Premiering next week at the IFC Theater in New York and elsewhere, the documentary film “The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio” begins with this introduction:
The making of this film diary began shortly after September 11th when the Italian Prime Minister spoke of “inferior civilizations.” It was completed in 2006, a few months after a Minister appeared on TV with a shirt depicting an anti-Muslim cartoon, and the Senate president declared that we must defend ourselves from “half-breeds”.
While many on the Italian left chose to oppose the “war on terror” and the concomitant xenophobia by organizing rallies and demonstrations, Mario Tronco, a keyboard player for the group Avion Travel, was inspired to organize an orchestra made up of recent immigrants to the Esquilino neighborhood in Rome. As the film begins, we learn that Esquilino had begun to become more and more ethnically diverse, much to the chagrin of native Italians who regularly took to the streets to demand “Italy for the Italians”, etc.
Tronco hooked up with Agostino Ferrente, a filmmaker who also lives in the Esquilino and who decided to document the efforts to convert a landmark theater, the Apollo, into a performance space for the immigrant Orchestra of Piazzo Vittorio as well as a cultural center. Like much else in the neighborhood, it had fallen on hard times. In recent years it had become a porno movie theatre and was being threatened with becoming a bingo hall. To realize these dreams, they formed Associazione Apollo 11, which was composed of local artists as well as the local residents who treasure the multicultural character of Esquilino.
The film consists mainly of the indefatigable Mario Tronco, who bears a certain resemblance to the late Jerry Garcia, trying to recruit musicians to the orchestra. Like any other project associated with the left (broadly speaking), it is an uphill battle. Since many of the candidates are not full-time professionals, it is a struggle just to track them down. One is a Romanian zither player who works the Rome subways. Another is a Cuban trumpet player who works as a cook. He is not the typical exile, but simply someone who preferred a kind of bohemian existence that a beleaguered, Spartan society could probably not support. They are joined by a tabla player from India, Arab singers and instrumentalists as well as a host of other musicians from Latin America and elsewhere in Europe.
It is to Tronco’s credit that he not only can assemble over 20 musicians, but that he can meld them into a homogeneous ensemble. Much of the film is a record of the considerable difficulties involved in getting different musical traditions to work together, as well as overcoming the hassles facing anybody trying to deal with visas and work permits in a country run by xenophobic reactionaries.
I would strongly urge New Yorkers to attend the premiere at the IFC Theater on Thursday, October 4th since the admission price will entitle you to hear eleven members of Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio after the film ends. As should be obvious from the Youtube clip, these are exceptional musicians.
Like “Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars,” “The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio” is being distributed by Red Envelope Entertainment (REE), a subsidiary of Netflix (whose DVD’s get shipped in red envelopes!) They deserve credit for promoting films that are off the beaten track commercially and speaks well for its corporate ethos. On October 23rd, the film will be available to rent from Netflix.com as well as to watch instantly on your computer. The press notes state that “REE works to democratize film distribution by providing films and filmmakers with a platform to expose less commercial projects to a broader audience.” As many of you are aware, Blockbuster Video has recently begun to compete with Netflix for market share of Internet based film rentals. I doubt that they will ever be able to compete when it comes to support of projects like “Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars” or “The Orchestra of Piazza Vittorio.”
Screening information for New York and California theaters is here.