Marta Savina is a writer–director who likes to address topical and complex issues regarding women. She lived and studied in London before moving to the States, where she graduated from UCLA with an M.F.A. in Filmmaking. Her short film “Viola, Franca” (2017) won several awards, including an Emmy for Best Drama. It was nominated for the David di Donatello Award for Best Short Film and premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival before continuing its successful journey on the festival circuit with stops that included the Raindance Film Festival.
Tara Karajica talks to Marta Savina about feminism and film and her debut feature, “The Girl from Tomorrow,” an urgent tale of self-determination and family love about a legal battle that grips a Sicilian town in the ’60s, when a strong-willed woman and her family contest a traditional custom that decrees women should marry their rapists. The film premiered at the 2022 BFI London Film Festival and is now screening in the Europe! Voices of Women in Film program at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
How did you get into filmmaking?
Marta Savina: I think that was always the one thing that I felt like I could do. When I was eight years old, I wrote this stage play, and I sort of talked all of my friends into acting in it and their moms sewed costumes and we got this theater in my hometown to perform in and I was just electrified by the experience. I think I made up my mind that that was what I really wanted to do my whole life. And then, I took a detour because I was a violinist. I grew up as a musician until I was about nineteen-twenty years old. But then, because I grew up in a very competitive musical environment, I was really exhausted by it at nineteen-twenty years old. I just abruptly left music and moved to London, where I picked up photography and that was a way back to telling stories visually again, which was what really fascinated me and really excited my creativity.
How did The Girl from Tomorrow come about?
M.S.: The story was born many years ago from a short film [Viola, Franca] that I wrote while I was at UCLA. The short film was my thesis film at UCLA. I was just very fascinated by the idea of a young girl who put her foot down and eventually ended up making a really big difference in society and for women as a whole, but her rebellion stemmed from a very private, “selfish” act. And, that really fascinated me because I think as girls, we grow up being told to always be selfless and caring, and to take care of others before ourselves. It was a very powerful experience when I eventually moved to L.A. and went to film school and that was the most selfish act I had done so far in my life, and it was amazing. Those were some of the truly happiest and best years of my life, where I truly was just taking care of myself, thinking of what I wanted to do with my life and pursuing very selfishly something that I loved. I thought that was really beautiful. So, I was interested in this idea of a young woman allowing herself to be very selfish, but in a world that doesn’t allow you to have fundamental human rights. Obviously, you can’t quite speak about selfishness in itself, but it was a provocation that I thought was interesting.
The violence that is on committed on Lia is not only physical, but also psychological and is the result of a tradition and a law that were totally accepted in Italy in the 1960s.
M.S.: Italy as a whole is a very traditional country and we have the Vatican inside our own territory, so that makes it hard to break with traditions, but I think tradition is extremely violent towards women, even women who haven’t been subjected to sexual violence – they’re still subjected to a culture of extreme violence towards them that tends to repress and objectify women and put them in categories like the Madonna or the whore. It’s really tough to find a way to live in-between; there’s a very narrow margin in-between, which I find crazy. It’s preposterous!
It’s a patriarchal mindset, culture and everything in-between. This law actually doesn’t solve anything for women, but is there to protect the men because the women’s names are tarnished anyway and there’s no remedy for that.
M.S.: The law was truly just to protect the men. It had absolutely no use and provided no protection for the woman. Zero whatsoever. Because the law said that if a man offers to marry a woman, it doesn’t say the woman’s reputation is saved, but it does say the man is not punishable by law. If you’re a man, that’s genius! It’s a genius way to cover yourself with a massive loophole around doing whatever the hell you want. Props to them, but…to basically be authorized to do whatever you want and treat a woman like an object and you take that object, but if you’re kind enough to offer to marry her was seen as the reputable thing to do, the honorable thing to do, then you’re okay, you’re off the hook. Nobody has interest in the welfare of the woman at all.
It took sixteen years for the law to change since the trial.
