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Springboard: How ‘Mediterranea’ Filmmaker Jonas Carpignano Made the Year’s Most Timely New Feature

Springboard: How 'Mediterranea' Filmmaker Jonas Carpignano Made the Year's Most Timely New Feature


READ MORE: Review: ‘Mediterranea’ is the Most Timely Movie at This Year’s Cannes Film Festival

Indiewire’s Springboard column profiles up-and-comers in the film industry worthy of your attention.

Jonas Carpignano’s feature directorial debut couldn’t be arriving at a more appropriate time. Adapted from his own short film, “A Chjana,” Carpignano’s “Mediterranea” follows a pair of refugees (Koudous Seihon and Alassane Sy) who make the difficult journey from Burkino Faso to Italy, all in search of a better life. What they find along the way and at their final destination is hardly happy, and the end of their difficult trip is only the beginning of a more wrenching personal evolution.

Inspired by Seihon’s own emigration to Italy, the film’s intimate feel and emotional honesty are hard-won. Years in the making, Carpignano and his team faced innumerable road blocks on the way to finishing the film, but a willingness to surrender to the crazy stuff that life throws at both people and movie productions kept the project moving along, and the end results speak for themselves. 

Carpignano was nominated for both the Critics Week Grand Prize and the Golden Camera at Cannes, and the film now ends its healthy (and lauded) festival run with a theatrical and VOD release that arrives at a time when the world is reconsidering what it means to be a refugee.

“Mediterranea” is available in theaters, VOD and on digital platforms today, November 20. Read more from Carpignano himself below.

In Italy, this has been a major issue for a very long time. I don’t want to say that we’re desensitized to the issue over there, but it’s certainly become an accepted part of our reality. It’s not this hot topic issue that it is everywhere else in the world. It’s sort of the continuation of a long, long crisis that we’ve been trying to come to terms with for 10 years. 

The whole point of making the film was hopefully to make people stop talking about the topic like a topicThe general idea is they are actual human beings we’re talking about right now, and instead of making these overarching policies and criticizing EU immigration practices, they are individuals who have pretty basic needs that have been completely forgotten about in the process. People automatically assume that a refugee or an immigrant is coming to our country to take our resources, like they’re coming to take jobs, they’re coming to occupy space, which is not true. Hopefully, through this film, when you get to know Ayiva, you realize he’s the kind of person that you’d want to live in your country.

About 95% of what happens in the film actually happened to Koudous. There’s some things, like some other stories of our friends, that we wanted to incorporate, but the general arc of the film is exactly what happened to him between when he first left and when he decided he was going to stay ultimately.

I went down to Rosarno to make a short film just about the riot [the basis of “A Chjana”], because to me it was a very important event. It was the first time an immigrant African population in Italy said, “Look, we’re here, things are happening to us, pay attention.” It seemed like the perfect time to pay attention and make a movie about it. I went down there to cast, I wanted to make the film with people who actually participated in the riot. Luckily, when we went down to cast the short film, it was the one-year anniversary of the riot and there was a protest, a demonstration, there were like 600 people there who’d all participated in some way or another in the events a year before.

I rolled up, and Koudous was like the first person I saw. Literally. There was a march of people, and he was standing in front of them, speaking like six languages, he had a megaphone in his hand, he was driving them through the streets, then got them all on buses to go to the capital of the region, he had an amazing charisma. I was like, “Okay, if we can get that guy on the screen, that’s the guy.”

He didn’t just say “yes” right away, we had to talk about it over and over, and over the course of that, we became friends. We decided almost immediately that we would move in together and work on a feature. We still live together. We moved in together in 2011 to start working on the feature, and we still live in the same house.

Luckily, the short film got the attention of the Sundance Labs. They asked me if I had a [feature] script, and I was like, “Yeah, yeah, I have a script.” “Can you get it to us in three weeks?” And I had to confront the fact that I was lying about having a full script, so I just used that as motivation, wrote the rest of the draft in those three weeks, gave it to them and luckily got into the Labs. And that was the jumping off point. We were able to piece it together over the course of four years.

Sundance is just kind of that Golden Ticket. Once we got to the Labs, I sort of simultaneously realized how much work there was to do to really turn this short into a feature, but at the same time, it instilled the confidence that, had you done this work, you’d be on your way to getting it done. When you get it, you sort of feel like it’s possible. You’ve taken that step.

My year in the Labs, we had Marielle Heller, Ryan Coogler, David Lowery, Jody Lee Lipes… We had this amazing community of people, we were all just starting out, trying to get our things made. It was a crazy Lab. You become really good friends with these other unbelievably talented people and you kind of just create like a support network. 

Aesthetically, I’m still very, very addicted to celluloid. We shot a lot of stuff at night, and I love the way film renders night. For me, 16mm is just the way I tell stories. I think it lends an authenticity to the image that I felt we needed, especially using a highly non-professional cast. 

READ MORE: Exclusive: Worlds Collide in Cannes-Bound ‘Mediterranea’ Poster

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