It’s not only filmmakers with officially selected films that have a chance to come to Cannes; many make their way to the Cote d’Azur to market their films for international distributors and gain advice from their industry compatriots. I talked with Australian Daniel Tenni, writer/producer of Restare Uniti about the help Cannes can provide, Heath Ledger and Africa.
Cut Print Review: As the scriptwriter of Restare Uniti you’re at Cannes in 2011 to network?
Daniel Tenni: Yeah, it’s just been networking and setting up meetings with as many big players as you can find. It’s been good, really interesting and important to meet the right contacts and tell them where we’re heading in the next year… the mission is to have a script ready so we’ll be able to go and get the money to make this feature.
CPR: Ok, let’s go back: explain the premise of the film for us.
Daniel: It’s about the internment of Italians during 1940; there was about 4 or 5,000 Italians taken away and put into internment camps… there was a lot of racial tension around towards the Italians then. The 14-minute short film is the story of one boy Gianni, and his experience of what it’s like to live in Australia and then be taken away. It’s what we’re using as a teaser for the feature.
CPR: This is in Australia?
Daniel: Yeah… no-one’s really heard about it, it’s a pretty untold story – it was kind of swept under the rug by the government and the Italians are pretty tight-lipped about it, they won’t talk about it because they kind of want to get on with life. People do know about it, but not many… there’s been one book written about it ever, there’s only two copies in circulation and I’ve got one of them. So there’s really nothing on it – we want to get the story out.
CPR: What happened in these camps?
Daniel: That’s what we’re talking to them about… they weren’t like Nazi camps but they were held under armed guard and they lost their freedom. They were taken from their families, where women and children would be left by themselves so it was hard for them.
CPR: So it’s almost like a version of the Stolen Generation you could say?
Daniel: Yeah exactly, it was very similar. The same thing happened to the Japanese as well. Most of the Italians fled Fascism from Italy to get away from it; they came here and got locked up because they were accused of being Fascist. It caught up with them.
CPR: Why choose the title Restare Uniti (Stick Together)?
Daniel: It was kind of fitting — that was what they would do in that situation I guess; lost and young and trying to help each other through it.
CPR: And why the focus on such a young (seventeen-year-old) kid with Gianni? Was he based on a story you’d heard about?
Daniel: No, he was a fictional character. I just thought it would’ve been the best way. And 14 minutes; there’s a lot to fit in so to show one boy’s experience of what happened worked best. In the feature we can fit more characters in and tell more stories. Gianni would be the focus though, we’d still keep it through his eyes. It’ll be a prison movie – he’ll be taken away and we’ll see him in there. You know, there were Italian nationalists in there that were big Fascists, civilian Italians and POW Italians – all these divisions. Even Germans they considered Nazis, they were held in some of these camps.
CPR: Did you have anyone you knew involved in this?
Daniel: Yes, my great-grandfather was interned — and I only found that out when I started researching. I went down to the monument in Hervey (Western Australia) and I saw my family’s name on there and I was like ‘what the Hell?’ so I went back home and asked questions about it and found out it was my great-grandfather. They hadn’t really said anything about it.
CPR: That must have been a shock for you…
Daniel: A little bit. I actually found out about the whole event in a doco class at uni, someone mentioned it in conversation and I starting asking around about it from there… found out it was pretty unheard of and started researching and wrote the script.
CPR: How long did that take?
Daniel: The script itself only took a few days to write but the actual story in my head, getting that right, took maybe five or six months, and I had the idea to write something on the internment story for a couple of years. We shot it in five straight days out in Hervey.
CPR: And is this the first short that you’ve written?
Daniel: Yes it is… my first go at writing and producing a film. I really enjoyed the process, especially because my main focus is actually acting!
CPR: Oh okay! How did you go about finding a director for Restare Uniti?
Daniel: He (Julius Christian Telmer) was on a Study Abroad day with me at uni… he was there from Denmark. I found he was the strongest director by a long shot; he’d just had so much experience, done a lot of stuff so we just formed this team and decided to make it.
CPR: How did you finance it?
Daniel: We did a bit of fundraising, and then the rest out of our pockets. We’ll be doing some more fundraising when we go back home, for the feature, a documentary and other things – a few more big screenings.
CPR: You want to do a documentary?
Daniel: Yeah, we’re thinking of doing a documentary in between now and the feature. We’re going to try and approach Screen Australia or Screen West and get some funding and to travel around Australia to interview these people; the people in the camps, the guards, the people around at the time. It would help with the feature because I could get more stories.
CPR: Now it’s your first time getting to know Cannes but Restare Uniti’s done well elsewhere, particularly at the Ridgewood Film Festival (New Jersey, USA)…
Daniel: Yeah it won Best Short Film at Ridgewood, got selected for the Montreal World Film Festival, Norwegian Short Film Festival and we just got selected for one of the biggest festivals in Africa which is really humbling because they connected with the whole racial theme and tribalism there is still a huge thing over there. They really connected with the story… it travels around South Africa, Swaziland and around the south so it’s great. Unfortunately it depends on the budget as to whether I can go but we’ll have a few screenings and try and raise some money, one down in Hervey probably.
CPR: Were you inspired by the work of any other scriptwriters or Italian-Australians when you wrote the script?
Daniel: Probably my grand-dad, I always think of stories he would tell me about first coming to Australia and how hard it was when they got here.
CPR: How do you see the Australian film industry at the moment, as an actor and scriptwriter?
Daniel: I can’t comment too much on the country as a whole, but I know the Perth industry is struggling. There’s a lot of talent and potential, but there’s no money around. There needs to be one or two big features to kick it off… we’ve got wicked locations and talent, it’s just a shame that there’s no money there and when people get to that certain level they just have to leave because there’s no opportunity.
CPR: Heath Ledger’s a case in point there isn’t he? He went with $200 in his pocket or something to Sydney to get his start…
Daniel: Yeah something like that… but there is a revival in the industry with some of the films coming out. It’s just Australian films don’t make money, they lose it. A lot of Australian films are targeted at Australians, and our national market is nothing on the distribution scale.
CPR: But are they? People aren’t going to see them!
Daniel: Well… that’s the thing isn’t it?
CPR: Do you have any other features in mind?
Daniel: Down the line we have a feature we’re thinking of doing, about Australian POWs escaping camps in Italy during WWII and helping other escapees flee to Switzerland… it’s a great story but we’re not thinking about it in detail for some time. Much later down the track!
CPR: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your Cannes experience or the film?
Daniel: I just think Restare Uniti‘s a really important story that needs to be seen, it’s a part of history that Australia’s forgotten about. (Lowers voice) Also, if you could put the Facebook page on it that would be cool!
CPR: Thanks for talking to us, all the best with the film.
Visit the Restare Uniti Facebook page here.