A Ciambra, second feature by Italo-American director Jonas Carpignano, has been warmly received upon its world premiere at the Quinzaine des Realisateurs. The film takes place within the Ciambra, a settled Roma community in the southern region of Calabria, near the city of Gioia Tauro. It has been realized two years after the director’s first feature, Mediterranea, dealing with the African immigrants of Rosarno. After being presented at the Semaine de la critique in Cannes, the film won the Best Directorial Debut Award of the National Board of Review in 2015.

The protagonist of A Ciambra is Pio Amato, a 14-year-old boy who wants to grow up as fast as he can: he drinks, smokes and tries to imitate his elder brother Cosimo. From him, Pio wants to learn how to survive in the streets by following the rules of the Roma community, alien to traditional norms and often relying on theft as a way of subsistence. As the director explains, “the idea was not to tell something generic about the Roma community; I wanted to move from a specific character instead.” As in his previous film, Carpignano used non-professional actors. “I went to the Ciambra with a vague story in mind. Then I met Pio and I got immediately struck by his attitude. Unlike other kids who looked at me like a clown, he showed a real interest in me. So I’ve hung out in the Ciambra for five years, thinking about the film I wanted to realize. I’ve grown close to the Amato family and I started adapting the script by adding biographical elements from their real life.”

Rich in close-ups and shot with direct sound, the film conveys a documentary-like feeling of authenticity while keeping a dramatic structure in the storytelling. “During the shooting we didn’t improvise a lot. We tried to follow the script, to avoid getting lost. I am not a director who likes rehearsals, I prefer the freshness of my actors.” Pio is also one of the few in the Roma community who has been able to integrate with the local African immigrants, and with one of them in particular: Ayiva. “I didn’t mean to carry out a sociological analysis of the situation. I just wanted to narrate their friendship, with all its potential and limits.”

When Cosimo is sent to jail, Pio has to support his family. So he goes through a path of initiation to adult life, also made of thefts and betrayals. “I don’t think I spoke ill of the Roma community in this way. I love them deeply and consider them like my family. What’s important is showing the human side beyond the stereotypes, and avoiding hypocrisy. The challenge is showing who they really are, and help them be loved, despite everything." 

Martin Scorsese is the executive producer of A Ciambra. “It’s been very important for me to receive his comments on the film. He told me something about the rhythm, the cuts, the sound. He first saw a photographic book I made about the Ciambra, then he possibly read the script, too. He found the project interesting and decided to participate. I couldn’t believe it until we got to the final stage of the editing. At that point, his presence got to me and certainly influenced the final result somehow.”