M.S.: I think about probably another sixteen years for another law that had to do with rape to change. So, it’s a very slow process. And then, the law changes, but obviously, that doesn’t mean that society changes at the same time.
Exactly! The law is only the starting point…
M.S.: Yes, it is the starting point. And, I think the mentality is changing, but at a much slower pace because it’s part of culture in a way and the great shift that has happened probably in my generation is that, at least, now we see it – we’re very acutely aware of what is wrong, and I think we have a much clearer vision of what needs to change, which is an important shift because you’re aware of the work that still needs be done. But it definitely doesn’t mean that things have completely changed. And I will say, when somebody comes and tells me how my first feature film is really old, I’ll be happy to know that the film has become obsolete because it means that society as a whole has shifted massively and has evolved. I’ll be the happiest person!
It’s a very timely film even if it’s set in the 60s, especially in the wake of #metoo and Time’s Up. What do you think the film’s impact will be and its contribution to the movement in order to challenge this status quo on various levels?
M.S.: Well, what I hope is that, at least in Italy, a lot of young boys will see this and take from it that you always have the chance to make the right choice and there’s never a good excuse for doing the wrong thing. That, I hope, is something that comes out of the film for young boys and younger generations and even older generations. In Italy, I’ve seen older men walk out of the theater p*ssed off, which I’m totally fine with. I take that with pride because I think it can be a challenging film for some people. At the same time, I didn’t want the film to come across as a manifesto or “angry feminist film” just because they think the role of cinema, at its core, is to awaken emotions, to lure you on a journey and take you somewhere, maybe a world that you wouldn’t necessarily experience firsthand. But to do that emotionally, so that’s what I really wanted for the film. I wanted people to walk out of the theater, having been on an emotional journey. And basically because emotions still stick with you if something resonates with you emotionally, you’re going to keep thinking about it and you’re going to digest the ideas behind the film with your heart and not your brain and anything that sticks that truly is a vessel for change in my opinion.
Can you talk about Lia? How do you see her?
M.S.: We run the risk of sometimes representing women in these biopics as heroes and martyrs. I was really interested in creating a character that could come across as challenging sometimes, and I think she’s not always sympathetic. I think there are times when she is exasperating, but I thought that was beautiful because, first of all, as humans, we’re never all good or all bad, I believe. And then, because sometimes, when these horrible and tragic things happen to you, not everybody responds to these situations in a heroic way. We’re very flawed people in general as humans, and I think sometimes we respond by not having the courage or the strength. I hate it when I hear people say: “Oh, we were looking for strong women.” Women are not all strong all the time! We have to take the right to be weak sometimes, to be flawed, to be scared and I think Lia is all of these things throughout the film. Of course, she’s strong but, at the same time, she’s scared and she’s weak and she’s flawed and she’s exasperating and sometimes bit of a coward, frankly, because she doesn’t want to speak up. But I think these are interesting traits to explore in a female character.
What were the challenges of making this particular film? What were the little victories?
M.S.: It took seven years to make this film. It was really challenging to put it together and finance it. It sounds crazy in the wake of #metoo, but almost nobody in Italy wanted to make a film about a female rebel with strong political message. So, that was the first challenge right off the bat. And then, I was very adamant and I insisted that we shoot in this very harsh and remote part of Sicily called the Nebrodi Mountains, which is where my grandfather was from in Sicily. It was important for me to portray a Sicily that was far away from any kind of stereotypes and this ruggedness of the landscape was like a character for me. At the same time, we were two and a half, three hours away from any airport, on top of a mountain, and we shot during thirty-two days and had twenty-eight days of constant rain. But talking about little victories, I think, for example, there’s a scene towards the end where Lia has a confrontation with Orlando, her lawyer, and that scene wasn’t supposed to be under the rain. I never planned for that scene to be misty and wet. It was just raining cats and dogs and we had to shoot it. I think that was probably the second to last day of the shoot, so there was really no room to wiggle around and we just had to shoot it. I really like that scene and I think the mist and the rain really add something to it, to the conflict, to the characters and to Lia’s difficulty in that moment. So, that was a small victory in that circumstance. And, at the same time, I think with this first film, I found some of my best collaborators that I really hope to bring forward on this filmmaking journey.
