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The eye of San Savatore

What happens when modern society’s dynamics invade the silence of an uninhabited, quiet, and inviolate country? New rhythms and new looks shake the balance of San Salvatore di Sinis, causing inevitable changes even for the only man who inhabits it, a lover of silent, slow, and habitual life.

 

First of all, did you reconstruct a real story you knew or is it imagined? Does the town of San Salvatore come to life only once a year and then is deserted? If so, why was it abandoned

The genesis of “The Eye of San Salvatore” is a rather curious story. In 2017, I visited the village of San Salvatore di Sinis and, expecting to find a neglected and forgotten town, I was instead fascinated by its colorful and untamed details. I photographed a house with a blue facade, the one that stood out the most, and shared it on Instagram. Only later did I discover that I wasn’t the only one with that idea: that colorful corner was being photographed by many tourists and passersby, and it was the most popular backdrop for selfies, group photos, or simple mementos on the town’s Instagram tag. Meanwhile, I thought I had found a special corner to which I had already become attached: after all, the town seemed truly deserted and somehow unexplored. So I researched the history of San Salvatore, which I discovered to be a mostly uninhabited fishing village for most of the year, often chosen for the filming of numerous movies – often of Western setting – and composed of about a hundred houses whose owners, for the most part, live in Cabras, the nearest town. Once a year, in September, San Salvatore comes alive for a few days for the saint’s feast, famous for the “barefoot race” where about a hundred men run barefoot and dressed in white along the 7 km that separate San Salvatore from Cabras, to bring the saint’s statue from the town back to the small village. So in September, the viral photos of the festival and the suggestive race attract tourists or simple curious people, but at its end, San Salvatore returns to being an empty and silent town, appreciated for its mysterious and unspoiled aura. Four years later, when I had the opportunity to present a short film project, I had no doubts about the story I wanted to tell: San Salvatore had inspired in me a reflection of self-denunciation and had quickly opened my eyes to a broader phenomenon, a form of social and fleeting tourism, subsequently protagonist of unfortunate events that have marked numerous areas in Sardinia.

Your film elegantly shows the complex interactions between social media, tourism, and the population. However, there seems to be something “more” perhaps not so easy to make explicit, which is revealed in the gestures and looks of the two excellent protagonists, Giuseppe Boy and Lia Careddu. There is a literal disorientation, that is, becoming estranged from one’s psychological “home,” as well as physical. Is it perhaps from here that the original idea for the film was born? Or is there more to i

Once I defined my goal, it was easy to imagine the life of the protagonist and the message I wanted to convey through his story, perhaps simpler than putting it on stage. In Sardinia, even more so in seaside towns, shell collection is a story that accompanies us from childhood. The eye of Saint Lucy, in particular, is the one I am most attached to: mollusks use it as protection when they retreat into their shells, and upon the mollusk’s death, the eye detaches and surrenders to the sea currents, in a slow abandonment. It is a symbol of a role it no longer fulfills but of which it retains the memory. It seemed to me the perfect metaphor to represent the sense of psychological disorientation experienced at the end of the story by the protagonist: he, whom I decided not to give a name to represent a higher condition and not a personal and well-defined story, ultimately becomes a man lost in his own home. He becomes once again the only stable inhabitant of the town – even the neighbor, Lia, cannot bear the abandonment – and so the passive taste of online life, the impulsive tourism of social media users, transform him into a victim of silence and solitude, the same silence and solitude he loved so much, and all he is left with is to console himself with memories of a life colored in blue, a color he only finds again among the waves of the sea. With this ending, I wanted to depict the realization of a lack, the discovery of a new world that displaces the previous one and leaves, with its absence, an unbridgeable void: the story of the eye of San Salvatore, guide and welcoming door of the town, which, at its social death, detaches in a slow abandonment, symbol of a blue house that is no longer appreciated but of which it retains the memory.

You present tourism as a complex phenomenon, but still as something controllable, in the sense that it has both positive and negative effects that are relatively balanced. However, those who live in cities like Venice or Florence are well aware of the destructive effects that tourism can have when it develops without limits. How is this problem experienced in Sardinia? Are there situations where the benefits of tourism are accompanied by the expulsion of inhabitants from historical places?

