One-on-one with Filmmaker Emanuele Mengotti - "I didn't want to play it safe."
Emanuele Mengotti was born in 1986 in Venice, Italy. He moved to Los Angeles, where he is currently living. In 2015 he directed his short film 'The writer' Selected at The Venice Film week, SAFILM and finalist at MIFF. In 2016 he worked as line producer on 'Hallucinaut' a short film produced by Terry Gilliam.
iFilmFestival: Tell us a bit about your most important film so far.
Mengotti: “'West of Babylonia' is a feature documentary that was filmed in Slab City in the course of 2 years and a half. It is an independent project created by me (director and writer) and cinematographer Marco Toma Tomaselli. The documentary focuses on the life of the people that live in Slab City a place in the middle of the California desert that is defined as "The last free place". In Slab city there is no running water, no electricity and the population varies from 4000 people during winter time to 400 during the deadly Summer. Life is not easy in this kind of environment, but the people that live there, find their way to make this place their home.”
iFilmFestival: What were the key challenges making it?
Mengotti: “Filming in the desert, with no electricity is the greatest challenge for a filmmaker especially if you decide to film in 8K with a RED Helium. It was a nightmare to charge the batteries and dump the footage, but this challenge was at the core of this project since we decided to spend all the time in Slab City without leaving it for a place with a plug where we could enjoy some A/C while plugging our phones. Spending all the time we had in Slab City helped us to fully understand the people that lived there and helped us to create a bond with them beyond the filming.”
iFilmFestival: What’s one aspect that you’re particularly proud of?
Mengotti: “Watching 'West of Babylonia' gives you the chance to let it really sink in what it means to live in Slab City, there are no filters, there is no judgment and through the editing of Michele Castelli and the score of Paolo Cognetti you have the keys to enter this society that is so far away from America but at the same time is so close. I didn't want to play it safe, it is a rough documentary made for a mature audience open to enjoy this incredible journey.”
iFilmFestival: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
Mengotti: “I was born in Venice on the little island of Lido. Lido di Venezia is the home of one of the most famous and inspiring film festivals. Every year I had the chance to experience the best and boldest movies; this made my sensibility as a film lover grow and gave me the chance to know and to learn from the best masters. It was also a very stimulating experience to watch movies that do not belong to the mainstream circuit.”
Trailer: West of Babylonia (2019)
iFilmFestival: What new projects are you working on or are you hoping to work on in the future?
Mengotti: “I'm currently working on the post-production of the second installment of the trilogy of the West, alongside the cinematographer Toma [Tomaselli]. This second documentary was filmed in Las Vegas and is a deep exploration of American society, from the political to the social aspects. We had the chance to film three very compelling characters that really embody the different faces of American society. This work marks an important milestone in my research in a new language and style that I'm exploring and developing along with the cinematographer, Toma.”
iFilmFestival: What role do film festivals play?
Mengotti: “Film festivals are stepping stones for the career of a filmmaker and they are crucial to meet your audience. Finding your audience is one of the keys to the filmmaker's career. It helps to connect with them and to discover what they like that ultimately is what you like. It is also a great chance to meet filmmakers; share with them your experience and learn about them. The last film festival that I had the pleasure to attend was Biografilm, an amazing festival that decided to run virtually this year.”
iFilmFestival: What is your advice to filmmakers tackling the festival circuit?
Mengotti: “It is important to find the right festival where your film can fit. One of the easiest mistakes that filmmakers make is to apply to all the same film festivals, forgetting about all the other gems that are a little less known. Sometimes at these smaller festivals, a filmmaker has more chances to create a path to his next project or to important collaborations with other filmmakers. It is also important to connect to your local film festival, both to inspire and help your local film community and to learn about opportunities connected with your territory.”
iFilmFestival: How do you see the future of film?
Mengotti: “Filmmaking is really suffering at this particular time. Movie theaters are closed, movie sets are struggling and the entire industry is facing one of the darkest times. This situation calls for a revolution, we must reshape the industry and put the art and the artist at the center of it. I won't believe in a total shift in the movie industry, but I can see the chance for brave filmmakers to tell different kinds of stories away from the mainstream system.”
iFilmFestival: Which filmmaker do you admire and why?
Mengotti: “Lately, I'm following the work of the Ross Bros, two filmmakers from the South of the USA that are pushing the boundaries of storytelling in documentaries. Their work is very inspiring and innovative and brings the documentary format closer to the fictional style with very stylish cinematography.”
iFilmFestival: What film have you recently seen that you have admired in one way or another?
Mengotti: “At the Venice film festival, I saw 'Nomadland', an incredible film that is deeply connected with West of Babylonia. In fact, its characters are very similar to people that live in Slab City. The story focuses on the same side of America that I filmed in the American desert.”
Thank you Emanuele for answering our questions!
Interview by iFilmFestival on 25 February 2021