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Jonas Carpignano’s Feature Film Debut ‘Mediterranea’ Is a Cannes International Critics’ Week Selection

Jonas Carpignano's Feature Film Debut 'Mediterranea' Is a Cannes International Critics' Week Selection

A feature film project that I’ve been tracking on this blog since it was a short film will be making its world premiere at the La Semaine de la Critique (International Critics’ Week) – a parallel section of the Cannes Film Festival that focuses on discovering new talents. 

Jonas Carpignano’s feature film debut “Mediterranea” (formerly known as “A Chjana” which was its title as a short film), follows a young Burkinabe man who leaves his native Burkina Faso in search of a better life, making the perilous journey to Italy, only to find he’s unprepared for the intolerance facing immigrants in that country.

It’s a film that I actually predicted would premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, given that Jonas has a long history with the festival (the short film which the feature is based on, premiered at Sundance 2011; and he’s participated in the Sundance Screenwriter/Director Labs, where he workshopped this particular project), but that obviously didn’t happen. And I actually think that an international premiere at a prestigious event like International Critics’ Week at Cannes, is better for the film, even if only because of its subject matter.

Worth noting, director Chris Columbus and Eleanor Columbus, via their Maiden Voyage Pictures production company, are co-producers of “Mediterranea.”

It’s a project that we can put into the box of broadly-labeled *Africans in Europe* survival tales that have been at the center of several films we’ve covered in recent years. 

I should note that writer/director Jonas Carpignano is a self-identified bi-racial Italian American (his father is Italian and mother African American), based in New York City and Rome (which helps explain the Italy connection in the film’s story). 

Also worth noting is that “A Chjàna,” the short film, won several awards on the film festival circuit, including the Controcampo Award for Best Short Film at the 68th Venice Film Festival. It was available to watch online some time ago, and we shared it here. But, it no longer is, as it continues its path towards feature film status.

Maybe Jonas will make it available for viewing online again.

Here’s a statement from him, which explains his motivations and the journey he took in making the short film, which is now a feature. I recommend you read it: “Global migrations have changed the face of present-day Italy. Crossing the Mediterranean Sea in makeshift boats, under the most dangerous conditions, thousands of Northern and Central Africans leave behind their homes and families every year and arrive in an inhospitable Italy. In the past few years, roughly 1,500 North African immigrants have found their way to Rosarno, a small town in the southern Italian region of Calabria. Here, the citrus industry is always in search of cheap labor to employ for low wages, long hours and poor working conditions. The local mafia, a branch of the ‘ndrangheta’, controls the labor market, and enforces brutal standards of 12 straight hours of work for a maximum of $30 per day. A grave consequence of these migrations and the social change that they engendered is that for the first time Italy has a “race problem” on a significant scale. As a biracial Italian-American I have always been very sensitive to the problem of race in Italy and in the US and to the difference between the two countries. Over time, I noticed that most of the black people that I encountered in Italy were either street vendors or migrant workers. There were no signs of the black middle class life that I was used to, growing up in the Bronx. The black experience in Italy is quite unique to the particular social and historical circumstances that brought blacks to Italy in the last two decades. When I came across the headline “The Revolt of Rosarno” on January 8th 2010, I knew that I had to make a film about the contemporary immigrant experience in Italy. I decided to spend the summer of 2010 between Rosarno and Foggia. I lived in cardboard villages and abandoned houses, meeting the participants in the riot, hearing their stories and collecting information about their lives. The people I met in the month and a half I spent traveling to different ghettos and camps helped me formulate the story for the film, and the situations I encountered provided me with the details for the production. As a result, I gained unprecedented access to stories and places that have never before been told or seen on film. As a student of cinema, I have always loved Italian Neorealism, and I wanted to make this film in that tradition. Instead of professional actors, the cast is made up entirely of the people that I met while living in the area, and the film is shot in the locations where these events took place. The resulting short film, A Chjàna, brings to light for the first time in a narrative form a social and political phenomenon that is novel to Italy and yet dramatically reflects the changes brought about by economic globalization and massive migrations around the world. The film’s protagonists experience these global transformations and their consequences in their everyday life: a life of racism, exploitation and oppression but also of rebellion, solidarity and friendship.”

I saw the short, and was most-impressed by it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he expands the story to feature length. Koudous Seihon, Alassane Sy, and Francesco Papasergio star in “Mediterranea.”

Congrats to the filmmaker on its Cannes Critics’ Week selection, as a new journey begins.

In the meantime, check out the trailer for the short version of “A Chjàna” below:

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