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Opinion and Insight

5 Italian Women Who Are Slaying the Directing Game

Find out more about the stories, styles and philosophies of these inspiring filmmakers

5 Italian Women Who Are Slaying the Directing Game

There’s no denying film directing is still a male-dominated landscape. But if you find yourself asking ‘where are all the women directors?’, you need to look a bit harder. In fact, it’s not that hard at all.

The Free the Bid website is an invaluable resource for anyone looking for filmmaking talent. With a catalogue of over 400 women directors to browse through, it’s easy to get lost in the ocean of talent there. We narrow our search to just the Italian filmmakers listed there, and were happy to discover these five dazzling talents - Chiara Battistini, Serena Corvaglia, Veronica Mengoli, Elena Petitti di Roreto and Elena Rossini.

LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with each of them to get a feel for their work and creative attitudes.


Chiara Battistini

Represented by Antonella Perillo Agency


LBB> When did you decide you wanted to make a career in filmmaking?

CB> I decided to make my career in filmmaking when I was very young. I was a dancer and I wanted to shoot dancers’ movements. In high school I was in contact with a very famous video arts collective called Studio Azzurro. Their leader taught us to study art film. 

I met one of the first dance video directors and choreographers in Italy, who I studied contemporary dance with, and he transmitted to me the curiosity for the relationship between bodies and camera. 


LBB> What was the first film you made and how do you feel about it now?

CB> My first work was an art film series I shot for an art exhibition, ‘EVOLUTIONS’. I wanted to explore the intimate relationship between bodies and dance-improv language. For some years I worked as a video artist. The most famous film I made was an opera with nine performers dancing naked in a forest, hanging in the trees.

Today I feel that my first love for dance film is still alive as it was 20 years ago.

 

LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

CB> I'm in love with my last work for PRADA: PradaJournal Inner Landscape, a series of portraits of famous cultural personalities talking about and showing us their relationships to poetic and a special places of their souls. I shot in San Francisco, Moscow, Paris, London, NYC, and I had the opportunity to work in a very close contact with them. It was an amazing experience.

My favourite is the photographer Todd Hido's portrait. He is a very special person to work with.

LBB> Italy is renowned for its fashion. How does Italian visual style impact your work?

CB> I'm totally influenced by fashion; I live in Milan. I breathe fashion, ever since I was a child. I grab inspiration from people in the street, from designers and maisons, history and lessons in communication.


LBB> What other directors do you particularly admire at the moment and why?

CB> I love Gordon Von Steiner and Floria Sigismondi. They are totally different, maybe both reflect two different sides of my poetics - fashion elegance and an experimental language explored in performances with a high-level aesthetic. 


LBB> What are your hopes and aims for the year ahead?

CB> In 2018 I hope to have the opportunity to forge new collaborations with brands that have a free spirit and love to explore new opportunities for communication. Today we have a range of possibilities in digital channels and I'm sure that we can make a lot of beautiful and innovative content.


Serena Corvaglia

Represented by Salt.TV


LBB> When did you decide you wanted to make a career in filmmaking?

SC> I can’t pinpoint the exact instance, but there is one romantic moment, very meaningful, that certainly led me to this decision. Unlike most directors in childhood, I didn’t have a clear idea on what I’d like to become. I was very imaginative instead, dreaming every day of so many different things I could do with my life: astronaut, actress, lawyer. But when I was around 22, while studying at university, I became very passionate about movies. One day I followed my friends to a very small theatre to see Francois Truffaut’s “Les 400 Coups”. It was so full of people that I saw the whole movie on the side stairs. The emotions I felt, the sensitivity, the poetry in the picture, all fascinated me so much that I started feeling the need to express my emotions in that way too. 


LBB> What was the first film you made and how do you feel about it now?

