“Romany youngsters are asking questions about how they’re represented, but this debate is totally ignored by the media”

– The Italian director spoke to us about her documentary blending reality and near-reality, and homing in on a Romany girl’s fight to gain recognition for her identity

Ludovica Fales • Director of Lala

In Lala [+see also:
interview: Ludovica Fales
film profile
, which scooped the Audience Award at the 41st Bellaria Film Festival, the Italian director living in Paris Ludovica Fales investigates the grey zones of the laws governing the obtention of citizenship, by telling the story of a young Romany girl and so many teenagers just like her who, despite being born in Italy, aren’t awarded any rights when they reach 18 years of age. Co-produced with Slovenia and now in the running for the Corso Salani Prize at the 35th Trieste Film Festival, this hybrid documentary blending reality and realistic fiction is set to be distributed in Italian cinemas on 25 January, courtesy of its producer Transmedia.

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Cineuropa: It took nine years to make this film. Why the long gestation?
Ludovica Fales: To begin with, I was really impatient, but then I realised it made sense to wait, so it was actually a blessing in disguise as they say in English. It all began when I met Zaga, the girl we see at the beginning of the film and at the end, ten years later. It started out as a traditional documentary; I wanted to focus on people who’d been born in Italy but hadn’t been given the right to citizenship. But then certain events in Zaga’s life resulted in her deciding to leave the country – when all of her illusions had been shattered and she’d realised that she’d never get the documents she wanted. It was a personal, impulsive decision, so at a certain point the filming process was interrupted.

So your film plans changed…
I kept in touch with anyone who could give me news of Zaga, because I was actually really hoping to meet back up with her. I felt this incredible need to tell her story because I’d been struck by it. So, two years after her departure, I thought the best thing to do would be to write a fiction film. But I didn’t feel I was the right person to do it; it wasn’t my story. So I thought I’d rally a group of young people with similar stories and put together a text for the film through a series of improvisations. A few years later, however, Zaga reappeared. It was really moving seeing her again, so we invited her into the world of film. At which point, we had to recommence the writing process, re-inserting the documentary part.

The film looks to break down some of the prejudice surrounding the Romany community. What did you learn in this process?
What I hope I learned is that there are endless ways of being a young Romany person. I’d had a very oversimplified idea of it in my head. The entire decolonisation process, not least in terms of my own outlook, was incredibly interesting. We’re very often aware of our privilege, of the lens through which we see things, but it’s only when we actually experience these things that we’re able to understand the implications of our unconscious prejudice. I thought that most of the kids lived in fields and that only a minority lived in houses: I had no idea that an infinite number of lives and multiple identities were possible behind the Romany label. Many of them come from multiple countries, they speak multiple languages, they come from different groups, some Romany, some Sinti, some both, some are Italians going back generations, some arrived with the war in former Yugoslavia and, others, more recently. There’s a cultural wealth to them which tells the story of Europe. I knew it in my mind but I’d never properly understood what it meant. Another thing I was pleased to uncover was a lively debate taking place between several groups of Romany youngsters: they’re asking questions about how they’re represented and how to dialogue within their own community. The fact that they feel they belong to multiple countries and cultures leads to a series of interesting questions and opens up possible alliances with other minorities and their demands. This whole debate is totally ignored by the media.

Are you already hard at work on your next project?
I’m writing it now. I want to tell my nan’s story, who was a refugee, and that of the people she met when she fled Italy during the Second World War as a result of the race laws: lucky encounters which helped her to arrive at her destination safe and sound. It’s an historically inspired project but it will have a contemporary side to it, too. It will be another hybrid film which will find its own language.

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(Translated from Italian)

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