Are you a feminist? If so, how does it inform your filmmaking?
M.S.: Yes. I think even women who say they’re not feminists, are feminists in a way. I think it’s impossible today to be a woman and not be a feminist. I think we have to make more of an effort to be transsexual feminists and to be inclusive because I think the first battle that we lose as women is when we give in to the societal pressure that wants us pitted against one another. So, I think inclusiveness is our biggest weapon and I am a big believer in trans-feminism and the inclusiveness of feminists. I think it informs my work just as much as being a woman informs my work. As a writer-director, I work with my life, basically. I work with my ideas and my ideas stem from my feelings and my life experiences, the people that I meet and the thoughts that I form. I go through life as a woman and so, I see no way to make movies other than to tell my experience as a woman that navigates a very, very complex and ever-changing and ever-evolving world. But I find it really exciting that we live in a very fast-paced time in terms of storytelling because there’s always a new story to tell and some new ground to break and a new boundary to push. Something that you believed yesterday, will probably have a new, more refined, better informed belief today. So, I find that a challenge but, at the same time, I find that very stimulating and exciting.
How do you see the situation of women film today? How is it in Italy?
M.S.: I think that in Italy, we’re probably five to eight years behind the US, which is a comparison for me because I’ve lived in Los Angeles for six years. So, when I moved back to Italy, I felt like I was back to L.A. year zero when I moved there and so many things had massively changed in Los Angeles between when I moved there in 2012 and left six- seven years later. It was a monumental change. I went back to Italy and it felt like I was literally back into the old world. Things are slowly moving forward in L.A. as well. I think there’s more of a push to make things more equal and productions are looking for female directors. I’m just waiting for the day when I stop hearing this term, which seems like everybody’s looking for these mythical female directors and how many heads do they have? I think of myself as a director, and I would love to be chosen for projects not because I’m a woman, but because I’m a good director. I believe that the pendulum has been in a way for so long that it has to go the complete opposite before it finally stabilizes in the middle and I’m all for it. It’s just that sometimes I’m annoyed by this idea that I’m probably chosen just because they need a woman and they need to fill that spot with a woman director, which is annoying I think because it diminishes how hard we work to get to where we are.
Do you have a favorite female film filmmaker and a favorite film by a female filmmaker?
M.S.: I think we live in a world where there are very interesting and exciting filmmakers that happen to be women. I think Kelly Reichardt is one of my favorites and then, Agnès Varda. I have a deep, deep love for her. I also like Jane Campion. These are just the biggest names, but in Italy, for example, Alice Rohrwacher is somebody that has been working way before people started talking about female filmmakers. I think she’s doing some really amazing work and even the very, very young filmmakers like Charlotte Wells and Julia Ducourneau are very exciting filmmakers. Recently, one of the films that really stuck with me very, very deeply is Corsage, the Austrian film with Vicky Krieps. I don’t know why. It is not my favorite film by a female filmmaker, but it’s just the film that in the last maybe year or two has really stuck with me. And to be honest, I didn’t know Marie Kreutzer and then, I went back and watched a lot of her films. I’ve also recently rewatched all of Naomi Kawase’s films and I think she’s an incredible filmmaker. We’re so used to watching films made by male directors that we forget how many really amazing women there are out there telling stories.
I completely agree with you! And last question, what are your next projects?
M.S.: I am actually editing a TV show for Sky Originals that I think is going to air in the fall and I’m writing two feature films. I am also in the process of opening my own production company, which I am going to shoot a short film with in Sicily in October. I’ve always shied away from producing, but I think the time is ripe for me to get into that as well because I want to really have full creative control and also hopefully foster a new generation of Italian filmmakers in the long run.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Marta Savina.
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