The play’s the thing – A Tuscan town spends 50 years telling its own story onstage
Blue Ice Docs presents
A film by Jeff Malmberg and Christina Shellen
Toronto Theatrical in Toronto Begins
Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema
“Spettacolo defends art that does not come from the top down but from the inside.” – Armond White, National Review
“One would like to spread the golden sunlight that suffuses Malmberg’s photography on a piece of bread, with prociutto, and have it for lunch.” – Dennis Harvey, Variety
“Lovely and elegiac.” – Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter
The village of Monticchiello – population: 136 – sits high in the hills in Tuscany, “a real town with real people,” in the words of Jeff Malmberg, co-director of the documentary Spettacolo. But every year these real people become actors playing dramatized versions of themselves, that amounts to a passionate soul-searching of the year’s events.
The remarkable production, an annual “autodrama” in the village’s piazza Teatro Povero (Poor Theatre), is traditionally a story about the town itself, its troubles, its joys, its worries and, in its first performance, its brush with death.
As related by the Monticchiellans to Malmberg and co-director Christina Shellen, the meta phenomenon began a half-century ago with a dramatization of an incident that took place near the end of the Second World War. More than 300 villagers were held at gunpoint by a Nazi commandant who was convinced the town was a hotbed of anti-fascist “partisans” (which it was). After an hour with their hands up as a German-born villager pleaded to spare them, the commandant relented and a mass-execution was averted.
With remarkable intimacy (the filmmakers even acquired working proficiency in Italian), Spettacolo captures the first fractious sparks of creativity as the scripter and director Andre, his leading man Arturo, Aldo (an original player in failing health) and a roomful of villagers argue about what is important to their lives of late.
After passionate give-and-take, they settle on “the end of the world” – what it means, what would constitute the end of their world, at whose well-heeled feet the blame for this end would fall, etc.
What follows is an inside look at a creative fire that is possibly burning out. After generations of turning their lives into art, a third of their number are dead. Young people are finding the play irrelevant to their lives. The usual friction that accompanies the birth of art is becoming harder to overcome. And there appears to be no one set to follow in Andrea’s creative footsteps.
Malmberg and Shellen stumbled across Monticchiello several years ago, while on a vacation from post-production of their previous project, the acclaimed documentary Marwencol (a film that also explored the messy act of creation). “We were wandering, taking it all in, when we ran across an open door that turned out to be Andrea’s studio,” Malmberg says. “He was scribbling notes for the play on paper. There was a trust and kindness about him that stayed with me.”
To gain the townspeople’s trust for six months of filming, he screened them Marwencol (about a traumatized young man who expressed his turmoil in the creation of a toy town representing Nazi-occupied France). Their passionate reaction and debate reflected the energy that they’ve repeatedly brought to telling their own stories. Malmberg comments, “It’s that wonderful Italian form of argument, which is not arguing the way you and I would recognize it. It’s a really beautiful and wonderful exchange with each other.
“I admire these people for how they have chosen to play out their lives in the public square. I think that’s real courage, and I gained courage from making the film and being around them.”
He concludes by saying, “I always point to a line of Andrea’s, ‘Why are we here tonight to do this strange vigil? It’s something that helps us to live better.’”
This Toronto theatrical at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema is co-presented with the Italian Trade Commission.
About BLUE ICE DOCS
Founded in 2014 in partnership between Robin Smith, president of KinoSmith, and Blue Ice Group co-owners, Steven Silver and Neil Tabatznik, Blue Ice Docs uses the expertise and skills of both organizations to acquire, fund and develop a wide variety of non-fiction projects from around the world. Upcoming releases include, SPETTACOLO, MOUNTAIN, AIDA’S SECRETS, THE WORKERS CUP, MUHI: GENERALLY TEMPORARY, MODIFIED, and DRIES.