Jonas Carpignano’s much-anticipated feature film debut “Mediterranea” (formerly known as “A Chjana” which was its title as a critically-acclaimed 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. The timely 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 (timely because of ongoing public debates over that very same perilous journey that countless immigrants continue to make, for those very same reasons).
Worth noting, director Chris Columbus and Eleanor Columbus, via their Maiden Voyage Pictures production company, are co-producers of “Mediterranea.”
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.
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.
Here’s a statement from the filmmaker about the project, which I recommend you read: “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. It begins a new journey, as it gets set for its world premiere at Cannes later this month.
Koudous Seihon, Alassane Sy, and Francesco Papasergio star in “Mediterranea.”
In the meantime, check out a brand new clip from the film, released today by the festival, which doesn’t tell us a lot, but we can infer, based on what we know of the plot, that what we witness here is a hint at the hostility immigrants like the young men here, face, as perceived unwanted strangers in a foreign land: