Director Francesco Zippel stops by on Close-Up Culture to discuss his Sergio Leone documentary, L’italiano Che Inventò l’America.
To mark the recent thirtieth anniversary of Sergio Leone’s death, this documentary sets out to pay tribute to one of the great legends of world cinema. The singular artistic vision of Sergio Leone has transcended national borders, creating the Spaghetti Western genre and transforming the international cinematic panorama forever with his innovative stylistic and narrative solutions, which have now become part of the language of the movies.
What are your first memories of watching Sergio Leone’s work?
The first time I saw a Leone film was in the last year of elementary school. My father put on a VHS of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and I was completely struck by it. The colors, the faces, the landscapes, the humour, everything taken to a different level. It was a unique experience for me as a kid. And I loved Tuco!
What impact did Leone’s work have on you?
He’s had an incredible impact not just on me but on all the people who love cinema and had the chance to watch at least one of his films. He was a revolutionary filmmaker, someone who managed to add new elements to the film grammar, someone we owe a lot, both as creative people and as an audience.
What did you hope to discover by making a documentary about Leone?
As always happens when I make a documentary I always try to understand the personal elements that influenced the creative parts of an artist’s career. I was really impressed when I found out the close similarities and personal connections between his career and the one that had his father Vincenzo, one of Italy’s finest silent movie directors. This is something very few people know about and it was key to his development as a filmmaker.
Can you tell us about the archive footage and interviews you were able to get for the documentary?
We did extensive research on many archives starting from Cineteca di Bologna where the Leone family archive is preserved. Many interesting archives were found in France, Leone was a regular there and spoke a wonderful french. The interviews were long to lock since all the contributors were busy with their projects, being some of the world’s most important actors and filmmakers, but it was beautiful how each one of them asked me to wait until the very last moment because they ‘had to’ pay their tribute to Leone, one of their ‘film heroes’.
What was your biggest takeaway from making this film?
I had the chance to dive into a world of pure cinematic excellence, tell the story of one of my favourite directors ever and have wonderful conversations with film icons such as Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro and Steven Spielberg, among the others. It was just all beautiful.
What are your hopes for this film?
I hope that my film gets seen as much as possible, that Leone becomes familiar to the younger generation. This is a movie made for him, to underline his importance and to show where some of the most acclaimed contemporary filmmakers come from.
Lastly, what is your most cherished Leone work, or memory involving him?
The simple fact that he decided to put 15 years of his life into the making of “Once Upon a Time in America” gives me the idea of how dedicated he was as a man and as an artist. He turned down The Godfather to make that film. It’s a lesson for everyone who loves this work and shows the level of his greatness.