IO Capitano is the latest film by celebrated director Matteo Garrone, known around the world for such indelible modern classics as Gomorrah, Tale of Tales, and Dogman. The film stars newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall and takes the viewer on a harrowing journey inspired by actual stories of African migrants traveling to Europe. It was honored at the 80th Venice Film Festival with the Silver Lion for Garrone’s Direction and went on to receive critical acclaim and was nominated for the Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

Upon release, the film was met with praise for its authenticity but also its powerful theme of hope despite all obstacles. Praised with its commitment to truth, throughout the production, Garrone consulted those who made the journey to inform the story and aesthetics. In addition to all of its accolades, Garrone was granted a meeting with Pope Francis at a special screening at the Vatican. This film is available on most VOD. Garrone made time to talk with Immersive this past winter. The interview is edited for clarity.

What inspired this film?

I wanted to give finally visual form to a part of the journey that we don’t see because in Europe we are used to seeing only the last part on the news. The boat arriving, the ritual count, the people alive, people dead. And so 30,000 people have died in the last 10 years making this journey. So it is one of the biggest tragedies of our time. So we didn’t know, I mean, we get used to, I think also like here in the states or it’s global, you can use with the time to list a number. And you forget that behind this number there are human beings like you. And so we try to, in a way, humanize this number, to put the camera on the other side and see from the point of view of them and show what it means to make this journey.

So you’d spent a lot of time with people who had physically made this journey?

I was always with them. I was always from the script that is based on a true story, two stories that I combined, and on the set during the shooting, all the extras that you see in the movie in the desert, in the boat, they are real migrants. So on the set, they were helping me. They were helping the actors enter that world and helped me to recreate this epic adventure because they are the carriers of the contemporary journey of the hero in a way. So it’s a classic structure.

The hero’s journey…

It is a contemporary odyssey. So it’s very accessible also to the audience of a different ages. For instance, I’ve been meeting with thousands of students in Italy because the movie has been screened in a lot of schools here. And it was very important to see their reaction because they wouldn’t go to see this movie in the theater. After all, they think it’s boring. But when they see it, thanks to the clever teacher, to show this dark page of contemporary history, and they realize that behind the numbers there are kids like them with the same desires, same dreams, and the same problems. So they immediately empathize with them. It’s not only for students, it is for everybody, because it’s a drama that talks about human rights. The fact that you want to move place to another to look for a better life, but some can move, some others can’t. They have to risk their life for these simple rights the right to discover and look for a better life.

The lead actor is really good, and I believe it’s his first movie. How’d he land the role?

Well, I found him during casting. He was forced by his mother to go. His dream was to be a soccer player. At the beginning, he was very shy and then he grew more confident during the shoot. It’s also a coming of age tale, he started as a boy and became a man. So also during the shooting, he discovered something that he didn’t know. I mean, he knew that there are a lot of people, also friends that live or trying to reach Europe, but he didn’t know exactly what they went through. So, what does it mean to be a migrant?

How did you pick the locations? Were the locations some places where some of these things happened?

Well, we made a lot of documentation before, a lot of pictures, a lot of videos. The pictures that we saw, the landscape in this movie is a character of the movie because it’s an epic movie. So this big landscape helps the character to feel more alone, more lonely. Yes. So it was very important sometimes to have a wide shot to give to the audience a feeling that they are completely abandoned in this desert or the sea.

Tell us about working with your cinematographer. What vision did you want to achieve together?

The keyword for all the people that work on the movie was to make a beautiful movie but remain invisible. So for the audience, the camera has to disappear. But that doesn’t mean that we made a documentary. We wanted to make fiction with the light, but trying to be always very simple. Paolo Canera created images that were always very simple, and authentic, and also the movement of the camera was at the service of the story.

How did it work directing with people in a different language? How well did you adjust to that?

It was a big challenge because I directed the actors without understanding anything about what they were saying. So I trusted them because didn’t know if they were seeing the line that we wrote or not. Sometimes I had an interpreter beside me, so I directed them or listened to the sound and the tone. I’ve been a sort of intermediator. I mean, I put myself at the service of their story. So I entered a culture that was not mine, but I decided from the first moment to be with them, to listen to them, to work with them.

Can you talk a little bit about the editing of the project? What kind of pace did you want?

Well, the editing, of course, I worked with the interpreter otherwise we wouldn’t know how to cut from part to another. We tried to give the added rhythm that could be accessible also to the young generation because I was already thinking about the students.

How satisfied are you by the reaction to the film?

Well, every step helped the movie to be seen more by the Italian audiences at the beginning. A movie about migrants with subtitles, it’s not easy for the audience but with positive word of mouth, it starts to work very well. And then Pope Francis very soon decided to support the movie because he’s always been from the side of the migrant. And then, of course, the nomination of, Italy for, the Academy Award also helped. So the movie made a very lucky journey.

IO Capitano is now available on VOD.

Eric Green
Author

Eric Green has over 25 years of professional experience producing creative, marketing, and journalistic content. Born in Flushing, Queens and based in Los Angeles, Green has a catalog of hundreds of articles, stories, photographs, drawings, and more. He is the director of the celebrated 2014 Documentary, Beautiful Noise and the author of the novella Redyn, the graphic novel Bonk and Woof, and the novel, The Lost Year. Currently, he is hard at work on a book chronicling the lives of the greatest Character Actors.