SC> Tricky question. What is considered to be “the first film”? The first attempt with a video camera or the first professional paid gig? The line is too thin. I’d prefer to remember a period more than a specific film. It was just after my graduation, when I started telling everyone “hey, I can direct your videos!” and I was very passionate about everything I happened to shoot. Even incredibly low budget projects. During those days, for example, I shot a friend’s music video in London, 2009: ‘I’ll Be Back Someday’ by Ray Tarantino. When I look at it now, it’s an amazing memory, every shot reminds me of that crazy night - from sunset until dawn - on a car with a three-person crew running around London with no permits. I remember that feeling of being a punk filmmaker, plenty of enthusiasm: nothing could bring me down, my happiness of shooting something as a newbie director was incomparable to any obstacle. Sometimes, now, I try to feed myself with the memory of that feeling. 


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

SC> Luckily, I’m proud of many things I’ve done, but ‘Women Run The Show’ is a documentary that I shot last year and is particularly close to my heart. It was made to celebrate the new life undertaken by ten female victims of domestic violence, and it was very hard for me to do, as I got in touch with the reality of hurt women and their tragic stories. Every single moment I tried to think, act and create my film with sensitiveness and delicacy, respecting their feelings and being responsible for the consequences of what I was about to show. At the same time, I was very focused not to fall into a rhetorical or pitiful storytelling, as when you encounter this kind of social theme, it is an easy mistake to make. The balance was hard to achieve, but together with my crew, we did it. And the happiness of bringing a smile back to these women while they were looking at themselves on the big screen, and spreading their courageous testimony, for that I am very proud. 

LBB> Italy is renowned for its fashion. How does Italian visual style impact your work? 

SC> I was born in Milan, the so-called ‘capital of fashion’, so this is something I grew up with, and it somehow ‘educated’ my eyes. I have internalised the impulse to look for beauty and modernity. I don’t even realise it, but I implicitly look for beauty and harmony in everything I do, even in stupid things: I match the colour of my socks to my outfit even if nobody is going to see or I move things on my desk just because they look good. How couldn’t this attitude impact my choices when I work, and therefore every single shot I shoot!? 


LBB> What other directors do you particularly admire at the moment and why?

SC> I really love directors who are able to speak beyond the ad they’re shooting; still accomplishing their job but keeping an eye on the beauty of the picture. Especially female directors who are able to stand out worldwide. For example, I loved the commercial that Fleur Fortuné shot for Nike Women one year ago about Arab women, or the recent Toyota ad by Aoife McCardle shot for the Super Bowl. Perfect examples of what advertising should do now, push the boundaries and give wider messages, not only claiming to sell. 

LBB> What are your hopes and aims for the year ahead?

SC> Personally, I’d love to shoot projects like those I mentioned. Challenge myself in wider storytelling, with style. I have progressed well in my career over the last few years, and this year I want to push onto the next level, shooting more abroad, more international projects. And besides advertising, I have ambitious narrative projects: from a TV series that I’m writing, to a short film that I can’t wait to share at festivals. My aim is to tell new stories about strong female characters and heroines, and spread a new idea of femininity.


Veronica Mengoli

Represented by Tobago Films


LBB> When did you decide you wanted to make a career in filmmaking?

VM> Ever since I had a chance to choose what to do, I chose images. I've challenged my personal vision, trying to realise what is in my mind. To me, every corner contains a story, every glance a family romance. Creativity is what makes me breathe.

Everything became clear on my first set! I was Stefano Accorsi’s classmate in a teen drama: ‘Jack Frusciante Has Left the Band’. The alchemy between reality and fiction enchanted me. That was, and still is, my world.


LBB> What was the first film you made and how do you feel about it now?

VM> My family was moving to a new house. I was 14 years old. I just wanted to fix in time the images of that peculiar place known as home to me. The idea was spying the reality, stealing that moment so as not to lose those memories. I do still have that VHS tape.


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

VM> Those where I’ve been able to add my direction, which means the projects where I gain the complicity with the entire team.

In terms of the visuals I might name Calzedonia, I’ve always been in love with dance and choreography.

LBB> Italy is renowned for its fashion. How does Italian visual style impact your work?

