He was in Bra for much of the festival, enjoying the events and chatting happily with other filmmakers. But when hoarse-voiced chairman of the jury panel Piero Sardo read out the results of the first edition of Slow Food on Film Doc (the new section for documentaries about the memory of food in the Bra Short Film Festival) to the crowded room, he had already left early that morning to catch a plane back to Sardinia. So Antonello Carboni, 31, filmmaker and photographer from Oristano, called us to express his delight at winning the 2,500 euros, in a torrent of emotions: an unexpected reaction from a man who so eagerly showed us the silence of country life. Voci della Montagna is an austere illustration of the work of brothers Francesco and Luigi Carta, shepherds and cheesemakers from the Teti countryside (Mandrolisi, Sardinia). Throughout the 18-minute film Antonello shows us the sheep grazing and being milked, and the manual cheese making process, discreetly, clearly and wordlessly. Is that it? Yes, that’s all. The slow, immortal gestures of the two brothers, their faces worn by the years, add magic to this great little film. No commentary, no talking – just a fascinating illustration, which takes its time. A ‘Flahertian’, naturalistic vision which is astonishing from such a young filmmaker. When he made this film in 1997, Antonello Carboni was only 24.
Q: You were twenty-four in 1997 – how did you decide to film two old shepherds? How did Voci della Montagna come to be made?
A: That’s a good question! In 1997 I was finishing filming a series of documentaries with my cinema teacher, and had already chosen my aesthetic direction. At the same time I had developed a considerable interest in ethnography. At twenty-four (and not only at that age) you have the right to dream and after seven years working in the audiovisual sector I was presumptuous enough to make my first film. For me, Voci della Montagna represents a phase of transition, cultural development and energy. Energy and animosity, almost displeasure at a somewhat suffocating cultural standardisation. Hence the decision to blend cinema and anthropology, purely for my own benefit. I basically filmed this piece of work for myself, for a first-hand experience of something that is not part of our daily life, but which has been a benchmark for many people. Since man began sedentary work, he has also been a shepherd and although Sardinia has changed, it is still a rich example of sheep farming culture. Thus the desire to study, research and reclaim what had also belonged to me. A search for identity, for a better understanding of my urbanised present.
Q: In your personal notes you wrote that the film represents “a personal attempt to blend cinema and anthropology”. Effectively the leading feature of <iVoci della Montagna is its very cinematographic language, using signs as opposed to televisual documentary. How did you decide to do this? Was it your original intention to avoid dialogue?
A: I definitely chose the form as a clearly defined model to apply, and certainly not as a simple stylistic exercise. To be honest, I felt that music or a voiceover would not work with the economic storytelling, and would simply destroy the work. This work, anyway. I don’t mean to denigrate other documentaries with a soundtrack. A lot depends on who you’re trying to reach, and where, and how. The aesthetic-cinematographic solution of Voci della Montagna we see today represented the best production achievable in the circumstances. Years on, I still wouldn’t change the montage. It is true that, in television, a live documentary with no off-screen comment would never work.
Q: What have you done since this film and what will you do after winning the Golden Snail at Bra? What are your plans for the future?
A: Since Voci della Montagna I have made more documentaries, on art, ethnography and travel. Now I am turning to social issues, also through photography. Contact with television is rather dramatic, I think. I am planning to return to Kurdistan now to finish a piece of work on bread-making.
Stefano Sardo, a screenwriter, is artistic director of Slow Food on Film
Stefano Sardo, sceneggiatore, è il direttore artistico di Slow Food on Film.
Adapted by Ailsa Wood