If viewing this short will prevent a single person from faking their holiday I'll also be happy.