VM> As an Italian working in visual communication I perfectly understand the great chances we have because of the country we come from. We live a life surrounded by timeless heritage that fulfils my soul.


LBB> What other directors do you particularly admire at the moment and why?

VM> Let’s stick to Italians!

Talking about film industry I admire Luca Guadagnino for the strength and the constance he had, trying to achieve what was his destiny. He really represents a personality, and each movie he directed revealed his soul.

Talking about advertising, I like Luca Lucini and Ago Panini because they perfectly fit the idea of great professional figures, and because they haven’t lost the fundamentals to be able to carry on for a long time in this job: a sense of humour and authenticity.


LBB> What are your hopes and aims for the year ahead?

VM> I have three wishes: to produce a short about a boy trying to realise his dream of going to a Jimi Hendrix show in Bologna back in 1968; to develop a screenplay for a feature about a nice small chain of islands called Tremiti in south Italy – it was a prison where gay people were sent during Fascism, set in 1939; to keep dreaming as high as I can.


Elena Petitti di Roreto

Represented by Image Partnership


LBB> When did you decide you wanted to have a career in filmmaking?

EP> It was never a conscious decision. I was raised in a very motivating context. Because I was very passionate about the arts in general, my mother and father pushed me to try almost everything (music, painting, photography) while I was attending the Italian secondary school, Liceo Classico, that focuses on classical literature and writing. So when it came the moment to pick my major for university I felt that films could embrace all these forms of art.

After studying at the Fine Art Academy I started working as an editor for a production company in Milan and few months later I become their in-house Art Director. At a certain point I was creatively managing all the pre-production and post-production processes, so it just felt natural to start directing.


LBB> What was the first film you made and how do you feel about it now?

EP> Like many directors who specialise in fashion, I started working beside a famous photographer. In my case I was lucky enough to start on Michelangelo di Battista’s sets. I filmed the Fay Woman and Man ‘Fall/Winter 2014’ [films] here in London while he was shooting the campaign. 

Even though those works do not appear anymore in my portfolio, I can see in them the seeds of my style. There is non-linear editing, a lot of sound design, voices, disturbances, rotating cameras and many beauty shots. So I would say it feels coherent with what I’m doing now. 


LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

EP> I’m proud of my personal projects. One is up to be online this month so I can’t yet talk about it, but from what it is online at the moment I would definitely say ‘Becco di Rame’ and ‘Vogue Italia - Through my Eyes’. Both those films are editorial with no commission, so I was free to tell a story without any limitations. 


I like the idea of recounting something unconventional -as a boy that identify himself with a beakless goose or a girl that wishes to transform herself in a fish - but sticking to rigorous and almost overthought visual compositions. Other than the strong visual research that characterises my work I would say that I’m proud of all the editing/sound process that to me is fundamental to give a grammar and a soul to the storytelling.

LBB> Italy is renowned for its fashion. How does Italian visual style impact your work?

EP> I lived in Milan for ten years. I started working for fashion because fashion is basically the main business of the city. I have to say that by Milan’s standards I’m not even very fashionable, but of course I breathed the city’s vibe for years and most of my friends are in fashion, so the Italian style did impact my work a lot.

I wouldn’t reduce the Italian influence just fashion though. Possibly the Italian visuals that most impact my work could be found in art and architecture. I’m quite obsessed by a certain lighting and composition of most Italian painting from the 15th and 16th century and by the perfectly crafted interiors that you can find in the Northern Italy, especially in Milan.


LBB> What other directors do you particularly admire at the moment and why?

EP> A director I really admire at the moment is Jenn Nkiru. I admire her because she does something I really can’t do for cultural reasons and she does it beautifully. British-Nigerian, she works on concepts and through a visual aesthetic and sound that are very far from mine. 

I love her piece ‘Black Star: Rebirth Is Necessary’ in every aspect: the way she mixes found footage to live action, the compulsive and rhythmic editing, the striking visuals (especially the kid screaming in an angel dress and all painted in light blue with the landscape behind) and of course the use of the sound that excels in complexity and research.

