Category Archives: Italian Talent

Filmmaker Alice Esposito pays tribute to old school cinema with new film

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Poster for The Mockingbird that Fell from the Highest Branch

Alice Esposito sees life through the lens of a camera. Everywhere she looks, she knows exactly how an image could be framed perfectly, whether in a photograph or video. Her artistic instincts have been her fortitude throughout her career, and her determined work ethic sets her apart from the rest. There is little doubt as to why she is one of Italy’s best recent photographers and filmmakers.

While working on successful projects, such as Thend, Esposito has exemplified versatility and artistry. As both a filmmaker and a photographer, she is internationally sought after. Her work consistently tells a story in a beautiful way, which is exemplified by her film The Mockingbird that Fell from the Highest Branch.

The black and white silent comedy tells the story of a cynical, socially inept mime that lives a life of tiny distractions. Yet, even indulging in his smallest fantasies drives him to fits of rage and despair. A chance encounter with the woman of his reverie compels him into a series of humorously tragic attempts at wooing her. A romantic picnic, a windy walk on the beach, and multiple passes at capturing her beauty through art all backfire, with harrowing consequences.

“I feel like nowadays the stories are told so fast and full of action or sex that people do not have time for simplicity and realness anymore. With this movie, I wanted to stop time and let you live the moments with the main character, which is why some sequences of the movie are slightly slower than the normal parameters of cinema. I wanted to challenge the viewer to stay with me, to feel all these feelings that we usually escape from. There’s also a lack of technology and space/time that I wanted to use to give the audience this sense of peace, but with a little anxiety behind that. Technology made us impatient, and I wanted to analyze this concept. And love, this incredible feeling that keeps everything together; the expectation of love, its course, the ups and down, and the real and the fantasy,” Esposito described.

After premiering at The Prince of Prestige Film Festival where it was nominated for Best Short, Best Actor and Best Actress, The Mockingbird that Fell from the Highest Branch went on to tremendous success. It won the Festival Prince of Prestige Academy Award as Best Comedy (Comedy Gold).

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Phil Ristaino as the mime in The Mockingbird that Fell from the Highest Branch

“When the film first started having success, I was like ‘cool’, but after I began telling the cast and crew, it really hit me. This wasn’t the first time I won something, but it was the first time I won something where I worked with so many people and coordinated with them all together to create a project. It felt like all the family won and that everybody’s work was recognized. I was and still am so proud and grateful of them,” said Esposito.

Esposito’s idea for the film came from working with her friend and main actor in the film Phil Ristaino. Ristaino created character routines for fun, and his “Bad Luck Mime” stood out to Esposito. The two decided to make a movie that would be a tribute to the origin of cinema. Having already worked together on the film Dinamicity, which saw similar success, they were eager to work together again.

Working with Alice is very collaborative. Alice is an extremely enthusiastic director. She gets caught up in whatever idea has currently caught her fancy and will talk at great length about all the ideas she has for a particular story. Often, she will call me about a project she wants to make and tell me about some visual or story ideas, and these conversations will usually result in us meeting up to discuss the next project and see if it appeals to us both. We are both very visual people, and her ideas will spark images in my own mind, and vice versa,” said Ristaino.

Esposito was the producer, writer, and director of the film, and therefore greatly responsible for its success. She wanted to make the perfect film, and thought of every last detail. Half of the post-production took place in Italy, and the other half in California. Normally, coordinating this would be immensely difficult, but Esposito’s management capabilities are exceptional.

Location scouting was also vital for the production, and this turned out to be one of Esposito’s favorite parts of filming. She was able to discover different parts of Los Angeles, like Eagle Rock and Griffith Park, Malibu, and Echo Park. Her love for the setting overcame any challenges that come from working outside, like wind and natural light. In order to film like this, a filmmaker must be fast and precise, characteristics that Esposito embodies.

She also wanted to find the perfect team to take charge. She knew how important the music would be in a silent film, and therefore found not just composer, but two, Simone Anichini and Davide Alberto Centolani.

“A big part of making this movie this successful I think was to have the right people around me. It all always comes down to the talents you work with. I learned a lot about delegating and asking for want I needed. I was able to put all the pieces of production together and have exactly what I wanted. Many of the things were planned ahead, but you need to be ready for something not working out and be able to go around it. The secret is to be always ready to change and compromise but never give up,” she advised.

The last piece of the puzzle for the filmmaker was the title. She wanted something that would encapsulate her film. It was when she remembered that in Italian, a mockingbird is also called “the mime” that she realized she had a title.

