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Cagliari’s underworld according to Pietro Mereu: ‘Il clan dei ricciai’ ('The sea urchin divers’ clan’) work-in-progress edition at terre di confine filmfestival

Sardinian filmmaker Pietro Mereu will be at terre di confine filmfestival in March presenting a work-in-progress edition of his latest documentary, The sea urchin divers’ clan’ (which competed for Donatello’s David 2018). Its trailer is included above. Pietro also directed ‘Disoccupato in affitto’  (‘Unemployed for renting') (2011), web series ‘Culurgiones mon amour’ (‘Ode to Sardinian ravioli’) (2013), short ‘Il club dei centenari’ (‘The centenarians’ clan’) (2016) and TV miniseries 'I manager di Dio' (‘The Benedictine Monks, managers for God’) (2017) - and performed as actor in film Gli amici di Freddy’ ('Freddy’s friends’) (2016, directed by Bepi Vigna).

The clan is composed of six seamen; they all narrate their own life stories. These are gentlemen of fortune, mirroring Corto Maltese and Mackie Messer: out of prison, they now practice a semi-clandestine activity, underwater collection of sea urchins to be sold in Cagliari's surroundings. In a not so distant past, they were protagonists of big and small adventures at sea (not only in Sardinia: there is also a Brindisi-Valona-Brindisi), in prison, in the Cagliari neighbourhood and in their own families. These stories are also impressed and summarized on their tattooed bodies. And their scenario is the town of Cagliari: the prison of Buoncammino, the districts of Castello, Sant'Elia, its piers, the Scaffa bridge ...

According to some film critics, values and codes of honour of the Cagliari underworld are highlighted, linking those who committed and suffered injustice. Maybe these are more complex stories – and we could find hints in Danilo Montaldi’s comments to the  ‘Autobiografie della leggera’ – the stories Montaldi personally collected in the Sixties from fishermen, scammers and smugglers who practiced ‘light’ mob activities (i.e. excluding ‘heavy’ mob activities, like killing) on the Po river and the Lombardy lakes.

Four questions to Pietro Mereu.
Q. Why these stories?

A. I chose the stories of a group headed by Gesuino Banchero, a sort of boss of a sea urchins divers' clan. In Cagliari there are several divers' clans: I met my own during the shooting of the film 'Gli amici di Freddy' (I was playing the part of a drug dealer) and we quickly developed a special relationship. First I met Gesuino and Massimo, then Gesuino brought Andrea, and Andrea told me about Bruno, his cousin, emprisoned in Uta. Simone, when he came out from jail, was helped by Gesuino. Joe Perrino is a sort of connection between the so-called ‘normal’ world and the sea urchin divers’ scenario: his ballads of the underworld are the ideal soundtrack for their stories.

Q. How did you set up the interviews, and how did you intervene?

A. First I spoke several times with all the divers, especially Gesuino and Massimo, and before filming I produced a clip to better understand the impact of their stories. I immediately realized that I had gold at my fingertips, even though my protagonists still wonder why someone could be interested in their lives, and make a documentary out of them.
For some interviews I prepared a list of questions, for others I followed my immediate empathy with the interviewee. Over the years I developed a certain skill in bringing out entities that become functional elements of a storytelling. I don’t know if it’s technical skills or talent, or a mix of both: in fact, these entities work well within the structure of the documentary.

Q. Your film photography is not holographic. There is a special attention in selecting and featuring landscapes and communities in Cagliari, which is not your native town: how did you choose, what gave you inspiration for this mapping?

A. I needed images related to a well-defined reality – raw, ‘dirty’ images – and my DoP Matteo De Martini perfectly fulfilled my request. No set designer could reproduce the operating base of the divers, so organic to their work and their lives. I met the divers at the end of 2013. But I had already decided to narrate their stories, and I was right: as somebody commented, this movie was "necessary".

Q. We are very happy to include in our program a work-in-progress edition of 'Il clan dei ricciai'. In which way are you connected with terre di confine filmfestival?

A. First of all, I highly appreciate Marco Antonio Pani, the festival artistic director and a sensitive and ironic filmmaker. I loved his shorts 'Maialetto della Nurra' and 'Capo e croce'. With terre di confine filmfestival I share a particular poetics which focuses on boundaries, on margins: I am fond of stories of the underworld, and my stories always speak of unusual people living on the borders, in marginal places or as in the case of my divers clan, who are themselves marginal in society.

(interview by Carla Caprioli for terre di confine filmfestival)

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