“What is at stake in prison is the constitution of a community”


In the landscape of Italian cinema, Leonardo Di Costanzo, 64, occupies a special place. He is one of the few to hold the bastion of a realistic school for which fiction is directly impregnated with the social field. Ariaferma, his latest feature film, thus engages in a deep and original reflection on prison and the roles it entails.

What is the path that led you to make films?

I was born in Ischia, near Naples, where I defended a thesis in anthropology. At the end of the 1980s, I came to Paris to explore cinema as a research tool. I met the Ateliers Varan, an association which trains in documentary practice following John Rouch, who was the instigator. So I made my debut in documentaries, which were booming at the time, because channels like Arte were interested in them and small, light and inexpensive cameras had appeared. It was a moment of effervescence, where figures like Claire Simon Where Nicholas Philibert. I then made four or five films with producer Richard Copans. See, I’m supposedly Italian, but I trained in cinema in France [rires] !

Why did you take the plunge into fiction in 2012 with “L’Intervallo”?

In my documentaries, I have often looked at figures of social mediation, people who are between the inside and the outside: a woman mayor fighting against the Camorra in In search of state [1998] or the professors of a disadvantaged college in A textbook case [2003], both in the suburbs of Naples. So many characters who, through the intermediate place they occupy in social geography, are led to invent strategies. I wanted to do the same thing in fiction at a time when I felt the limits with documentaries, which do not give easy access to the interiority of the characters. I had to go through the writing.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “L’Intervallo”: a ray of light in the Neapolitan night

“Ariaferma” takes place entirely in a prison in the process of being dismantled. Where did the idea for this film come from?

I have always questioned the meeting places between different layers of society. Naturally, I had to come to the prison, because it is the place where the inside and the outside converge, where guards and prisoners live side by side, some responsible for applying a sentence, others for serving it. I didn’t really know how to approach the prison world. I started by meeting people who work there: directors, educators, criminologists. I found there an extremely lively world, which thinks and thinks a lot about fault and its repercussions, the harm done to society and the response that society must provide. These questions seemed to me to concern society as a whole, beyond the prison, because what is at stake there is nothing less than the constitution of a community.

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