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Italian Independent Animators

Andrea Martignoni relates the current situation of independent animation in Italy and profiles three independents: Ursula Ferrara, Alberto D'Amico and Saul Saguatti.

As in other countries, Italy has an environment where creatinganimated movies is difficult and filled with obstacles, especially forindependent animators trying to produce short films. It is the same oldproblem of a lack of visibility for the works that these artists have done.As a result, it is very difficult to know exactly who and how many Italianindependent animators are out there.

In the past, and continuing today, many efforts have been made to solve, or at least alleviate, a situation that we could easily define as sad.The creation of an aid-agency like ASIFA-Italia in Turin, for instance, works as a means of distributing information to its members, most of whom are filmmakers. In addition, ASIFA-Italia is both a reference point and tangible asset for finding materials, screenings and consultants. Such an organization, however, has to face all kinds of difficulties, the least of which is financial.

There are no other structures working on a national level. However on a more local level it is possible to encounter organizations which can be helpful in the creation and wider distribution of works. Specialized festivals, or even short film festivals, often host a special section dedicated to animated movies. Plus, there are associations of artists attempting, through a collective production process, to be more visible while not becoming a form of sterile self-representation. It is interesting to note the activities of a group of filmmakers from Bologna, who, not bound to animation, are working inside the Link Project, and establishing video-cinematographic programming and production, which also attracts the active animators in town.

However, the artistic life for most independents is a solitary one, except for a few cases in which production activity is divided between personal projects and collaborations on television series, music videos, and television and cinema advertisements and commercials. In the last few years, with the incorporation of new digital technologies, we are witnessing a massive return of animation in advertising and television jingles, similarly to what occurred during the '50s and '60s. Among young Italian animators, we can profile three directors as testaments to the above-mentioned state of affairs.

Amore Asimmetrico (Asymmetrical Love, 1990) by Ursula Ferrara. © Ursula Ferrara.

Amore Asimmetrico (Asymmetrical Love, 1990) by Ursula Ferrara. © Ursula Ferrara.

Ursula Ferrara

Ursula Ferrara, born in Pisa in 1961, has completed, from 1984 until now, five short films of a total length of no more than fifteen minutes. Still, the path she has taken is a very original one, gleaning very interesting results. Some of her films have been successfully submitted for selection in many international cinema festivals: Congiuntivo Futuro (Future Subjunctive) won the New York Silver Award of the Art Director's Club in 1990; Amore Asimmetrico (Asymmetrical Love) won the Silver Ribbon in 1991; and the recent Quasi Niente (Almost Nothing) earned a prize for being the best Italian quality short film at the most recent Cartoombria in Perugia.

Ursula Ferrara's career began almost by chance, thanks to the Paris exhibition "Portrait d'un studio d'animation" which presented the works of the French animation studio of the National Film Board of Canada in 1984. Impressed by the pre-production done by Viviane Elnécavé while involved in the making of her film Luna, Luna, Luna (Moon, Moon, Moon), Ursula Ferrara began working on Lucidi Folli (Lucid Insanity, 1986), a film that is peculiar due to its strong black lines and the continuous metamorphosis of drawings. Unconsciously, she repeats the techniques used by the first animation filmmakers in history, such as Emile Cohl, who created his Fantasmagorie with almost the same method in 1908.

In the following Congiuntivo Futuro (1988) and Amore Asimmetrico (1990), the author still seems to be searching for her own personal style. According to Ferrara, this was what the films were about--real exercises. Especially in Amore Asimmetrico, the influences of contemporary visual art strongly appear, with references ranging from Picasso to Cubism.

Come Persone (Like People, 1995) by Ursula Ferrara. © Ursula Ferrara.

Come Persone (Like People, 1995) by Ursula Ferrara. © Ursula Ferrara.

Still drawn in pencil, these films are the prelude to the following Come Persone (Like People, 1995), her last black & white film which is a real little masterpiece in the Italian scene of animated drawings. A frantic sequence of images relates many micro-situations of a moving humanity (46!), all in a time length of roughly 90 seconds. Realized as the mad dolly shot of an insane cameraman, we can especially appreciate the film for its rhythmical quality, the accomplished stylistic unity of the drawings, which show great originality and refinement even without having precise references, and the inspired choice of music, which is a very lively transcription for violin of "Recuerdo de Alhambra" by F. Tarrega, played by Vincenzo Bolognese. Color has been her next step. In Quasi Niente (Almost Nothing, 1997), Ursula Ferrara makes use of oil paint, not on paper anymore, but cel. This represents a true example of moving paintings. Moreover, for the first time, our author seems to follow a sketched script. The film simply shows a young family having a Sunday breakfast, with interesting flashes, portrayed by brilliant passages of animated movement, in which we visit every character's memory. The original soundtrack, with its intelligent use of surrounding noises, and the Tuscan author's great ability in realizing changes in perspective, display her continuous and increasing artistic growth. Ursula Ferrara is already involved in the production of her next color film. Alberto D'Amico The case of Alberto D'Amico, born in Rome in 1962, is a very different one. As a matter of fact, unlike Ursula Ferrara, D'Amico studied animation at the Experimental Centre of Cinematography of Rome, where he is currently teaching. He has earned the reputation of being a very prolific artist with a very fast production time, and makes skillful use of most animation techniques as a result of years of research and experimentation.

