January 2018 – We fly to the Calabrian mountains, to the southernmost region of the Italian boot, just before Africa. Monday morning at 11am, Reggio Calabria airport, a big winter sun welcomes us. The Mediterranean scent is already floating in the air on the airstrip. Our flight back to Paris is scheduled for Wednesday evening, which leaves us only three short days on site to “make a film.”
We are here to film the artisanal production of a delicious olive oil (then unnamed) that we had discovered a few weeks earlier on a Parisian market. We follow a long winding road that leads into the mountains to the village of Fossato Ionico, which, as its name suggests, was built in the hollow of a pit, once designed by a beautiful river, now dry. We are in a region of Italy bordering the Ionian Sea: “Fossato Ionico.”
This pit is surrounded by green hills dotted with tall century-old olive trees. It is winter, everything is green, the ideal season to harvest olives: the climate is ideal, the ripening of the olives is perfect; Sandro explains that because of the geography and the distance that separates the village from the sea, the olive harvest is shifted by one or two months compared to the olive trees near the coast, the soil would be more salty at the bottom.
Selections at international festivals
- Food Film Fest – Bergamo (Italy)
- CortoDino Film Festival Dino De Laurentiis (Italy)
- Zagreb Tourfilm Festival (Croatia)
- Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Foodie Film Festival (Australia)
- First-Time Filmmaker Sessions (UK)
- International Tourism Film Festival – Riga (Latvia)
Sandro, that’s what people here call Alessandro, our French-speaking Calabrian guide. Here no one speaks English and no one really speaks Italian: Calabrian is an old dialect from Italian, Greek and other southern patois. A melodious dialect, with peasant sounds, raw, without artifice, an old-fashioned language.
Sandro owns several olive groves, it is at his initiative that we travelled here. We had left to make a film on the making of the oil, but once we got there, we changed our minds.
Cameras, microphones, lenses and drone ready, we get in his old robust Jeep, and climb with him in the “countryside” is the name they give here to the hills far from the village. The camera turns, the olive branches swing, we discover men, women, tools from another time, mixed with some modern devices. The branches vibrate, the olives throw themselves on the nets that surround the tall trees.
It’s a choreography, a well “oiled” show, it’s pleasant to watch, to record, to listen to and they all seem proud to pose for us, proud to show us how they perpetuate old traditions. The “countryside” is emptying, people are fleeing the villages, the rural exodus has left Fossato in a melancholic loneliness, but they are still there, and we have the mission to immortalize these traditions. Little by little we merge into the group, they forget the camera, that’s where we can steal natural, simple and authentic moments of life.
From house to house, from farm to farm, from factory to factory, everyone welcomes us with a smile to our ears, all tell us their stories, all transport us in the emotion of their stories. Dry sausages swing from the ceiling, local cheese is unpacked in front of us, good homemade wine is served in the barrel. Like the postmen in Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, the more the shooting progressed, the more the glasses filled, the more our ideas mixed.
It was decided, we had to broaden our subject: it will not simply be the manufacture of olive oil, but a film about the riches of a timeless village, poor and far from the modernity of large cities. A film about hospitality, through the production of simple products: olive oil, cheese, bread and wine. It will be a film about escape and return, a return to basics, a return to roots, a film about migration. The vapours of alcohol and fresh ricotta cheese inspired us. We had our subject. Now we needed a symbol.
The olive that flies away is a reference to the cinematographic poetry of the works of the filmmakers Kusturica and Fellini, like the fish of Arizona Dream or the goose that flies away from a church in Underground, which I believe symbolizes the escaping soul, death. The olive rises and flies away, it floats like the soul of the ancestors, like a memory of the past. It flips through the air and takes us over these magnificent landscapes, like a ship that guides us. We have made the olive the symbol of this film, of this region, symbol of migration towards the unknown, of globalization, of the trade in these foods that travel to the ends of the earth, like those people who flee their native villages to the big cities, those people who “disconnect” themselves.
We were born here, grew up here. As they used to say: the bird always returns to its nest. We, after so many years spent abroad, like so many emigrants, must return to the nest.
Maria, storyteller of Fossatolio
The theft of the olive at the beginning of the film is the poetic image of the words spoken by the narrator at the very end. We couldn’t transcribe the uniqueness of this little world without using an authentic Calabrian voice to tell our story – to tell their story. We had the choice between Italian and Calabrian, we chose the true Calabrian dialect, because to want to universalize everything, to homogenize everything, to translate everything, we lose flavor, texture and depth. Most of the music in the film comes from an old sound recording of songs from the village of Fossato Ionico, recorded in the 1950s. Even if it is a film, and a film is always guided by choices, by a look, a framing, a rhythm imposed by the editing, even if Fossatolio is only one truth among many others possible, we have done our best to transcribe and transmit their story.
We are neither journalists, nor authors, nor popularizers, but passers of moments, stories and emotions. Our added value lies in our cinematographic choices, which will allow the viewer to experience as many emotions as possible as they would have felt if they had gone there, as we have felt them. The sounds, the scents, the tastes, the atmospheres, the discussions, the textures: succeeding in translating all this into a film, each journey is a new exercise, each film a new challenge.
Following the release of the film, Sandro and his wife Maria decided to rename their olive oil as our film, it is now called: FOSSATOLIO.
Author: Sacha Bodiroga