“I remember I was in the car with Phil and we started to throw titles around, it was hilarious,” she described. “The mockingbird is known to mimic the songs of other birds and the sounds of insects, and this is how it started to come together. Being in love is like being above every physical experience I know, but at the same time when you heart gets broken the impact to the ground is hard. You could say the title represents this feeling but with a tragic romanticism with a pinch of irony in it. I think we got it right!”

That they did. Keep an eye out for Esposito’s work. With talent like hers, we can expect to keep seeing her name for quite some time.

Watch The Mockingbird that Fell from the Highest Branch here.

Top photo by Unknown

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XING-MAI DENG VISUALIZES THE FEELINGS OF A NEW WAY OF WAR

Artists often bring up ideas that we may or may not agree with but it is important to see things from differing viewpoints. The artistic mindset is about the freedom to express ideas; they might be truth or they might just be opinion but in a well-balanced society it’s important to have all ideas heard and then weighed out. Whatever your opinion is on any particular subject, there is someone who disagrees with you, and that person should be important to you. By presenting an argument that challenges your belief, you either become more committed or you reassess; either way, this person has done you a favor. Artists of many different mediums have challenged our thinking for eons. Filmmakers like Xing-Mai Deng are simply the newest manifestation of this. As a cinematographer, Deng is the modern day painter with film and digital images as his canvas. The way the visuals appear in the Drama/Thriller “Drone” (2015) affects the viewers’ attitude towards one of the most modern approaches in warfare in an almost imperceptible manner, but achieves the desired emotional impact. It was for this very reason that producer Abi Corbin sought out Xing-Mai and persuaded him to take on the project.

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“Drone” appears at first to be a film about the military when in fact, it is about humanity. It was his own personal experience with these two factors that actually convinced Deng that he wanted to be a part of this film. He explains, “Before working on the project, I happened to know a few people who were working on developing treatments for veterans with PTSD. Among them, the air force veterans were the majority and most of them were military drone pilots. Through my friends, I learned that even though the drone pilots did not see their enemies and the actual battles, they had a higher chance on incidence of PTSD because of their working schedule and the suppression of sleep. I knew what the pilots were going through. I invited my friends to the screening of the completed film and they all felt that the film was a realistic portrait of a drone pilot’s life.”

“Drone” is a story about a rookie air force drone pilot who finds himself increasingly attached to a target as he watches from halfway around the world. As a newly minted drone pilot, Matt (played by Daniel Sharman) enthusiastically flies his first stalk and kill mission, unconcerned that he knows nothing about the enemy target in his crosshairs. As the hours of surveillance turn into days, then a week, he finds it increasingly difficult to see the target as a mere white dot on the screen. When the strike order finally arrives, Matt must face the very real person behind the pixelated image.

Making any film is not as simple as displaying the actions of the characters onscreen. A story that concentrates so intensely on the emotional inner conflict of the main character requires a great deal of planning and expertise on the part of a DOP to properly convey this emotional turmoil. The subtlest of changes can achieve substantial returns in eliciting the proper response from a viewer. Deng prepared his concept in terms of the tone and the look before meeting with “Drone” writer Tony Rettenmaier to present these two different worlds he had created. Lighting in particular was key for this film as Xing explains, “When Matt is alone, his life is not fulfilling to him. To achieve the lonely feeling for the audience, we made sure the lighting on him is half a stop darker. It appears as if his life is always one shade darker than the rest of the world. And when Matt was doubting his world, we used a lot of close-up shots with a wide-angle lens on Matt to bring out the emotion. We placed the actor very close to the lens so he got distorted by the wide-angle lens, while other actions are happening in the background. After the strike, Matt was crushed by what he did. We placed him further away from the camera, using a longer telephoto lens to compress the background just to show how small he is compared to the world he is doubting.” He continues, “Most of the scenes were in the cockpit. We did research on what a real drone cockpit looked like. It was actually very different from what we imagined. In reality, the pilots were operating the drones flying on the other side of the planet, so they usually work during the night. In order to keep the pilots awake, the cockpit was usually lit with bright fluorescent lights. It is very bright and flat. We wanted the scenes to look interesting so we decided to use minimal lighting fixture to achieve the dark and dramatic look. The production built this on a stage so I had total control of the lighting. Most of the lighting was motivated from the monitors in the rack in front of the two pilots with cold colors. That was a very planned out cinematographic choice.”

