Alessandro Grande’s short film Bismillah tells the story of a young illegal immigrant in Italy who is faced with an unimaginably daunting decision.
In this interview with Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge, Alessandro talks about what inspired him to make Bismillah and shares his views on the treatment of immigrants.
Q: Bismillah puts a young girl in a terrible dilemma. What led you to this story?
A: I was inspired by the dramatic and social situation we are experiencing right now in Italy. I wanted to make a film that talked about hospitality and above all about human relationships and feelings of brotherhood.
In Italy, immigration is at the centre of the political debate, the government is trying to curb it in a strong and unscrupulous manner. It is important to remember that we have been immigrants too in the past and that is why we should know the suffering these people experience and how fundamental it is to be welcomed and build a new life.
Q: What kind of research did you do for this film?
A: I studied a lot to tell their story of Bismillah. Deepen a culture before filming it, I think it’s a natural path. I’ve also studied a bit of Arabic to direct them to the fullest. After this experience, I can defend the reception with more conviction.
Q: Why did you want to tell this story from a young girl’s perspective?
A: Because it is the point of view of a naive and innocent human being. Children do not have filters and live emotions fully, whether joy or pain. Italy registered the highest number of illegal immigrants in 2011, around 12,000. Among these there were many children.
Q: Linda Mresy does beautifully as Samira. Where did you find Linda and what made you think she was ready for this role?
A: Linda was chosen for her great talent and desire to make this film, and for not worrying that there were scenes at night. She is only 10 years old but she already has interesting clear ideas.
Q: The film opens and closes with the singing of ‘Bismillah’. Why did you include the song?
A: Bismillah means “in the name of the merciful God”, and it is the word with which the suras of the Koran are opened – it’s very important for Muslims. The song Bismillah really exists and it is sung not only to make children fall sleep, but also to give strength in times of need.
Q: The treatment of illegal immigrants is as pressing and divisive subject as ever. What conversations do you hope are provoked by your film?
A: I hope the film can make the viewer reflect on the conditions and fears of illegal immigrants. But even more, I hope people get moved through Samira’s eyes, because at the center of the story there are authentic feelings like hope and brotherhood.
Q: Your previous short films have also dealt with serious and challenging topics. Are you only interested in work that you feel can help bring about meaningful change?
A: It is natural for me to tell stories with current issues that can’t be ignored. I don’t think it’s a style, but a need to externalise a thought and share it with the audience.
Q: ‘Bismillah’ won the Amnesty International Award for Best Short Film and qualified for the Oscars. Can you tell us about the response you’ve had to the film so far and what it means to you?
The film is enjoying success and appreciation all over the world and I couldn’t be more proud. It’s beautiful when a little film like Bismillah is able to give you this great satisfaction because you realise even more that cinema is a great means of communication and this can happen regardless of the length of a film.
Q: What is next for you?
A: I am preparing my first feature film and I am in the preproduction phase. I am also continuing to follow the amazing path Bismillah has taken me down.