Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Photo by Hannes Matzler
Emerging Masters

Ferdinando Cito Filomarino: “It was a different type of mission”

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Short Profile

Name: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
DOB: 27 November 1986
Place of birth: Milan, Italy
Occupation: Film Director

Ferdinando Filomarino's new film, Beckett, is available on Netflix now.

Ferdinando, what qualities are essential in a good filmmaker?

I would say definitely that one is urgency. It's difficult to make a film, it's expensive. Many films are made, and sure, they're recognizable and entertaining — but often you feel like, “Okay, I've seen it before. It's familiar.” Because there's so many movies and series being produced, I find that something important to me as a spectator is: why make that movie? What was the urgency behind this filmmaker to put this whole thing together and make it happen? Usually, it just so happens that when there is something more personal and urgent, the film is better, or more interesting. To me, at least.

By personal, do you mean literally?

It doesn't have to mean literally personal, no. But with a personal affinity to a story, whether that’s the filmmaker, the actors… Those films usually tend to stand the test of time more than films that are made from just a feeling of the time. With the best films, the ones we still watch many decades later... I think there’s a very strong personal vision behind them. That’s probably the most important thing to make something that can last. The ironic thing is that in many cases, the opposite happens! These kinds of films are often not appreciated at first and then years later, people are like, “Oh, that film was so good!” (Laughs) I remember John Carpenter saying that about, I think it was The Fog, and he said, “Where were you 10 years ago?!”

“I think a lot about what I am going to shoot before I shoot it. However, the reality of what happens on the day can be totally different.”

It’s funny how so many artists we consider masters now actually went unappreciated for a long time.

Yes, and all his movies are masterpieces to me! But you’re right that some were not understood when he first made them — but now they're all the movies of a master. And I think that's the reason: his strong vision. And of course, amazing talent. I guess it's an interesting observation that what stands the test of time doesn't necessarily start off just as well.

Does strong vision in a storyteller also mean uncompromising vision, in your opinion? If you’re working on a film, and everyone is telling you one thing but you want to do something else, should a good filmmaker compromise their vision?

Well, that's a difficult thing to filter. It depends who is around you collaborating to help, what the agenda is, the best treatment of the story, if there's an ego in the air. Because that's the priority: making a great film. But it’s very much dependent on the story at hand, and how controversial or radical the story itself may be, you know? Choices on a very simple romcom storyline may be less polarizing than on a movie about torture or something like that. It's all context and probably the more delicate the subject, the more difficult it is to sift through what can and cannot be done, what should and should not be done. And regardless, not everyone will be happy ever. That's true. That's just a fact. So I think that respecting a vision is probably the most important, but it's not a black and white problem.

I guess a certain amount of flexibility is also important as a filmmaker.

Definitely. Look, filmmaking is a collaborative effort. So I may have an idea for a film and develop it and research it and everything, but at the end of the day, several great minds will make something better than one great mind. So, working with a great writer, working with supportive producers, working with amazing actors, production designers, cinematographers on the basis of fertile ground — which is this story or the idea for a movie — this is how I would like to make it. There may even be an excess of ideas, and then the problem becomes, as I said, filtering them. But absolutely, keeping an open mind is crucial.

Taika Waititi says that his mindset is that no idea is final; that he has to be able to keep adapting things and changing them to suit the needs of the film as they come up.

Absolutely! I think a lot about what I am going to shoot before I shoot it. However, again, speaking to a collaboration with the team both behind the camera in front of the camera, the reality of what happens on the day can be totally different. And that can change nature of the scene! A train passing, it starts raining, something walks into the frame… If it doesn't break continuity, it may make the scene much better, who knows? Something unexpected might happen that brings something totally genuine that you could not have planned, and that can make the scene richer. With Beckett, open-mindedness was especially important because we shot on location in Greece, and I wanted to let the land inspire us.

You mean visually?

Visually, but also in terms of how we could host the action for the film that we needed. This was a manhunt movie, almost even a road movie where the road is one of the biggest obstacles, so locations and topography are central to how the story and the action takes place: depending on what type of obstacles are in the way and what the landscape looks like, our character may make it or not make it! So even though we had things we knew we needed as pillars for the story, an open mind was still very necessary.

Realism is also something that was a crucial tone for the film.

Yeah, my idea was to feel more grounded, and not just in terms of how John David Washington’s character Beckett is very relatable, but also the tone of everything around him of Greece. Even the way the violence is expressed in the film, something a bit probably closer to reality than something more spectacular. But realism is a tricky thing because it doesn’t necessarily apply to all stories. There could be an amazing adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, and of course, making that with a very realistic feel may be a mistake.

The trailer for Ferdinando Filomarino's new film, Beckett.

It defeats the whole point of the story.

Right, but one thing that I definitely would apply to all stories is a realism in character. So even in Alice in Wonderland, at the end of the day, you still have to believe in Alice. Even even as she's tripping out, she still needs to be that girl that you understand. That’s even more essential when you’re depicting someone who actually existed, like I did with my film Antonia, which was about the poet Antonia Pozzi. Even though there was so much to pull from her life, her work, photos of her, her poetry… It still entailed so many choices and it was not easy.

In comparison to writing a story completely from scratch, though, it seems like it would be the simpler choice.

Well, I would say it was simply differently difficult. It was a different type of mission! Writing a story from scratch, like I did for Beckett, was something I did with difficulty! There's so many amazing stories out there, that it’s hard for me as a filmmaker to create something from scratch that I find could be better than any of them. And in many ways, it's probably impossible. I felt a lot of responsibility when dealing with genre film, where there is a lot of expectation, while at the same time trying to make something original and unique. I'm happy and proud of the film. And now that it's released to such a wide audience, and it’s difficult for me to grasp this at all… So I’m just concentrating on my next movie. That's how I deal with it!

Is the next story always on your mind?

(Laughs) I’ve been dreaming about making films ever since I was a little boy. I was always a little bit of an outsider. I daydreamed a lot, I read a lot of comic books when I was very small. And then I discovered cinema, and pretty soon I was just watching movies obsessively. It’s funny, I read recently that TS Eliot, the great British poet, loved reading hard-boiled fiction, detective stories, paperbacks, cheap novels… He said, "Actually through strict form, there is something that surprises you as a very deep human experience." And I guess something struck me about filmmaking in a similar way. There is a form to respect. But within that form, it can be surprising to discover something suddenly and unexpectedly, deeply human and touching.

Which filmmaker influenced you the most in that regard?

Actually, I started falling in love with the films of Brian De Palma. He was the first filmmaker I ever loved, he always made genre films. They touched me more, they felt warm, and human, and unsettling. There was always his vision behind them.

Are those qualities you try to emulate in your work?

I am inspired by the best filmmakers and the best writers, but I don't know… I’ll just say that I do my best.