Laura Samani was born in Trieste, Italy. In 2016, her short film “The Sleeping Saint” premiered at Cannes Cinéfondation and has since gained international acclaim and awards from several international festivals. In 2018, she worked for the Maremetraggio Association, conducting the participatory video workshop Città Visibile; it involves teenagers living in social marginality with the aim of making a self-narrative documentary. “Piccolo Corpo” (“Small Body”), a raw fairytale, is her first feature.
“Piccolo Corpo” (“Small Body”) will premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival on September 13. The fest is taking place September 9-18.
W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.
LS: “Piccolo Corpo” is the story of that moment in life when you create your own destiny. It always begins with a rebellion. The film is set in 1901. Agata is a young woman who loses her first daughter during childbirth. Under Catholic rules, stillborn babies cannot be baptized and their souls are doomed to limbo. But Agata discovers that there is a place where it is said that children can come back to life for one breath, to receive baptism. She embarks on a dangerous journey with her daughter’s body hidden in a box, hoping for a miracle.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
LS: In 2016, I was randomly told by an old man about these real pilgrimages that used to take place in my region, Friuli Venezia Giulia, northeast Italy. There are traces of the miracle of the breath practice since the 16th century. I was captivated by this story and began to study the documents, thus discovering that it was mainly the men who embarked on the journey. I immediately wondered what would have happened if a woman had taken the path.
W&H: What do you want people to think about after they watch the film?
LS: Whatever they want. The film was no longer mine from the moment I talked about it with co-writers Elisa Dondi and Marco Borromei, much less now that it exists as a finished work and is no longer a potential act. It is a film that raises questions of a personal nature. I believe that everyone must find the answers they prefer.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
LS: “Piccolo Corpo” is my first feature film. Aside from shooting the film during the pandemic, the hardest thing for me was understanding what “leadership” means to me. I was brought up in a context where the set is a very rigid hierarchical structure and I never recognized myself in it. I believe in the community of work, in the emotional as well as technical and artistic exchange. I was very lucky because I made my debut accompanied by professionals who gave me the best possible imprinting: I had the time and the opportunity to explore [the challenge of leadership] and find my own voice.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
LS: The project was immediately conceived with a view to international financing. To do this, we have participated in writing and development workshops such as Torino Film Lab (ScriptLab in 2017 and FeatureLab in 2018) and in co-production markets such as WEMW. This allowed the project to be recognized by an audience of international interlocutors: world sales markets, producers, and festivals who have followed the project over the years.
The first co-producer to enter the project was Danijel Hočevar (Vertigo, SLO), thanks to a supranational funding mechanism called REACT, which allows co-development for projects from the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. Later, thanks to our participation in the Torino Film Lab, we met the second co-producer, Thomas Lambert (Tomsa Films, FRA).
In terms of funding, the project was supported initially by regional, then national, and then supranational funds. We started from our territory, then the Italian region in which we wanted to shoot, and then expanded internationally.
W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
LS: I didn’t grow up with the sacred mission of making movies, it was one of the many things I liked. For me, cinema is a funnel to free myself from the questions that inhabit me by sharing them. Right now it’s the best way to do it, but it’s a medium! The sacred goal is contact, exchange, and not doing “a nice thing.”
W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?
LS: The best advice: If you need to think about it longer, ask for time.
The worst advice: You are the only holder of the film’s secret.
W&H: What advice do you have for other women directors?
LS: Focus your desire by being true to yourself. This is the hardest thing. There are still so many cultural superstructures that we are not used to practicing the act of wishing. Once the desire is clear, surround yourself with people who respect you and push you instead of pull you.
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
LS: “Wendy and Lucy” by Kelly Reichardt. It’s a film that taught me the immensity of tiny things. As a human being, even before as an author. It is a very restrained film, in which little seems to happen, but then explodes and you realize that you have had small structural failures that you did not notice.
W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you keeping creative, and if so, how?
LS: I am spending as much time as possible with my family and friends. My priorities are tremendously different now that I have freed myself from the frenzy. I am starting to write my second film and working on a transmediality project.
W&H: The film industry has a long history of underrepresenting people of color onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — negative stereotypes. What actions do you think need to be taken to make it more inclusive?
LS: In Italy there is an almost total absence of representation of people of color onscreen. Some things are changing, slowly. The top roles of the country are covered by white men and [cinema reflects this]. If real life is not yet ready for a change in this regard, despite the efforts of some, I think the current can be reversed: cinema is also the place for the construction of a shared imaginary. More inclusive and equalitarian stories can be created that serve as social role models in real life.