Interview with SF director Matteo Scarfò

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The director, who divides his time between theater and cinema, has created the admirable ‘space opera’ selected for the short film competition, “Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazers”

Another appreciated passage from Trieste’s Science + Fiction to the Capitoline Indiecinema Film Festival. Discovered by us in Trieste, Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazers had already been included in the “Radar – Esploratori dell’immaginario” kermesse, among the genre short films screened in the Italian capital in September. And now we also find him in the Indiecinema Film Festival’s Short Movies Competition, proud representative of a trend, the Space Opera, little practiced for various reasons – some of which are purely economic – in Italy. And yet, despite the small budget, Matteo Scarfò managed to make a small film with an international appeal, which pays homage to cinematic science fiction with class, ideas and remarkable visual suggestions. We wanted to know directly from him how he did it!

Genre movies as North Star

Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazers is not your first blitz into genre cinema, which has already seen you make other works and which could see you again. Are we right, Matteo?

Hi, yes that is correct. I made a feature film in 2017 entitled L’ultimo sole della notte, a type of social and humanist science fiction inspired by the novels “High Rise” and “Concrete Island” by James Ballard. It’s post apocalyptic, but different, more metaphysical. It poses many questions about our present rather than our future, even if in the film, which takes place in two time planes, the present and the future influence each other. My first short movie, from far 2006, entitled Fantascienza in pillole, instead was inspired by another author, Philip K. Dick, and dealt with alternative worlds created with the use of drugs and computers. Pale Blue Dot in turn takes its cue from Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan. I always take something from literature. I’ve also explored horror a bit with short stories called “Man Eats Man” and the short Remember to Keep the Holidays in the anthology “Death of the Ten Commandments,” but both veer towards comedy and the surreal.

This short movie represents one of the rare Italian declinations of science fiction and in particular of “space opera”, which we have recently come across. How difficult is it to make a short like this in Italy? And which are the models – both international and possibly Italian – that you look up to with the most admiration, in relation to this film genre?

I believe that creating the space opera is very difficult, I myself in my very small way encountered enormous difficulties, but then in the end I succeeded. I don’t think there is a lack of skills, or techniques, or means. I believe that the lack of science fiction, not just space opera, in our country is due to a culture that has never taken it seriously and therefore does not invest in this direction. Yet in 1997, Salvatores’ Nirvana was already a great success in theaters. Today I really like science fiction by Mike Cahill, author of Another Earth or Chloe Zhao, Richard Linklater. I like Russian science fiction cinema and among dreamlike Italians Matteo Garrone and Mario Martone.

Ventury into the unknown

It seems that even behind the choice of such a long title there are particular references. What can you tell us about it?

Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers, beyond the orbit of Neptune, wanted by astrophysicist and writer Carl Sagan. The pale blue dot in the dark immensity of the universe is our Earth, our home. Thousands of ideas, people, doctrines, vanities, discoveries, joys and sorrows, “supreme commanders” and follies, wars and loves. Everything has been on that stage in the vastness of the cosmos. Sagan says there is no other home, whether we like it or not, for now the Earth is where we play our cards. It seems very current to me. The subtitle, on the other hand, is that in the end it is also a tale of imagination, of dreams, between two “stargazers”, ideally united by the dream of extending one’s gaze well beyond one’s limits. A bit like the deep desire of humanity.

The landscapes in which the explorer of Pale Blue Dot: A Tale of Two Stargazers ventures are majestic, of considerable impact. How – and above all where – did you find such locations?

I almost grew up in some of those locations. The bigger ones come from the Sila National Park in Calabria, which I already knew in part. But then I went there with an expert guide and together we found places that otherwise would have been impossible to see. We shot a scene in a gorge where there is no road to get to, you have to try to go down a layer of rock among the shrubs. Unfortunately I had to leave out many of them: valleys, overhangs, water springs, woods of ancient trees, gorges and so on. The other location, no less beautiful, is around the city of Terracina in Lazio, discovered thanks to the artist Gemma Marigliani, which has the particularity of having enormous gray rocks that emerge from the ground. For me, the “alien” feeling was perfect. Finally the rocks of Punta Rossa near the Circeo, another majestic location for the finale.

Another aspect that has positively impressed us is the attention to the costumes, the make-up of the characters, those small accessories or other tricks which, despite the constraints of a small budget, manage to suggest the presence of an evolved civilization. What can you tell us about how these very important components developed on your set?

I worked creating a group between the prop master Manuel De Cicco and the costume designer Francesca Di Giuliano. The first took care of the helmets, weapons, small objects, the second of creating all the retro-futuristic clothing of the interstellar explorer protagonist and of the “native of the earth” robot, and also of the bad characters rigorously dressed in the “imperial” style . It wasn’t easy to invent a world for a few minutes. For some things we were inspired by the adventure science fiction of the 30s, that of Amazing Stories, Analog, Incredible Science Fiction, Flash Gordon magazines and then also by the slightly pop one of the 60s. For others, such as the robot mask, Battlestar Galactica and the helmets of the ancient Greeks. For the spaceship of the protagonist I wanted a round shape. I have always liked this shape for a spaceship, as I had seen it in certain illustrations by Peter Elson. For some objects we indulged, such as the pagan statuettes that the robot prays in one scene, human figures reconstructed with plastic and bolts. I still keep them at home. Nadia Mastroieni’s make-up has helped us a lot to achieve the hair or make-up fashion that humans from another planet could have. I am very satisfied with how the make-up has greatly enriched the characters, such as the protagonist’s orange hair and blue lips, “punk” colors to underline her difference from the hairless commanders.

The cast, between Cinema and Theatre

Very credible then the cast, in our opinion. We already knew Francesca La Scala for her intense activity in the theater. Did you choose her and the other interpreters, therefore, being inspired not only by previous cinematic experiences, but also by theatrical ones?

Partly. For the part of the protagonist I needed an actress who was comfortable with English and who at the same time had a particular face, a bit like David Bowie from The man who fell to earth. I found Valeria Belardelli at the suggestion of a friend and I think I got exactly what I wanted. Valeria is an exceptional actress, fully cinematographic. At the same time his robotic counterpart was played by my friend actor and performer Alessandro Damerini who did a body work that amazed me more than ever. Francesca La Scala has studied a lot to play the real villain of the film, a sneaky presence that also appears unrecognizable thanks to the make-up, together with Enzo de Liguoro who appears in the cameo of a glacial Supreme Guide.

Finally, would you like to briefly trace what your artistic career has been up to now, in which we know that both cinema and theater have had importance?

I have achieved many things I think, even if few compared to what I would have liked. I am confident that in the future I will still be able to express myself in my favorite medium, cinema, and my favorite genre, science fiction. But I have always been open to other genres, in fact I have also made documentary films on Italian historical characters and events and on American poetry. I have also written plays that deal with contemporary social themes but always with a bit of fantasy in between: in my first play “Mare di pietra” the characters move on a boat anchored in what is perhaps the sea of afterlife, full of stories and sea ghosts; in the second, “Anita al buio“, we talk about contemporary generations in what sometimes seems to be a dystopian society. I think the stories of find well within the fantasy genre, which has very elastic and adaptable boundaries. Now I’m working on a new cyberpunk film, collaborating on a post-apocalyptic sci-fi collective project, and trying to finish a pulp sci-fi whodunit. I’d like to one day get to make an alien film and a gothic one. I would already have a screenplay that unites them both written by Mattia De Pascali

Stefano Coccia

Picture of Stefano Coccia

Stefano Coccia