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The manner in which the characters and their surroundings are framed is exceptional in communicating what they are feeling. Whether it be of a claustrophobic nature or the insignificance of being miniscule in an open space, the viewer feels the impact of this perspective. The short, cutty, and lock-off shots of the main character early in the film contrast with later long moving shots to show the internal struggle of the character and the tension of the situation when Matt must decide to pull the trigger during the strike. We immediately understand the tunnel vision and comprehend that time is slowing down for this drone pilot. During the final sequence of the film as Hunter (played by Michael Trucco) tells Matt about his own story, the extreme-wide shot inside the drone hanger with a military drone in the foreground and the rusty roof on top depicts how small they are compared to the world of drone warfare. The metaphor relates that this kind of story happens every day.

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One added benefit for Deng working on this film was an association with the famed Industrial Light and Magic who had allowed the production to use their drone model in conjunction with green screen shots. The investment was obviously well placed as Deng and his crew achieved a nomination for Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (2015 First Film Festival) as numerous awards from others such as the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival, Phoenix Film Festival and numerous others. While these accolades were appreciated by Xing, he reiterates that his connection to the veterans who have been in these situations and the positive response which he received that “Drone” accurately and honestly portrays the experience of these men and women means that his highest goal was achieved.

Writer Emiliano Forino Procacci combines love of psychology and writing to inspire readers

Emiliano Forino Procacci lives in a countryside near Rome. He writes his best poems in front of a sunset, near a forest where the leaves are singing accompanied by the wind dancing among the tall trees.

He bought a hill and on top of this hill he built his house. From there, you can see the sunrise and sunset.

“I believe that a writer must be inspired and I draw my inspiration from nature and from my family,” he said.

Procacci is a psychologist who teaches in the Department of Communication Sciences at the Università Popolare of Gorizia. He accomplished a master’s degree in organizational development and human resources in addition to a short degree in education sciences and a second level degree in psychology and pedagogy in Rome. He continued his education at the City University London in England. He is regarded as an expert in the field of verbal and non-verbal communication and coding/decoding of facial expressions. He holds lectures and consulting sessions for institutions and corporations on techniques for facial recognition, which can be useful when selecting personnel and whenever it is necessary to identify lie detector signals (for judiciary, civil and military purposes).

However, most importantly, Procacci is a writer who uses his understanding of psychology to write books that inspire people to change their lives for the better.

“For me psychology is like a poem,” he said. “This is how we will make our lives and the world we live in healthier. Hope lights any kind of flame and desire feeds it with dreams, if we truly love what we do, all of our actions will have the strength of an embrace.”

Procacci’s writing career truly began in 2003 when won high-profile poetry contest and his name was entered in the Encyclopedia of Italian Poets. Since that time he has penned five books. His book Communicating With Success: The Secrets of Persuasion is the Golden Book Awards 2016 Winner, and a finalist at the International Book Awards 2016. He also wrote Secrets of Motivations and Personal Growth, Organizational Evolution and Development of Human Resources, Follow Your Own Star and Fulfill Yourself in Change, and The Freedom of Words. He left his high profile career to become a writer, and now advocates taking risks to achieve happiness.

“We could compare our minds to a vast sea full of sailing boats, which represent thoughts, emotions, feelings, and more. If they didn’t open up their sails (willpower) to be inflated by the wind (determination to act), they couldn’t go anywhere. Of course, this way you’ll live far away from the storm, but it is also true that if you want to discover the world and be a good sailor, you just can’t stay anchored in the same point (comfort zone) for your whole life. Nobody was born to act like a spectator of the world we live in, but rather to be the leading role of their lives, a leading role that follows a route to achieve a goal,” he said.

Enzo Kermol a professor and director at the world renowned People’s University of Gorizia is a fan of Procacci’s writing and demeanour.

“Few writers are as Emiliano Forino Procacci. His poetic style is unique and he has been able to use poetry in books on personal growth and self-esteem. Many people say that he has invented the ‘poetic psychology’. He very modestly says that he loves to write and not be considered an inventor. With his books he wants to make the world a better place and I must say that many people have found his works really useful for personal growth and motivation. The Emiliano secret is that he is a psychologist too. He has studied psychology and manages materials in his books to make these easily understandable even to those who have never studied psychology,” said Kermol. “Emiliano work with is outstanding. He is a volcano of ideas, and I have never known a person with a will as he developed. When he writes his books on motivation is as if he were telling his story, he tells how to deal with difficulties because personally has faced, solved problems, and he has had the courage to change his life. Emiliano is not only a writer, but a great motivator and coach. In the past and even today is working with VIP, actors, sports personalities and show business to improve their motivation and their performance.”

