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Creative Commons 2.5

Movies: Film Reflecting Life - Looking for Angelina

Two friends of mine, Sergio Navarretta and Alessandra Piccione, are in the midst of creating a movie called "Looking for Angelina." Sergio (Director) and Alessandra (Producer) own and operate Platinum Image. I find their ideas about film in general and their approach to film-making to be extremely interesting. Their work is now becoming better known as evidenced in the recent coverage of their new film "Looking for Angelina" in the National Post (May 6, 2004). The approach they take to film production is notable and offers insight into the learning process...

Film Reflecting Life captures the essence of the approach taken at Platinum Image. The mission of the company is, "Platinum Image is committed to producing high quality, socially conscious film and digital video projects." The phrase socially conscious stands out in my mind and "Looking for Angelina" is a good example of what this means.

"Looking for Angelina" is a film that rescues the story of Angelina Napolitano, a mentally and physically abused woman who murdered her husband in Sault Ste. Marie during the early 1900's. Initially sentenced to death by hanging, her sentence was eventually commuted due to public outrage. International opinion clearly sided on mercy since Angelina had endured intense physical and mental abuse at the hands of her husband and her reaction was a matter of self-defence.

The rebirth of Angelina's narrative is clearly rekindling the social consciousness of Sault Ste. Marie and with plans to shoot the film directly on the site of where the actual murder happened the energy around the project will only help reconnect the community to a key part of its history. It will also serve to reclaim an important aspect of Italian immigrant history.

In the National Post article, Alessandra asks a key question, "I would just love to know if it [i.e. - Angelina's story] has been passed down to anyone in a clear fashion." This is a powerful question that centers on the importance of narrative and also connects to my own preferences for field work in learning versus book learning. The investigative model behind this project is an exemplar of the learning process with the film becoming the eventual product. In determining whether or not this project was viable, Sergio and Alessandra spent many hours conducting investigative research and intensive field work - a process that should be promoted, integrated and authentically experienced by all students at any age.

The environment for producing a film like "Looking for Angelina" has the qualities of a network learning environment. Field work and investigative research form the core strategy and, in this case, have resulted in the creation of connections across people, places and things - connections that are likely to grow over time. The essence of the project is focused on the ideal of film reflecting life in a socially conscious way. Too often, in my own experience, I have seen students at a wide variety of age levels almost exclusively focused on the final production elements of film production (especially digital imaging) without really having an underlying mission or ideal to inspire their work. This is what separates the true artist from the technophile. While students may acquire the technical capacity to produce film, they do not experience the essence of film production often enough, and as a result their core message is illusive or absent.

A key element is fostering a social consciousness is identity. And identity is expressed through narrative. We don't need theories and concepts of identity - we need authentic stories. I'm often shocked at how many people cannot answer the question, "Who are the ten most influential people (dead or alive) that inform who you are and the things that you do?" Abstract classifications of knowledge may help to illuminate certain aspects and offer greater depth to the narrative, but it is the integrity of the story that holds it all together into something that speaks to us with meaning, purpose and relevance. Jean Vanier's ideas and development of communities of belonging capture the most essential elements of narrative design.

Perhaps "Looking for Angelina" will inspire communities of belonging in Sault Ste. Marie as well as across the extended community of Italian immigrants. Perhaps it will also inspire those outside these cultures to gain a deeper sense of appreciation for how they are in fact connected to them. This kind of inspiration is an important source of energy in learning, as well as a fundamental approach to designing and developing a deeper sense of social consciousness that motivate communities of belonging. And perhaps, responsible and creative film-making such as undertaken by leading-edge movie companies like Platinum Image will help provide much needed relief from the vacuous reels of plastic-fantastic film-making that we are all too familiar with.

Update: August 2004

In a recent discussion with Sergio and Alessandra of Platinum Image I learned more about their ideas as well as the film-making process involved in the upcoming release of Looking For Angelina. I introduced the project in a previous entry, and now that the movie has gone to post-production it seems like a timely opportunity to update the progress being made.

After sitting with Sergio and Alessandra one evening and viewing the numerous photos they have of the film in process, one of the things that struck me the most was the sense of community that must have developed on site...

The production of Looking For Angelina has a organic feel to it that I sense has created a new sense of community in Sault Ste. Marie. Many of the supporting cast were volunteers and through the course of the filming some learned that they had a closer family lineage to the story than they realized. The community also rallied around the creation of production facilities, wardrobe and props.

The motto of Platinum Image is "Film Reflecting Life" and their design emphasis is to produce "socially conscious" film of high quality. Of course, in an age bombarded by reality television, or television that pretends that it is in some way real, many of us remain skeptical if not cynical about such claims. But in the production of Looking For Angelina we see something quite different in that the social consciousness of the community in which it was filmed is an essential building block of what will appear directly on screen. People not only discovered a story that lay shrouded within their own local culture, but also became more aware of their own proximity to it. This, in one sense, makes a contribution to their own individual and collective identity.

Looking For Angelina is supported by a website that is in the emergent stages of design, and it is my hope that part of the design consideration for this website is to capture and communicate the film-making process itself, as well as to share some of the personal discoveries made within the local community. It seems to me that the filming has generated a new kind of dialogue within Sault Ste. Marie, and it would be very interesting to try and capture some of that dynamic. This was precisely one of the reasons for leveraging processes like Connected Intelligence to help promote community and economic development. To achieve this online as effectively as possible, the design strategy for the Looking for Angelina website will need to focus on patterns of (potential) communication at least as much as web copy and graphics.

One of the comments that Sergio made to me, and I agree completely, is that education tends to make things too abstract. Graduates from film-making institutions are often well-armed with theoretical principles yet lack enough authentic experience in the art of film-making. And there is a wide gap between understanding theory and being an artist. Perhaps Looking For Angelina might offer a valuable learning resource from this perspective. From a local perspective, Sault Ste. Marie has a great deal of potential value to leverage in terms of community development.

Using the City of Sault Ste. Marie website, I conducted a search on Looking for Angelina and at this early stage found no content. Hopefully some will emerge in the fulness of time and since the film has yet to be released this is quite understandable. I also noticed that the city of Sault Ste. Marie also has a Business Innovation Centre that could play an important role to play that would nicely dovetail with their mandate:

"By developing innovative partnerships with industry, government, and other public organizations, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre is a "catalyst for change". We promote and assist in the development knowledge based industries in the Algoma District as a means to diversify the economy of the region and build a strong, stable economic base."

If I was developing a business strategy for leveraging the value of Looking For Angelina in Sault Ste. Marie, this organization would be a natural starting point.

The film is expected to be released in the fall of this year, and if all things go well, will be presented at the Cannes Film Festival next year.

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