We recently spoke with with Italian film director Vittoria Rizzardi Penalosa about life growing up in Verona, Italy, to the bright lights of the entertainment industry. Here is what she had to share with the readers:
Please give us an introduction as to when you first got into the entertainment industry:
I moved to London as soon as I received my high school diploma, I remember I couldn’t wait to leave my small Italian hometown behind me and jump into the big city that is the British capital. Verona, where I was born and raised, is a tiny little gem in northern Italy, a town I used to hate but now, with some years of growth and experience behind me, I appreciate and love; “There is no world without Verona walls but purgatory, torture, hell itself…” I finally understand what Shakespeare meant.
I enrolled into the City University of London Law School, thinking my stubbornness and entitlement would have made me a good lawyer. I quickly discovered that that was not my path, but I completed the three years regardless. However, In my free time, I started writing. It happened almost naturally, so much so that I can’t really recall why, when, and how it happened. They were political articles at first, which then became stories, and, eventually, scripts. By the end of my third year of Law School I had already shot my first two short films that went around film festivals in Europe.
This little success gave me the confidence that I needed to apply to the best screenwriting program in the world, the screenwriting master of fine arts at the University of Southern California. With great surprise, after submitting my last Law School essay, I received the email from USC that letting me know I was offered a spot. I graduated from Law School on July 2017 and I was in Los Angeles, ready to finally dedicate my whole time to what I loved, on August 2017.
Do you feel like you have grown a lot more as an artist over the years, through your experiences?
Yes, definitely. I think you never really stop growing as an artist, which is what I love so much about doing what I do. You’ll never really feel like you’ve reached the definition of what an artist is, you’ll always be striving for more and redefining what making art means. Personally, I feel like I need to know exactly what I have to do and how to do it in order to feel confident about a short film I’m directing or a story I’m pitching. I recall that when I first started the program at USC, I felt extremely out of place and lost. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there or that I wasn’t good enough. Thanks to my stubbornness, I didn’t spend too much time feeling sorry for myself. I quickly started putting in the extra hours and finally reached a point where I felt as good as my peers.
This said, part of becoming a better filmmaker is set experience. You can study as much as you want but you’ll never learn how you’ll learn by just being on set. The more you do it, the better you become. During my time at USC, I shot a total of three short films that screened at major festivals around the globe such as the New York City International Film Festival, the Short Film Corner at Cannes Film Festival and the HBO Latino Short Film Festival. I often feel insecure at film festivals, being surrounded by the best upcoming filmmakers out there, but it always comes down to the craft and your passion for the craft. I don’t think I’ll ever feel like I’m owning it, it’s just my personality. But, what has been increasing over the years is my firmness and authority on set, I know what I want and I know how to explain to my cast and crew what I want. Nothing makes me feel more confident than being on set.
What has been one of your favorite projects to work on so far?
My favorite project that I’ve worked on so far has to be “Too Young for Tonight” (Italian title, “Una Notte Troppo Breve”). It was my first short film shot in Italy, in my hometown, Verona. It’s a very personal story as the main character, which was played by my little sister, Viola Rizzardi Penalosa and is based on me. The movie deals with peer pressure and alcohol abuse among young teenagers; what you’re willing to do to fit in, to feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. On top of this, you had a lot of freedom as a teenager in Italian small towns. It’s supposed to be safe, so parents let their kids stay out late without curfew. I wanted to portray a night out of a 15-year-old girl that rebels against her single mother and goes the extra mile to find a sense of family in her group of friends — however, first, she must prove she’s cool enough for them.
The short film premiered at the New York City International Film Festival and was nominated for Best International Short Film and I was nominated as Best Director, as well as other film festivals in Europe, concluding its festival circuit with the Children Care Film Festival in France this coming March.
What has been one of the biggest highlights/achievements of your career?
Going to Cannes Film Festival with my short film “Clarity and Chaos” shot in the UK with Comevada Pictures was definitely one of the best experiences of my life and career. I was simply so inspired by all the films I had the pleasure to see during that special week and the people I was lucky enough to meet. It reminded me why I do what I do, it isn’t for the price but the ride… and all the beautiful connections you make throughout your journey. Because, at the end of the day, films are about human connection and we, as writers and directors, are looking for the same thing that our fictional characters and the audience that comes to watch them, are too; Connection.
Who has been one of your favorite actors/filmmakers you have worked with so far and why?
There are so many great artists that I had the pleasure to work with. From all the amazing actors who trusted me and my crazy vision, to the directors of photography that were so patient in trying to achieve the complicated frames I asked for, to the producers who helped me not lose my mind, and the assistants on set without whom nothing would have been possible. However, if I must name one, I will say my editor, Jay Kevin Composta. A talented artist I met in high school in Italy, who then also move to London to pursue a career in editing. He’s the best and most hard working editor I know. In fact, he’s more than an editor. We’ve worked together since my first short film, “Fairweather” and I have to say that no other editor would be able to read between the lines and understand what I want more than him. He’s someone who wants to be involved fully in the projects he works on, he doesn’t just do the job, he’s there with you throughout the whole ride with his personal vision, suggestions, and support.
What other projects do you have coming up?
Currently, I’m developing a TV show with the precious help of my managers. I also have few feature film projects in development, including a feature film inspired by my years as a circus artist in Italy.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring artists?
My best piece of advice for aspiring screenwriters and directors is to, “just do it!” As young people in this scary film industry, especially women, we’re often second guessed and doubted and, as a result, we overthink everything we do, which, most of the time, triggers a writer block — the worst nightmare for screenwriters as you’re constantly on a tight deadline. Therefore, something that has helped me throughout the years is to just say to myself, “just do it, Vittoria!” whenever I find myself stuck on the same painful sentence that simply will never sound how it sounds it in my head. Just write, then, you can always go back and rewrite the whole screenplay -because, at the end of the day, like all the most brilliant writers confirmed, writing is rewriting.