LBB> What are your hopes and aims for the year ahead?

EP> My aim is to have the opportunity to apply my personal style and ideas to projects that don’t necessarily have a commercial purpose. Lately many brands are producing content that explores different formats and unconventional ways to do product placement and that is the market niche I would like to work in. 

Apart from that, as I keep saying to my producer, I aim possibly to go shooting somewhere beautiful and warm, since lately I’m getting just the coldest and most uncomfortable locations. 


Elena Rossini


LBB> When did you decide you wanted to make a career in filmmaking?

ER> I love how the French call cinema the “septième art” – the seventh art. The term was actually coined by an Italian film theoretician a hundred years ago and it perfectly captures why I’m so drawn to filmmaking; it’s a beautiful discipline – on par with poetry, music, and dance. I love each step of the process, from writing, to filming and editing, down to visual effects and motion graphics. I would argue that film is a superior art, as it blends several disciplines, capturing them for eternity, to be played again and again, and eliciting powerful emotions. It can even create cultural shifts! I have always been passionate about two things: art and activism, so in my mid 20s I decided to turn this into a career, making films that focus on topics and groups that are underrepresented, with the hope of changing hearts and minds.


LBB> What was the first film you made and how do you feel about it now?

ER> My first project out of film school was a documentary short called Direction, which juxtaposed scenes in Paris and Tokyo. It was heavily influenced by the work of Chris Marker and Godfrey Reggio, with no protagonists or voice-over narration, just images and music. I suppose in a way it was an artsy precursor to The Illusionists – I’ve always been fascinated by comparing and contrasting different cultures. I just went back to look at it and I could only find an excerpt in my computer archives. Still, I was struck by how I definitely have my own filming and editing style, a signature look that was evident even a decade ago.



LBB> What piece of work are you most proud of and why?

ER> My most ambitious project to date is The Illusionists, a documentary feature that I wrote, produced, shot, directed and edited. It’s a film about the dark side of advertising and the marketing of unattainable beauty ideals around the world. I shot it in eight countries, across four continents, to show the universality of this problem. I’m most proud of this project because it’s been adopted as part of the curriculum by scores of high schools and universities around the world… as well as non-profit organizations. Every week I receive moving emails from students and professors, saying how they were positively affected by the film. I sometimes find it unbelievable that my little film - which took eight years to make – is now being played in schools from Nebraska to Finland and China. It’s the best feeling in the world.


LBB> Italy is renowned for its fashion. How does Italian visual style impact your work?

ER> Whenever I work on a film project - be it fiction or documentary - I pay a lot of attention to what people are wearing: the type of fabric, cut, and especially the colours of their clothes. These are subtle things that can communicate so much. In addition to this, I have always refused to shoot interviews in studio environments, with a white or solid colour background. I want each location to evoke an emotion and be part of the story, adding to it, almost like an extra character. Everything that appears in the frame must have a purpose - I leave nothing to chance.


LBB> What other directors do you particularly admire at the moment and why?

ER> I was blown away by Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’, how it masterfully navigated different genres, while keeping me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I also admire Dee Rees and her film ‘Mudbound’ - throughout award season I kept complaining that her sweeping, epic film was shamefully overlooked. My ultimate role model these days is Reed Morano: I love how she is a gifted cinematographer and director, truly mastering the craft, and working on projects with a powerful social message.


LBB> What are your hopes and aims for the year ahead?

ER> My main goal for 2018 is to be more prolific in my film output and to collaborate with like-minded agents of change. I’d like to keep working on side projects with an activist bent, like #ThisIsWhataFilmDirectorLooksLike – my series of GIFs that aims to populate the internet with images of women directors. Last year I also created a line of T-shirts and tote bags that celebrate women in film; I’d like to do more of that. This truly feels like the year of women directors.

Genre: Strategy/Insight