Interview: Andrea Segre, director of the LUX Prize finalist "Io Sono Li"
After being selected for the Venice Days in 2011, Italian director Andrea Segre'sIo sono Li is now one of three finalists for the 2012 LUX Prize. Io sono Li is about the story of a special – and disapproved of – friendship between Bepi, an old fisherman of Slavic origin called “the Poet”, and Shun Li, young and meek Chinese bar worker, against the background of a melancholic Venetian lagoon. Check out the video interview, shot during the Venice International Film Festival!
Interview with Italian director Andrea Segre, author of Shun Li and the Poet
Two strangers in a strange land, an impossible friendship, and the destructive power of prejudice. A first fiction film presented at the 2011 Venice Film Festival. 2012 LUX Prize finalist.
How does it feel being a finalist for the LUX Prize?
I think the LUX Prize is one of the most intelligent prizes that you can receive in your career. It’s not money, it’s not simply a symbol, but it’s something very practical and very useful for the distribution of your film. Through the LUX Prize, you can really reach an audience that you could never have imagined to reach. I was joking with a friend from Chioggia [a small town near Venice], the place where we shot the film, before, because I’m curious to see what the subtitles would be for the Chioggia dialect in Slovenia, Estonia, or Lithuania [most of the characters speak the local dialect]. At the same time, it’s a prize that focuses in a very intelligent way on the challenge of the European future, finding a way not to homologate our differences but to form dialogues between them.
What inspired your film?
Chioggia is the place where my mother was born and a place where I spent time when I was a child, during summer. I grew up in Padova but every summer I was there in Chioggia. I had the feeling that I had to tell a story about that place. Then I met the real Shun Li in the wine bar where we shot the film and I felt that this was the occasion to talk about my mother’s place through the point of view of a stranger. I think it’s a good challenge to talk about ourselves through the eyes of a stranger.
How did you choose the actors?
My film has several different kinds of actors. We have international actors, national and quite known actors, some from theatre and cinema ones, and non- professional actors, like fishermen and people from Chioggia. I loved this kind of mixed casting, because the film is about dialogues between differences. I loved that I could also work with differences in the cast. We had the opportunity to make professional actors learn how to speak and behave like normal people in Chioggia, and to make normal people in Chioggia learn how to speak and behave in cinema. The relationship between international and national actors was also very interesting. I think that Shun Li and the Poet is a film about contaminations, about the courage to know yourself through knowing others.
This is your first feature film after many documentaries. Do you think a feature film conveys a stronger message than a documentary?
I’ve never studied cinema in my life. I began to work in this art doing documentaries, travelling, and keeping with me a camera because I was convinced that through the camera I could communicate to others what I found in my travels. Then they decided to invite to festivals and to call me “director”. I asked myself the question: “Am I a director or not?” I had the feeling that I had to work with actors to try to be a director in the official way. So I came to fiction, but I think that one of the most interesting fields in new cinema is the connection between documentary and fiction and the confusion between these two genres. My documentaries include very strong political messages and I’m glad to use my cinema to also convey social and political messages. Fiction is a way to reach an audience that doesn’t know that is going to watch a political message but then are faced with this message. My real challenge is to bring those who watch fiction to watch documentaries. It happened with Mare Chiuso, the documentary I made right after Shun Li and the Poet. I was so happy to see theatres full of people who wanted to watch the next film by Andrea Segre because they’d watched Sun Li. They were faced with a strong, political, and radical documentary, and they were completely surprised. So, the answer to your question is: If I find a way to mix my language and my audience between documentary and fiction, I’d be glad.
Can cinema change politics?
Nowadays, mass media politics tend to cancel individuality and the history of individual human beings, especially in migration, an issue I am very interested in. They need to create a mass of people, without caring about individuals, because in the communication system, it’s useful to have a stereotype and not different individuals. Cinema has the capacity of focusing people’s attention on individual lives, using these individual histories as metaphors for a bigger phenomenon. Cinema can help politics to fly away from this risk, which is not only a risk for professional politics, but also for the relationship between politics and society, human beings.