Here we were lucky enough to have an interview with Ricardo Preve, the supremely talented filmmaker behind “COMING HOME”.
• Thanks for taking the time to join us in “The Green Room”! So firstly, WOW – a huge event coming up in Argentina with the theatrical release of “COMING HOME”! Congratulations and please tell us more.
Very excited about the event, getting a theatrical release for a documentary feature is not easy, we had a very good critical reception, and the first two nights we had an excellent response from the public. We will see how the numbers turn out but all the newspaper, online, and television reviews were from “Good” to “Excellent” so that is helping draw in spectators. A very special connection was the presence at the premiere of some of the families of the Argentine submarine “San Juan”, which sank with the loss of all 44 crew members while my film, which tells the story of 44 Italian submariners who survive, was in post-production. We dedicated the film to the crew of the “San Juan” and they came to the first screening to thank us for that!
• It always fascinates me how and why you would choose to put together such an intricate documentary whereby you mix narrative filmmaking into your documentaries as you did with your previous film “The Patagonian Bones”.
I think that comes from my background working for National Geographic Television which, about a decade ago, was big on very accurate, and elaborate, historical recreations. As film makers we bring our past history along in all our films and I love to mix fiction with reality to enrich a story. I think that the “traditional”, narrative, didactical documentary is a thing of the past and you need to approach a more modern narrative style to capture the audience. I was lucky to work with great producers at NGT like John Bredar, Linda Goldman, and Geoff Luck who taught me that.
• Most people won’t know the story of “The Macalle” (the subject of the movie) & apart from deciding to even make a film about this incredible event how do you ensure that the viewer remains gripped by what they see on the screen?
The historical recreations that I mentioned above serve as a “hook”, in my opinion, to keep the interest of the viewer. We decided to edit the film so that the 1940 voyage of the submarine towards its fatal ending at a desert reef in the Red Sea paralleled out 2014 and 2017 expeditions to the same location. Would we meet the same tragic fate as the crew of the “Macalle”? We wanted the spectator to worry about that…
• Please could you tell us about the research required for the background to “COMING HOME”?
We were fortunate in that there is a voluminous (300 pages or so) Commission of Inquiry at the Italian Navy archives in Rome into the loss of the submarine that was written a couple of months after it sank, with the testimony of most of the 44 survivors, and quite a bit of maps and drawings about what happened during the sinking, and later on the desert island while the sailors awaited rescue for a week, and also about the death of the only crew member who was buried there, and whose remains we went to recover. That was almost like getting a ready- made script of the movie from the Italian navy!
• Historical recreations, including the construction of parts of the submarine on a 1:1 scale in a studio in Buenos Aires formed part of this film, that is a huge undertaking – can you tell us more about this?
We did find the original construction plans for the submarine, since the company that built it still makes ships today, and in fact recently began building submarines for the Italian navy again. We also found the drawings of the small dinghy that 3 crew members from the “Macalle” used to row more than 100 miles to get help. The dinghy was built as an exact copy, and was towed behind a truck on an 800 mile round trip to southern Argentina for the exterior shooting locations. Because it was not certified to sail at sea, we only put it into the ocean for a short distance from the beach. The submarine itself was built in a studio out of MDF, a light wood compound, and we were able to get from historical documents the exact colour codes for the hull, the life rings and life jackets, and other parts of the boat. It was, to say the least, a huge undertaking that combined a lot of carpentry work with CGI.
• And your final expedition to the Red Sea in October, 2017?
Well you could say that was “the moment of truth”. We had strong indications that the grave we had found on the island was that of the Italian sailor who had died after a few days of searing temperatures, and with little food or water. But it was only through the incredibly skilled work of our lead scientist Dr. Matteo Borrini, an Italian forensic anthropologist who teaches at John Moores University in Liverpool, and his assistant Italian archeologist Cosimo Giachetti, that we were able to confirm the identity of the remains. Without their work, Carlo Acefalo (the deceased sailor) would still be on that desert island. We were also lucky in that we had absolutely calm seas during the 3 days we were on the island while Matteo and Cosimo were digging, as there is no harbour on that un-inhabited island, and in fact you have a reef about 150 yards from the shore which you need to swim over with your gear before you can make landfall.
• I literally counted through the credits and made it something like over 200 people involved in this project – how on Earth do you oversee all of this in terms of planning and logistics?
I am very lucky to have several production managers who have worked for me for years, and are hugely experienced in these types of complex and risky international projects. Much credit goes to Ramon Cardini, my EP on the job, and Administrative Director Lillian Roldan. Also our Italian Associate Producer Alvise Cambiaso did a great job dealing with the logistics of three locations as distant, and as diverse, as Argentina, Italy, and Sudan.
• We are constantly asked about crowd-funding / fundraising for film projects – any tips please?
We did a crowd-funding campaign and it did help, but the key was to get a professional fund raiser who got us the serious money and that was Ilaria Nizzo in Rome, whose work was key in getting the film funded. I think that, unless you are talking about a very low budget film, you need to get some big money up first from producers, then the crow-funding is an extra that can help.
• You had a professional career before becoming a successful filmmaker; do you have any advice for someone that is looking to emulate what you have done?
I think that, as film makers, we are simply visual story tellers. So try to live a rich life, not only professionally but also culturally – read, go to the theatre or the cinema, see art exhibitions, travel if you can afford it. Anything you can do to enrich your life, beyond studying cinema, will be reflected on- camera when you make your films.