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A Song From The Future

About this film

A man takes his meal. He’s surrounded by a dark shadow. We have seen him before, and yet he remains invisible. He exists on the margins, in the blind spot of society. He came to seek a better life, but he remains unwanted, unwelcome, and at the same time unnoticed. In A Song From The Future, Tommaso Donati explores the migrant body, swept up and stuck in Ticino, Switzerland, where the shadows embalm him. What can he do here? What life can he live in a country that is not his own, at the border of humane existence? Donati observes, he follows, but he doesn't speak. His film is a document, a recording, inspired by the important work of Pedro Costa.

Nadin Mai (tao films)

Interview with the Director
Tommaso, I already know a bit of your filmography. All your films seem to have the same theme at their core, but I will return to this a little later. First of all, I would like to know how you have conceived of the idea of A Song. Did it start as a simple idea, or is it based on something you have read, seen or heard somewhere?

A Song from the Future is a continuation from my first short film with the immigration theme, Dormant. These two films were born from wanting to portray, in a poetic way, the feeling of migrants in the Swiss region where I live, Ticino. Close to the Italian border, they still live almost hidden and left behind by society.

I was interested in the idea of memory, and how it shapes our perception of reality, in particular the ways in which the protagonist of the film interprets his environment with respect to its foreignness, when compared to his memories of home.

For A Song from the Future, the imagery and structure came from a news piece I had read a few years earlier in Ticino. There was some controversy where swimmers at a river in the woods near a refugee center felt they were being observed by residents of that center. There was debate as to whether the migrants were spying on the swimmers in an uncomfortable way, or whether these mostly anonymous complaints were the result of racist assumptions.

Also, for this film I was inspired by the visual idea of static bodies in video. I was especially inspired by a work from the contemporary artist Laurie Anderson, dal vivo, where she uses holograms technology and telematic transport to project the image of a prisoner in different spaces. So the idea was to portray Cumar, the protagonist, in different spaces, such as his home, the space underneath his complex, and the forest. His body seems controlled by the will to reach something he cannot find, and he seems possessed by a popular song from Somalia that he listens to and sings throughout the film, a song that even if it is old, comes from a future and obscure universe.

I think this project also comes from my passion for paintings, especially from the Renaissance and Baroque period, where a body's posture and small gestures can communicate more than words.

Your film is part of a body of work that puts the migrant at the centre. Those familiar with the films of Pedro Costa will quickly see similarities between his work and yours. Can you tell me a bit about how Costa has influenced your own work?

As you said, I appreciate quite a bit the works of Pedro Costa, especially how he works with the bodies of his protagonists. Through postures, he shows the reality of someone who feels like an outsider in society, regardless of whether they are a migrant or native to that place.

My idea to work with the theme of asylum and what it means to feel at home, comes from the desire to show a parallel universe and secondary societies.

I also find the approach that Pedro Costa has with his characters very interesting. They exist not only as a singular passage in a story, but he follows their lives and memories in his work.

I am very happy that I have built relationships with my protagonists, and I will continue in future to follow their lives and experiences.

I’d like to speak about the visuals of the film now. I wondered whether you had used any filters. Your colour palette is pretty limited. Most of the frames are dull in colour and I find that this limitation suits the representation of the margin, of someone existing at the margin whose representation is not desired by the popular media.

I usually don't use special filters, I think I am always being inspired and am fascinated by atmospheres and locations with almost no colour. This is why I find myself shooting without direct sunlight, or at night, where every situation and colour becomes mysterious.

This process was very easy to create because the protagonist was actually living in a block building, where the sun is almost never seen, as a place almost parallel to the city, dominated by raw cement, by darkness, and dim electricity. It is a place that is seen from society as a dark and inaccessible zone.

How did you find the main character of your film? Was it easy to approach and convince him about your project?

I met Cumar, a Somali migrant, in Chiasso, a city that is on the margin of the Italian border. There, seeing the big influx of migrants in recent years, a cultural association created a theatre workshop for asylum seekers from different countries and cultures, to help them with integration and the use of the Italian language. I decided to participate because I found the approach through theatre very interesting, where the body was used primarily in the beginning to communicate, more than through words, via performances. There I had the chance to meet Cumar, and also the female protagonist of the film Dormant, Katia, and I decided to ask them both to act because in the workshop they became friends and they had a good relationship. Luckily he understood the project I wanted to do, despite our language barrier at the beginning.

A Song from the Future was then born out of the will to continue with Cumar, and to show more of his feelings as a foreigner as time had passed. Doing two films together was a nice and intense experience for both of us.

I wonder if a script was the basis of your film? Are you a filmmaker who is pretty rigorous about the planning stage, or do you allow yourself to be led by chance on set?

Usually, I don't use a proper script for my works. For example, for a Song from the Future, I decided to do it very quickly when Cumar told me he decided to go back to Somali, after struggling here in Switzerland for several years. I created the project with the idea to insert a song, a special and popular song from Somalia that also communicates a certain sense and feeling of disconnection from this world, and always with the idea to insert the woods.

In the end, the film was more of a collaboration with Cumar, his experience, story, and dreams.

I consider A Song as part of a larger project. It feels like a chapter in a collection of films. What is planned for the future?

Yes you are right, my works tend to center around themes of loneliness and the margins of society. My most recent film, Monte Amiata, presented this year in the Pardi di Domani section in Locarno, centers around Katia as the protagonist, as one of Cumar's closest friends during his time in Ticino, and the protagonist alongside him in the first film, Dormant. Cumar is present in the film as well through memories, on Katia's cell phone or computer. We came up with the idea for the film because once Cumar arrived back in Somalia, we couldn't reach him for several months. The film is based on this.

I think now that this last film closed a triptych of short films. For my next project, I am searching for a remote place to shoot an experimental documentary that will be my first feature. A project that will mix a study of architecture and a reflection on social and political issues in the south of Italy.