I believe that in southern Sardinia, the only reality victim of the depopulation of the historic center is Cagliari, the capital, the city where I live. Over time, the historic neighborhood has emptied of its inhabitants to favor the spread of small hotels and bed and breakfasts; a phenomenon whose consequences have spread not only in the historic neighborhood but also in the rest of the city, where residents struggle to find rooms or apartments for rent, both due to excessive cost and the owners’ willingness to rent exclusively for short periods, leaving the houses vacant for incoming tourists during peak seasons. However, in the central Sardinian locations and in more rural areas, which already suffer from depopulation due to lack of job opportunities and logistical limitations, numerous attempts at repopulation take place, such as urban redevelopment projects for one-euro houses or scattered hotel activities, and thanks to tourism and remote work, a balance between benefits and disadvantages is often achieved.

There is no doubt that social media have profoundly transformed everyone’s lives. In your film, they contribute to changing people’s lives in a somewhat “sweet” and semi-random way. But now Facebook, Instagram, and others have lost their original “social” function and have become sophisticated marketing machines for professionals. Moreover, everyone is busy taking pictures and filming the world instead of living it. What do you think?

With my film, I wanted to accurately represent the dual nature of this phenomenon. I was born in 1997 and grew up alongside the proliferation of social media platforms; it can be said that I grew up with and through social networks. Therefore, I realize that I am also often a victim of these unconscious and superficial mechanisms, which lead us to recognize and validate only what is within the narrow field of the cell phone camera, without pausing to consider what our broader and more concrete gaze captures externally to it. Cinema helps me a lot in opening my eyes, but often I still find myself searching for the spontaneity that has been lost with social networks, which made them a medium suitable for consolidating relationships and satisfying the social need of humans, while now they often play the role of social isolators and propagators of messages crafted in detail with not always noble purposes. It is undoubtedly necessary to recognize the potential that the medium still has as a source of memory, an opportunity for cultural growth, and, as the protagonist of the story teaches me, rediscovery of a rejected sociality that begins online but then materializes offline. This is how suddenly “the blue house of San Salvatore” is known even by those who have never set foot in San Salvatore, and an average user scrolling through their feed already knows that upon entering the town, there will be a gentleman offering them coffee, and they will look for him even though they have never met him – at least not offline. It would be inappropriate, therefore, to define the potential of the medium solely as negative and the consequences of its use only as hostile, but it would be equally naive not to weigh the superficiality and emptiness to which it often leads, which could be overcome by stopping for a moment to reflect on one’s intentions.

Tell us about yourself. How did you get into cinema? What were the important stages of your training? Did you have mentors who influenced you in a particular way? Is cinema your main profession or could it become one?

Cinema is something that has always fascinated and attracted me since childhood. I have always pursued this passion by collecting hours of movies and TV series, and in adolescence, I often tried to represent my world through videos or photographs. After obtaining a degree in Cultural Heritage and Entertainment, I decided to continue my academic path with a master’s degree in Multimedia Production. It was here, during the two years of attending the course, that I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the world of cinema, among the professionals in the photography and later, directing departments. The fundamental step in my training was attending the Directing Workshop with Salvatore Mereu, a workshop lasting a few months focused on the production of the film “Bentu” (2022), which took us to the Venice Film Festival and earned a nomination for Best Non-Original Screenplay at the David di Donatello Awards 2023. The experience with Salvatore Mereu was essential for me, an opportunity to fall even more in love, if possible, with cinema, to get to know the Sardinian film industry, and to professionally engage with the production process of a film for the first time. From that moment, my path was clear to me, and I seized every work opportunity that came my way, working on various projects, from documentaries to short films to serial productions. When I had the opportunity to produce my own project, I realized the need to tell my worldview through a camera and understood how important it is to have the opportunity, and the trust, to propose one’s perspective to an audience. Cinema will remain my greatest passion and aspiration, but I will continue to pursue it and study it in all its forms, not limiting myself to production: at this moment, in fact, I am a research fellow for the University of Cagliari, participating in a project mapping cinema in Sardinia. Additionally, I participate in PCTO activities in high schools, guiding students in creating small short films, and recently started teaching a Screenwriting and Storytelling Workshop in the Faculty of Communication Sciences at the University of Cagliari.

