“My work is lost moments”: Gianfranco Rosi directs, writes, produces and films

“Are you insane?”, the producer asked, when Gianfranco Rosi decided to leave his camera behind and head towards the previously ISIS-held regions to do months-long background research for his newest film Notturno. The famed director reveals his trade secrets in a Q&A interview with DocPoint film festival.

“Won’t you at least take a small camera? What if something incredible happens?”, Gianfranco Rosi remembers his producer asking, as the documentary director was setting off to previously ISIS-held areas for his new film Notturno.


In a Cinema Scope interview, Rosi also disclosed his reply to his producer:

“I always say, my work is lost moments. 99 percent of the time I am losing something.”

A small camera doesn’t really fit Rosi’s style, as every image is calculated, in a similar manner to big budget Hollywood dramas. You won’t find shaky mobile phone images in his documentaries.

But perhaps more importantly, is what you can do without a camera. Without the device it is much easier to build trust, and that is certainly present with the people Rosi documents.

In his film Below Sea Level, Rosi manages to peel back layer by layer, the communal traumas of a group living in an abandoned military base, without a single interview or guiding narration. You hear such intimate recollections of loss and humanity, that it feels unbelievable that you could sit in and share the moment.

Even if the main character is a hitman who has killed over 200 people, as is the case in El Sicario, Room 164, Rosi does not judge. The hair on the back of your neck begins to rise as the sicario, hidden only behind a small black scarf, reenacts how he tortured a man for three days in the very same hotel room. Rosi’s film lens however absolves him.

Rosi has made history – twice

Rosi is a multiple award-winning director. His film Sacro Gra won the prestigious Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 2013. Three years later in 2016, his film Fuocoammare – Fire at Sea won the Golden Bear award for best film at Berlin’s film festival. Neither festival had ever awarded a documentary as their best film before Rosi came along.

Fuocoammare received a theatre-run in Finland, rare for documentaries, which garnered critical acclaim. It hit a nerve. Europe was witnessing a historic number of refugees, as news headlines were frequented with “refugee waves”, “floods” and other natural phenomenon.

Tackling events of mass proportions, Rosi nevertheless reflects them through the eyes of 12-year-old Samuel from Lampedusa, who also acts as an apt metaphor for the whole of Europe. Despite growing up in the midst of a gruelling struggle, Samuel cannot look at it directly, due to his off-kilter vision.

In Rosi’s newest documentary, living is the war resistance

Where do these people come from? What happens there? Rosi asked himself, while filming Fuocoammare.

And so Notturno began.

The film travels to the root of the crisis whose aftermath was seen washed up on the Lampedusa shores in Rosi’s previous documentary. Rosi filmed Notturno over the course of three years, inches away from the frontlines in Syria, Iraq, Kurdistan, and Lebanon, on the precarious tightrope between everyday life and utter hell. A place where normal people are simply trying to rebuild their lives.

Sanni Myllyaho

Katso ohjaajan tuore Q&A-haastattelu DocPointin taiteellisen johtajan Kati Juuruksen kanssa: