Nearly four years ago, Italian director/producer Stefano Veneruso set out to make a film dealing with an imperative social issue. After plenty of research and deliberation, he settled on the subject of marginalized children.
To give his project more weight and thrust it with global clout, Veneruso decided to assemble some of the world’s biggest filmmakers and give them complete freedom to reflect upon the subject at hand. The group included the likes of Ridley Scott (“Alien , “Gladiator ), Spike Lee (“Do the Right Thing , “Malcom X ), John Woo (“Hard Boiled , “Mission Impossible ) and two-time Palm d’Or winner Emir Kusturica (“When Father Was Away on Business , “Underground ).
None of them were informed of the stories or settings chosen by the other filmmakers for their 17-minute segments. Apart from Veneruso, who directed a segment himself, the filmmakers did not get to watch the finished product until the premiere, which was held in Italy and attended by the Italian president.
The end result is an unwavering, emotional document on the forgotten children of the world, from Africa to China, Brazil to Brooklyn. “All the Invisible Children premiered at the 2005 Venice Film Festival and was released commercially the following year to great acclaim. All grosses were subsequently donated to UNICEF and the World Food Program.
Born to a well-known Italian dynasty of producers – who brought us films like “Il Postino and Roberto Benigni’s “Nothing Left to Do But Cry , among other Italian modern classics – Veneruso previously worked as an assistant producer to Martin Scorsese in “Gangs of New York and Mel Gibson in “The Passion of the Christ .
He has directed several music videos for the likes of Tina Turner as well as a number of documentaries before landing his first feature directorial gig in “Children.
Veneruso was in Egypt recently, shooting a new music video at the Mousa Coast resort of Ras Sidr. He sat down with Daily News Egypt to discuss “Children , his career and upcoming projects.
Daily News Egypt: How were you able to assemble this large number of eminent filmmakers for “All the Invisible Children?
Stefano Veneruso: I’ve been living in the US for almost 15 years. In order to create a project of this magnitude, you need lots of connections. My connections hooked me up with John Woo, who was initially reluctant to jump in the project because he was shooting another movie back then. He eventually agreed and his consent encouraged Kátia Lund [co-director of “City of God ] and Emir Kusturica to agree as well.
I feel, though, it was just luck that enabled us to gather all these directors for the movie. Everybody we approached said yes, and the final big yes was from Tina Turner who sang the song of the film.
What was it about the project that prompted these filmmakers to lend their efforts to the project?
I guess it’s the subject matter itself, children. All of them were passionate about this topic, and all of them had something to say about it. I can’t think of another reason honestly, especially because no one made money from the film. I guess they were also attracted by the tranquility of the shooting.
Kusturica later said that the experience of shooting his segment reminded him of the enthusiasm he felt when he started making movies, before films became a big headache for him to make.
How did the production come about?
Well, the project was first announced at Cannes 2004. Kusturica, who was the head of that year’s jury, set up a press conference and all the other directors came also. And it was only on the second day after the press conference when producers started approaching us and the funding came about. No one at the beginning actually believed that we could get all these directors for this project.
How was the film received by the public?
Because the film deals with delicate, difficult issues, not everyone was receptive to the film. So far, we haven’t been able to secure a US distribution deal. In general though, it was a big commercial success in Japan, Brazil, Germany and many different parts of the world.
One remarkable event I couldn’t forget happened when the film premiered in Naples, my hometown where I set my segment “Ciro . A woman came up to me and said “Why do you show Naples like that? My piece opens with a scene that shows a pile of garbage before the children come in.
Garbage has been a big problem that Naples is facing and the lady believed that such a problem is theirs’ and shouldn’t be disclosed to the world. I told her that her position is exactly the real reason why this problem hasn’t been solved, because if you’re ashamed to talk about it, nothing will happen.
Which director were you impressed by the most?
I think every director has something special that set him apart from the others. I think Kusturica is a genius, and you can see why when you see the film. Woo is an unbelievable master of visuals and Spike Lee’s realism feels like a punch in the stomach. I learned something from each one of them.
Are you working on more feature films?
Yes. One is for the US, a thriller, that I just shot the teaser for, and a TV movie for Italy. It took me four years to produce “Children, so I don’t want to rush. I had the chance to work on other projects, but I just wanted to concentrate on “Children and I wanted to make sure of what I wanted to tell.
Thrillers are a genre that seems to be a departure from your previous artsy projects.
Well, I love this particular genre. The thing about a thriller is that it’s not one thing, like a comedy or drama. Thriller incorporates many subgenres that blend other genres within it. I find this exciting and it’s a challenge to direct something totally different than my past works.
The film is based on a true story that happened in Italy. I’ve been working with a very nice team of American and Italian writers for two years to produce a good treatment.
The American producers are currently working on the script with the Canadian company that’s co-producing the film. They want to change some stuff to make the film more commercial. This is what I personally don’t like about the US. They just complain all the time and they’re so concerned with money and how safe the investment is and all that. I’m trying to penetrate the American market, and I realize it’s going to take a long time. I’m ready to compromise a bit, but only to a certain acceptable extent because I really value my independence.
If you’re planning to work in America, you have to compromise and you have to be open because that’s how things work there. I’m willing to work in Hollywood if they would let me work in peace. If not, I still have my career in Italy.
And the Italian project?
It’s a feature film called “30 Miles Away and it’s about the environment. We didn’t change the world with “Children , but I think we did something to those children and I think we want to do the same with the environment.