Procacci keeps busy. He founded the psychology group, which he says gave him strength. His life is divided between work as a writer and as a consultant for many companies as an expert in facial micro expressions. He also teaches at the university and is a coach and trainer.

“Life is exactly as it looks like, but it is as if we looked at it through the lenses of a pair of glasses, which sometimes get worn out and must be replaced with a new pair with a better performance, and that can really make a difference,” he said. “My books help people to change their glasses.”

From Class Clown to International Actor, Daniel DelHoyo

In film, theater and television, it’s the writers who create the characters; their personas, their lines and even their fates are predetermined, written down before cameras ever start rolling. But it requires a skilled actor to embody a fictional hero or villain, and there is nobody more skilled in personifying a character than Daniel DelHoyo. Building on the foundation of the writer’s words, DelHoyo immerses himself in his roles. Through him, words on a page come to life and become the living, breathing manifestation of the writer’s creative vision.

Born in Mexico City, DelHoyo’s love of performance began in high school when an opportunity arose for him to write, direct and act in a production showcased to an audience of his peers. The experience awoke in him an immense talent, which had been lying dormant. DelHoyo’s charisma and witty humor had long been recognized by his peers, but the play marked his first foray into drama and serious performance. From the moment he first sat down to write the script, he realized he was destined to pursue a career as an actor.

“As soon as I started writing the story I felt connected and fully plugged into this world like I had never felt with anything else,” DelHoyo recalled. “The play ended up being presented among the best ones at the drama competition in school, and from that moment I knew I wanted to act.”

Since those early days, he has become one of the most sought after actors in the business. Though there was a time when he applied his natural charm and jovial personality almost exclusively to comedic endeavors as a sort of class clown, he has far exceeded that old niche. Now, there is no production mood or genre he cannot expertly adapt to, and he is as at home in the horror and suspense genres as in comedy. His latest role as Danny in “Por Sofia” is a perfect example of how diverse his talents are.

 A tale of intrigue and an endless pursuit of justice, “Por Sofia” follows a detective intent on solving a decades-old murder. The film stars Kary Musa (“Iron Man 3,” “What Lies Beyond… The Beginning”) as Alexa, a young woman whose mother’s murder 20 years earlier continues to haunt her. DelHoyo delivers a knockout performance as Danny, a night shift server at a restaurant and one of the detective’s prime suspects in the crime.

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Still of Daniel DelHoyo (left) & Mauricio Mendoza (right) in “Por Sofia” shot by Jack Elliot

The director of “Por Sofia,” Alfredo Ibarra (“Classroom 6,” “Processing”), chose to cast actors in the film who had personalities similar to those of their characters. DelHoyo, however, was an exception. But playing a character so different from himself is his wheelhouse, and the challenge allowed him to exhibit his invaluable gift for shining brilliantly when pushed out of his comfort zone.

“[Alfredo Ibarra] wants you to be yourself and deliver your own persona and emotions to the story. During the pre-production I would ask him questions and he would just answer back ‘What would you do?’” said DelHoyo, explaining how he adapted to the role. “My character is a very quiet and mysterious guy, which I’m really not. But throughout the shooting I realized what Alfredo wanted, and toward the end it all made sense. I learned that the more you trust the people you work with, the better results you’ll deliver performance-wise.”

The intense twists and turns in “Por Sofia” ensure audiences remain firmly on the edge of their seats, and DelHoyo’s gripping portrayal of Danny is an absolute marvel of suspense that keeps viewers questioning his guilt until the very end. The film is in post-production and will be released early this year.

 One of DelHoyo’s most fascinating roles, and the one he says is his favorite, was in the 2015 film “Ilusiones SA,” an adaptation of Spanish author and playwright Alejandro Casona’s 1949 play “Los Árboles Mueren de Pie.” His character, known only as Mailman, is part of a shadowy-yet-benevolent organization called The Illusionists. The group specializes in staging well-meaning hoaxes and deceptions and is comprised of equally mysterious codenamed figures, such as The Director, played by Jaime Camil (“Jane the Virgin”). The film tells the story of a man who commissions the group’s services to keep his wife from learning that their grandson has died en route to visit them.

