Director Aurelio Laino talks A Dancing Jellyfish, Displacement and Storytelling

Q: Your directorial feature-length drama debut, A Dancing Jellyfish, looks set for release next year. Can you talk about the project and what we can expect?

A: A DANCING Jellyfish is a small film about two young people – two underdogs who have to leave home to search for a better life.

Ahmed is an illegal immigrant and is treated like a slave while Valentina has an abusive partner. Sometimes we have to leave our environment, even when leaving hurts.

I am an Italian film-maker who made this choice – and now I live in the United Kingdom. All the actors in the film did the same. It was natural for us to make a film about leaving the nest and looking for something better.

The film is a road thriller set in Italy. It shows its pristine locations – for example, the Liguria coastline at the border with France. It also displays the beauty of Italy, a country where sometimes young people struggle to find their place in society.

Q: How was your first experience directing a drama? What were your biggest challenges?

A: MY past experience is in theatre – I directed for the stage in Italy. So I felt natural working with the actors. So many times film directors focus themselves on the film-making process. I guess my theatre experience helped me focus on the actors instead. I found working with them absolutely thrilling.

In terms of challenges, filming with a small budget is a big challenge indeed. And yet it is also a creative opportunity. In this case we had a lot of fun and did not ever feel the pressure.

Q: What was your approach to the actors? Did you enjoy working with Alessandro Ananasso and Eleonora Cucciarelli?

A: ALESSANDRO and Eleonora, but I should also add Igor Cherstic, Simone Douani and Anna Elena Pepe. A fantastic group of people.

We worked hard in London to be ready for filming since we had very few filming days in Italy. It was a good experience to work with such professional, but also easy going, young actors.

Q: Displacement is a theme of the film. It is also the same for a film you are producing about holocaust refugees called Children of Pentcho. Do you feel these stories of displacement are even more powerful with the migrant crisis facing Europe over the last few years?

A: IT is absolutely a theme of the film. It is in my DNA since I migrated with my family from southern to northern Italy when I was a child – and then to the UK as an adult. I know what it takes to leave your place and start over again somewhere else.

Of course the issue is complex – and it is a big challenge for Europe as a continent. The only thing I can bring to the table is my personal experience.

Despite the fact that northern Italians were quite racist towards the southerners at the time that myself and my family moved north, I was well accepted by everybody. The same goes for the UK.

I strongly believe people are open to migrants and refugees when they meet them face to face. If you think about it, the European Countries which oppose refugees the most are those which have so far absorbed few immigrants.

Filming for A Dancing Jellyfish

Q: You have also been working on numerous documentary projects. They all look fascinating, but ‘68 stood out to me after recently watching Elio Petri’s Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion. What drew you to this period in Italian history?

A: WE start filming next week. The late sixties were a terrific historical period. The war generation was giving way to post-war baby boomers. This massively changed the perspective of society. We are talking about this change – in politics, art, music and pop culture.

In Italy – and I am sure in Britain as well – it was a time of creativity and innovation. It really was the Age of Aquarius, I loved how it was portrayed in the film ‘The Boat that Rocked‘.

It was an explosion of joy that in Italy did not last long. In December 1969 a bomb in Milan started a decade long fight against terror. It later turned out that the Italian secret service played a role in that terror attack. It stopped the joy, but failed in halting change.

Q: You began your career in theatre. Can you tell us about your passion for stage work?

A: MY father was a young talent and I literally grew up in theatre back-stages. I still love that feeling – even the smell of the backstage.

I worked with famous Italian director Tato Russo for three years as his personal assistant and that experience changed my life. Even if I do not do theatre any more, it is still a pleasure to work side by side with actors and help them deliver their best performances.

Q: What were the highlights of your stage career? Do you think you will return to it one day?

A: I DIRECTED the Italian premiere of American musical The Last 5 Years. It was a great experience, but I prefer the screen. So I do not have any plans to go back to the stage.

Q: Who are your directorial idols?

A: HITCHCOCK is one for sure. Just like him I studied engineering so I share with him a technical and analytical approach to cinema.

As a member of the audience I like when I can focus on the story and do not see too much the hand of the director. So I am not interested in directorial stunts and super-long fluid camera sequences. I want my audience to feel the story as real. Nothing else.

Italy has a great directorial tradition and my favourite director is definitely Sergio Leone.

Q: What are your ambitions for the future? Are there any subjects you would love to tackle?

A: I AM writing a dystopian horror film. It will be about the human mind and is based on the philosophical idea that each one of us has a pre-programmed personality. It is a belief quite common in eastern cultures, in Sufism, among ancient philosophers. What if we can interact with it and eventually change it? Wouldn’t it be scary?

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