Alberto D'Amico's filmography, from 1987 to present, includes about 20 short films, often created in co-operation with other visual artists, painters, poets or musicians. In addition to his works of great formal interest, three shorts in his repertoire are particularly remarkable, even if they are very different from one another. Le statue si amano (Statues Love Each Other, 1988), D'Amico's second film following his final student work Tre Scherzi per Viola (Three Scherzos for Viola, 1987), was realized on Video 8, using stop-motion applied to the heads of two statues (sculptured by the author's father, Stefano D'Amico) and different kinds of fruit. The interesting aspect of this film does not mainly lie in the technical accuracy (the film shows few noticeable mistakes), but in the perfect union between text, written by Roberto Gigliucci, and images. The two single elements would have been less interesting than the result obtained through the synergy of text/word and text/image. The impossibility of physical touch between the two statues becomes the cue for an extremely poetic discourse on love. This metaphor for the human condition, through the mythology and formal classicism of plastic art and the naturalism of fruit, portrays a representation of fertility and infertility.

Pettini o Forchette? (Combs or Forks?, 1994) is developed from the contemporary artist G. Capogrossi's work to create a series of innumerable variations on a theme, using a number of different techniques ranging from drawing on paper or cels to painting on film. The original soundtrack composed by Fabrizio de Rossi and Lucio Gregoretti is extremely interesting. Based on the movie's storyboard, the music lends a rhythmical cadenza to the final editing of images. Alberto D'Amico has frequently collaborated with musicians from the Rome area. In fact, a recent short film of his, completely realized on film, was projected accompanied by an improvisationally based soundtrack performed live.

Tenga duro Signorina (Don't Give in Miss, 1998) was produced as the opening sequence for the full-length movie Femminile Singolare

(Feminine Singular) directed by Claudio Del Punta, and is inspired by the beginning of Raymond Queneau's well-known work Les Oevres complètes de Sally Mara. Mixed media has been employed, which includes the animation of photographs, in addition to animation of Leonora Del Punta's original drawings. Alberto D'Amico's technical expertise, accurate cultural references to literature, visual arts and music, in addition to the quality of his collaborations with other artists active in many different fields make him a special, multi-faceted artist of animated cinema. Well-known in the cultural circuit of Rome, his films have been submitted to many cinema festivals including the Mostra Internazionale del Cinema di Venezia (International Cinema Festival of Venice), and have also been presented on RAI Italian Broadcasting Television during a special program dedicated entirely to his work.

From the Short Splatter Collection (1995) by Saul Saguatti. © Saul Saguatti.

From the Short Splatter Collection (1995) by Saul Saguatti. © Saul Saguatti.

Saul Saguatti

Another example is Saul Saguatti, born in the Bologna area in 1966. He has been involved in the field of animation and video, since a very young age, accomplishing his first work of graphic animation for television in 1985 when he was just 19. In the last few years, besides his personal works, he has been and still is busy promoting a collective production studio that is working mainly on commission, primarily in music videos. Of his various productions a series of six shorts all gathered under the title of Short Splatter Collection (1995) is particularly interesting. The series' first three short films, The Giant Communist Ant, Robo-Pope and The Atomik Maguma, have been created by drawing directly on transparent film, a technique that is very similar to the one Vincenzo Gioanola employed and is a perfect vehicle for the ingenious and desecrating ideas of the author. The remaining films, also conceived on film, exploit short visual and sound fragments taken from the movies of the Italian comedy pair, Ciccio and Franco. Popular comic actors in Italy during the '60s and '70s, Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia did countless B-movies, which were usually very funny, surreal remakes of world-wide, successful movies created of the same period. The film has been worked by Saul Saguatti not only employing colors but also transforming, etching and reassembling strips of the original films, in a frantic parody of a parody. The director is currently involved in the production of an experimental, abstract short film which will be created manually by reprocessing a sampling of a few film fragments on the computer; in a sort of etching on film made digitally on the computer. Others... Besides the above-mentioned film makers, who demonstrate how possible it is, in three completely different ways, to follow a path of animated experimentation, other young artists have already approached or are drawing near this sphere of cinema. We should mention: Flavia Ruotolo, who displayed a passion for abstract cinema and Norman McLaren in her first work Chemical Marriage, and is currently involved in her second short film; Sara Fabbri, who directed two remarkable little films all drawn in pencil on paper entitled Vetri (Glasses) and Chiodi (Nails); and last but not least, Sandra Sisofo, a young painter who has been recently engaged in two movies entirely realized on 35mm film. Our highest hope is for all of these artists to continue to create their films successfully and for quality animation films to find more and more places for exhibition, besides just a few specialized festivals. It would be nice if this art form could break away from this sort of ghetto, outside of which only major television series productions and full-length Christmas films seem to exist, with a few rare exceptions. Too many years have passed where all animation looks the same.

Translated from Italian by Linda Massignan.

Andrea Martignoni is an Italian musician and researcher. He is currently involved in studying the various aspects of the relationship between music, sound, and image in animation films.