Saturday, May 2, 2009

TRIBECA final: SUNSPOTS -- a smart and fully-packed short from di Tocco & Esteve

Michela Chiarello as Adriana in Sunspots

Two full-lengths (Vegas: Based on a True Story and Queen to Play) and one short (SUNSPOTS Macchie di sole ) hardly constitutes the Tribeca Film Fest, but trying to keep even partially up with the dozen or more movies that open each week theatrically here in NYC and the two dozen more that arrive weeky (sometimes weakly) on DVD grows ever more daunting. I feel fortunate that what I chanced to see during this Tribeca were all worthwhile.

I don't know what lies ahead for the Italian narrative short subject titled Sunspots, directed by Stella di Tocco (shown at right in the two photos, left and below) from a screenplay by Enrique Esteve (shown at left in the two photos, left and below). Notoriously difficult to program theatrically, shorts may be receiving increased exposure these days via the Academy-nominated (live-action and animated) groups that get a small release yearly, and the even more rare program from The World According to Shorts, but the overall exposure remains miniscule compared to that of full-length features.

Still, Sunspots is such a good example of why the short subject remains important, both as an end in itself and as an introduction, in this case, to a young woman director and a young man screenwriter who we will most likely be hearing more from soon. Di Tocco and Esteve tell the tale of a beach vacation, two sisters (older/younger), a straying father and his little boy. In its fifteen minutes (let us hope, eventually, of fame) plus credits, a surprising amount happens, all of it suggested rather than shoved down our throats, in which every character is complicit. Offhand and relatively quiet, the movie sticks with you in surprising fashion.

At the Q& A following a showing during the Tribeca fest (but held at the Italian Cultural Center on Park Avenue), the director explained that her movie takes place at a transition in the younger sister's life, "a kind of turning point between childhood and adulthood at which innocence is lost. I wanted to talk about that loss," said Ms di Tocco." Because she acted as both director and producer, di Tocco explained how she tried to obtain public funding with little success; eventually she turned to people who believed in the project and managed to get some money from them, as well as from her savings and from some borrowing.

Stefano Bottone as Tommaso in Sunspots

What is the meaning of your title, one audience member asked? "It is a symbol," explained screenwriter Esteve. "We like contrasts: shadow versus sun, the fun of childhood versus the pain and suffering of adulthood." There was, it turns out, a long-gestating creative process going on between writer, director and cinematographer (Piero Basso), who wanted to focus more on the characters rather than the scenery, even though the setting features a beautiful beach location. Many people involved in the project worked without pay, di Tocco told us, giving generously of whatever they had to contribute, so that the finished film would look like a real film rather than just a cheaply-made short. The actual shooting took six days to complete, the director explained, at a cost of approximately $20,000 euros.

Of the cast, the three young people are all first-timers to film; only TV and film actor Francesco Siciliano (as the young boy's dad) has previous credits (and a lot of them!). Do di Tocco and Estreve have another feature in the works? Yes indeed, the two filmmakers smiled down at us from the platform as di Tocco explained, "Enrique and I have already started on a feature, but it is now only in its very early stages."

If their next work proves anything as accomplished as Sunspots, we can look forward to a film worth seeing.

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