(03/10/08) – The Lucca Film Festival in Italy, now in its 4th year, is one of the most exciting small festivals around, due to its imaginative and innovative programming by the Associazione Vi(s)ta Nova. This year there are retrospectives of the work of Pierre Clémenti, Jonas Mekas, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Christian Lebrat and Shane Meadows.

The festival organisers have also initiated a film project of their own to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Puccini, who was born in Lucca. Twenty films, each of around five minutes, have been produced for this year’s festival by experimental and art-house film-makers on the subject of Puccini and his operas. Participating film-makers include Stephen Dwoskin, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow and Tsai Ming Liang.

We were also invited to participate in the project and chose to base our film around Puccini’s opera La fanciulla del West (The Girl from the Golden West). One of the challenges of this project for us was to distil an epic two hour opera into a five minute film in a way which would transcend being mere précis. The film’s form evolved gradually over time to become something quite apart from the opera whilst retaining its core theme.

Our film, Face of an Angel, gives a highly abridged version of the plot from the point of view of Minnie, the opera’s central character, who runs the bar in a gold miners’ camp. Minnie shows great humanity, not only to the poor immigrant miners but also to Dick Johnson, the bandit with whom she falls in love. Her belief that every man is worthy of redemption is disclosed when she convinces the miners that her lover should not be hanged for his crimes and that indeed, he has the will to reform. In our film, Minnie relates her story in a matter-of-fact voice-over from an unknown point in her future.

We were attracted to this opera by its relatively unusual setting. We decided to interpret the ‘West’ of the Californian gold rush by using the post-industrial landscape of South Wales, one of the original coal mining areas which fuelled the industrial revolution in Britain. Our main location was an open-cast mine, a recent development to exploit the coal that remains in this already highly worked land. The activities of this new mine have been contentious in the locality for health and environmental reasons. It has been the subject of violent protest which has created a heightened sense of security around the vast operation. Needless to say, we were questioned by the police and mine authorities during our shooting. This sense of suspicion, power and control resonated with the miners’ camp portrayed in La fanciulla del West.

We were attracted to the mechanics of this mining operation, to the way in which the landscape was literally shifted around by diggers and tippers. In fact, the diggers and tippers themselves are the stars of our film. These yellow vehicles move speedily back and forth across the black landscape, forming highly choreographed patterns. Indeed, they are almost dancing to Puccini’s music. They also signal the mechanisation and alienation of labour – not a single human being is visible. We have also introduced into the film many mechanical and industrial sounds to create a hellish atmosphere, contrasting with the music. At times these and other sounds such as birdsong, are woven into the music, working with and against its rhythm.

We were also attracted to this opera as it gave us the chance to allude to the Western genre. This we have done in a minimalist way with the use of harsh landscapes, cattle, gunshots etc. The film also contains a series of portraits of young men, representing the chorus of immigrant gold miners in the opera. These portraits are simultaneously sympathetic and sinister, referring to the changing nature of the miners in the opera. We hope the portraits will also resonate with the situation of immigrants in the West today.

The film-makers participating in Twenty Puccini are: Adolfo Arrieta, Tonino de Bernardi, Antoine Barraud, Frank Beauvais, Julio Bressane, Pip Chodorov, Brady Corbet, Peter Cramer and Jack Waters, Clare Doyon, Stephen Dwoskin, Agnès Feuvre, Anthea Kennedy and Ian Wiblin, Mikhail Kobakhidzé, Keja Ho Kramer, Christian Lebrat, Jonas Mekas, Alberto Momo, Lorenzo Recio, Michael Snow and Tsai Ming Liang.

Anthea Kennedy and Ian Wiblin are London-based film artists whose previous efforts include the acclaimed feature Stella Polare. Twenty Puccini will be screened at the Lucca Film Festival in two parts: part one on 11th October, 2008 and part two on 18th October, 2008.