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Daniel DelHoyo as the Mailman in “Ilusiones SA” shot by Serguei Saldivar

 “My character is essential to the story,” DelHoyo excitedly explained. “The grandpa hires The Illusionists to set up a whole scenario with a fake grandson. My character delivers the letter to the grandpa, letting him know that his ‘grandson’ and his ‘grandson’s fiancé’ will be getting there in a couple of days.”

As an exceptionally dedicated and professional performer, DelHoyo was determined to do the role justice. He went to great lengths to embody the part and in the process put the role ahead of his own safety.

“The script is very adamant about the Mailman being exhausted. It’s been a long hot day of work for him, and it’s not over. So, as a perfectionist, I run back and forth on my bike in pretty intense morning heat, added push-ups to get my blood flow pumped-up, and did running sprints too,” said DelHoyo, describing what he called a funny experience. “We do take one and by the end of it I’m practically suffocated, sweating so much my uniform is soaking wet, and feeling sick.”

In preparation, DelHoyo completely immersed himself in the role. His sleepless nights were spent studying 1950’s Campeche, Mexico, the film’s setting, and listening exclusively to music played in the region during that era. He even went so far as to volunteer at the Post Office to better understand the character. Over 1,000 people auditioned for the role, but that level of commitment is what made him the obvious choice. It’s also what made his character so memorable and integral to the film. “Ilusiones SA” was released in Oct. 2015 to audiences in Mexico, and will be released in the U.S. later this year.

There are actors who are defined by a role, and there are roles that are defined by the actor, and careers often hinge on this subtle distinction. Daniel DelHoyo is without question the latter, an asset to every production whose chameleon-like talent for transformation has enabled him to deliver awe-inspiring performances time and time again. When watching him in any of the roles he’s played, it’s not an actor that audiences see on the screen; his characters become actual, living people, with flaws and virtues so compellingly human they become as real as anything else. That quality is the mark of a truly great actor, and it is what has established DelHoyo as one of the most prominent figures in the highly competitive industry.

A Saxophonist with Heart: Italy’s Gianni Vancini

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Gianni Vancini shot by Mark Montue

While there are countless professional saxophonists working in the music industry today, few have had the success of Italian musician Gianni Vancini. An award winning saxophonist, Gianni Vancini has continued to woo audiences over the past two decades with his magnificently dynamic sound, which blends elements of jazz, funk, soul, and R&B.

“It’s very hard for me to say that I play a specific genre of music,” explained Gianni Vancini. “I play what gives me the chance to share emotions.”

Vancini, who has performed all over the world, has been recognized and endorsed by several of the music industry’s most prestigious companies including Canada-based Légère Reeds, Italy’s Grassi Saxophones, as well as American-based companies Cannonball Saxophones, Theo Wanne Mouthpieces, and AMT microphones.

Having worked with an incredible list of internationally known musicians, Vancini names musician and friend Eric Marienthal as someone who has greatly shaped his personal approach music.

“Eric Marienthal takes the cake. We met in 2005, when he was recording for Italian artist Umberto Tozzi, who I’ve been touring with since 2002. The approach he has with music and life is so inspiring to me,” said Vancini. “What I really like about him music wise is his preparation, his high level of professionalism and the way he strives for perfection in everything he does.”

Marienthal, who is a Grammy Award winning contemporary American saxophonist, has released several successful records including Oasis, which ranked in the top five of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts.

In addition to collaborating with such well known artists as Andrea Bocelli, and Sting, Vancini has also used his musical genius to help raise money for charity organizations like Terra Mosse; an organization which came into being after two earthquakes with magnitudes of 5.8 and above hit Northern Italy within 10 days of each other leaving businesses in shambles and thousands of people homeless.

“I did a song for a benefit two years ago after a series of tremendous earthquakes hit my birthplace in Mirandola, Italy. Together with a famous radio station, we decided to put together an all-star band to raise money for the territory,” explained Vancini.

“The song is called ‘Insieme’ (Together) and it became a single CD for the association called Terre Mosse, which is taking care of all the major businesses that were damaged by the earthquakes.”

The all-star band, which included Gianni Vancini (saxophone), Claudio Dirani (drums), Marco Dirani (bass), and Emiliano Fantuzzi (guitar), released the single CD entitled Insieme, which was produced by the Italian radio station Radio Pico, in 2013.

Vancini is currently represented in America by the artist management company Max Bernard Management, which also represents internationally known musicians Terry Wollman, Maltida Madison, Rob “Funksta” Bacon, among others.

As for the future, Gianni Vancini plans to continue his life-long passion of playing music around the world and hopes to embark on another tour in the United States later this year.