Young authors usually face many difficulties in finding the necessary funding to realize their projects. Can you tell us how you succeeded? What role did ISRE play in this?

The role that ISRE plays in training new generations of authors and directors is central to the Sardinian film industry. Every year, the Institute announces the A.Vi.Sa. Competition – Visual Anthropology in Sardinia, committing to promoting the practice of visual anthropology among authors residing in the territory through funding for the realization of documentaries or short fiction films concerning the social and cultural life of Sardinia in its transformations. As an attentive supporter of contemporary narratives, the Institute gives young filmmakers the opportunity to experiment with cinematic language, ensuring the possibility of supporting the production phases of works that often introduce the author to the world of cinema, and thus offering extreme trust to new and original perspectives. In 2021, by winning the ninth edition of this competition, I was able to make “The Eye of San Salvatore,” my first short film. The project was supported by the Sardegna Film Commission; the production company Bibigula; and finally, the Master’s Degree in Multimedia Production at the University of Cagliari, from which, among other things, I learned about the competition. The Multimedia Production course, thanks in particular to the support of Antioco Floris and Andrea Lotta, supports me both in the organizational phase and in the writing and post-production phase, offering me creative artistic support and helping the work to unleash its full potential. In this way, the experience is built as an additional opportunity for advanced training in cinema professions, both for myself and for the colleagues and students who are part of the crew, who also come from the workshop experience with Salvatore Mereu, whose work inspired numerous technical and artistic choices that I carry forward in the short film. It is not obvious to have the trust of so many supporters, so on this occasion, I also want to thank them for believing in this project and because, thanks to them, the experience has had extremely positive outcomes.

The production of your film seems to have been quite complex. Many people were involved, “occupying” an entire village, including actors, extras, technicians, and partners. Did you encounter practical and organizational difficulties? How did you overcome them?

During the project development and later the screenplay writing phase, writing some scenes within the budget we had, with my still limited experience, and the stubborn belief of being able to realize them, seemed overly optimistic and, at times, naive. However, I had not considered the team I had assembled. Thanks to the contribution of the University, the crew consisted of both professionals who had been in the industry for a long time, like the director of photography Maurizio Abis, who helped me translate the ideas in my head into the best possible form with patience and trust, and colleagues I had met on the set of “Bentu,” who had become friends. Like me, they participated in the project, becoming attached to it and considering it an opportunity, first and foremost, for further professional development. So, we managed to overcome every problem that arose without affecting the final result. In the scenes depicting the populated village, we involved relatives, friends, and actual tourists visiting the village – who, during our breaks, would photograph the blue house to post it on social media – and thanks to the skills of Giuseppe Boy, the protagonist, who trusted my directions and helped establish a relationship of total trust and harmony, we managed to coordinate about fifty people, including children, adults, and even animals. The collaboration of the Municipality of Cabras and the residents of San Salvatore, San Giovanni, and Cabras was crucial to avoid excessive practical or organizational difficulties: the municipality was immediately available to help us and propose solutions to our requests, offering us the opportunity to use municipal spaces to carry out some casting days, and the residents welcomed us and made us feel at home throughout our stay in the area. What mattered to me, in fact, was first and foremost to respect the territory and the population, both in their narrative and in our stay in San Salvatore, and I believe that both the residents and the administration are enthusiastic about the product. Thanks to the collaborative work between them and the crew, we managed to limit the problems and face the inevitable complexities with a smile, bringing to a conclusion an experience that, regardless of the final outcome, I remember with sweet nostalgia.

It seems that “The Eye of San Salvatore” has been successful so far. What kind of distribution is it having? How does it reach the audience? Are you working on other projects currently?

At the moment, “The Eye of San Salvatore” is having independent distribution, but I do not exclude the possibility of entrusting this phase to a distribution company soon. Currently, I am personally distributing it in the Festival circuit, and although it is often a challenging task, it is an activity I enjoy because of the affection I feel for the project. For now, I have preferred to handle the distribution phase in this way, but I believe it is a common experience for all young directors who venture into producing their first works. The short film has already won three awards and has been selected in various festivals, and I hope that its journey continues to be even more successful, and that in the future, it will be accompanied by other projects I am currently writing, which I keep in my mind and hope will come to life soon. Thank you!

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