ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello

Dedicated entirely to the fundamental role of the Volturno River, the film presents itself as a surprising journey within a territory rich in poetry and contradictions. The instructor himself tells about this experience

ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello

Among the numerous films shown at the Cinema Massimo in Turin during the 25th edition of the Cinema Ambiente (the well-established festival dedicated to environmental films and documentaries) there is a particularly interesting festival that could not leave the audience indifferent. We are talking about UncleRizthe unexpected directorial debut of the artist and photographer from Campania, Raffaela Mariniello (Naples, 1961). Titled with the same name as the canoe used by Gennaro – a kind of ideal psychopomp charged with ferrying the viewer towards idylls and hell in a fragile and majestic territory such as that crossed by the river Volturno, in Campania – the feature film is a hybrid work halfway between the documentary, the fictional work and the artist’s film. The interview.


The first thing that immediately catches the eye UncleRiz is his very strong photographic cut. Between timelapse and impeccable shots, the entire film looks like one long photographic sequence in motion, where the poetics that have always characterized your work magically come to life. Aside from a few previous forays into the world of video art, this is the first time you’ve attempted a full-fledged cinematic work.
What was the need that made you want to make a real feature film?
The idea of ​​putting my pictures to work. And in this sense UncleRiz it is definitely a photographer’s film. I felt very free in this operation: I put photographs in order, with the aim of creating a story, but without limiting the power of the image. I’ve always wanted to make a film, sometimes I think it’s a desire shared by many photographers, and since I like to test myself – experimenting and taking risks for me is always better than repeating myself – I tried to make a feature film, without a script, without a single preliminary topic: the work continued by itself, overturned the rules of the cinema industry and found its own light, which many tell me is interesting. I filmed myself without an operator and with a camera turned into a video camera, with photographic experience behind me, it was not difficult to film, even if the two things are partly very different.

ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello
ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello

Why did you decide to dedicate your first film to the Volturno area? Tell us a little about the genesis of this project.
The idea comes from a desire to rediscover Campania’s hinterland: I have always photographed our territory, but perhaps lingered more on the cities, the islands, the ports.
Volturno represents not only himself, but also and above all the surrounding reality in a landscape and anthropological vision that can reflect the entire South, even all the South in the world. The river thus becomes a means, a way of telling the region, but not only.

Who worked on the film?
What was very interesting is the laboratory aspect of the project: I involved many local people by having them improvise in their roles: a land management councillor, an assistant pizza maker, an executive producer-fisherman and a retired engineer-actor. And all this was born in the field, day by day, in a very strong human experience. Only the availability of all the people involved made this adventure concrete, which began as a game.

From Mario Giacomelli And Luigi Ghirri up to directors who Pasolini, Garrone or Sorrento, there are many masters in the picture who somehow seem to have conditioned you on the choice of specific characters and their relative contexts. In addition to those already mentioned, which other authors particularly influenced you in the realization of certain scenes?
When I saw Gianfranco Rossi’s film, Holy GRA, I also had something similar in mind, but after seeing it, it enlightened me. Yes, instead of following an asphalt road like in Rosi’s film, with UncleRiz you cross a river which is a waterway. Then I really like Sorrentino, who knows and appreciates my photography, and somehow I am influenced by his message. These are the pictures regarding the anthropological aspects in UncleRiz which may be reminiscent of some of his atmospheres, but they were figures that I had already met some time ago with the video Souvenirs of Italyand (Souvenirs d’Italiecolor, 2006, 25 min.) about mass tourism and the upheavals in the way of living in a territory.

ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello
ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello

Who are the characters in ZioRiz?
These are the same inhabitants of the river, with slightly paradoxical habits and customs, which I have previously filmed in other contexts, but which come back here arrogantly. A boy washing his horse by the river, nuns playing ball on the shore, and anachronistic boy scouts running through the bush, not to mention fake soldiers playing war, were all portrayed to describe the strangeness of the lifestyle. Naturally, the nuns with the ball are a tribute to Giacomelli’s priests.

In addition to the image, sound plays a very important role in ZioRiz (which perhaps reaches its peak in a sequence where the flight of some birds is mistaken for the notes of a piece by the well-known Japanese musician Cornelius). Does sound or image come first in the construction of such a contemplative film? What was your thinking during the filming and editing?
It is the bleating of the sheep and the sound of the cowbells in the play by Cornelius, which magically unites image and sound: Cornelius is a writer whom I have heard often and whom I like very much, but for me the image comes first and then the sound. Although crossing the territory by car and listening to music already makes the film, it inevitably builds it, and Cornelius was one of the writers I listened to the most.
Since there was no film script, I built a montage by hand: I took pictures and connected them to the previous shot and moved on without even knowing how to close. Then a walk on the beach of Castelvolturno with the half-naked children chasing Gennaro, who landed on the ground, was enough to understand that the end of the film was there, in that feeling.

ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello
ZioRiz, the film by Raffaela Mariniello

The delicate and often conflicting relationship between man and nature is the basis of the entire film, and if we think first of all about very recent phenomena such as the excessive heat waves that in this last period cause disturbing episodes of drought in Italy, UncleRiz takes on a completely new and extremely current meaning. Do you think art can still play an important role in raising awareness of such pressing issues? Was your work also born with this purpose?
The ecological theme returns throughout my production, which started thirty years ago with the cycle of works about Bagnoli (Bagnoli, a factory, 1991, Electa Napoli). It is an environmental and human ecology I am talking about: the Italian historical centers in the pre-Covid era I call them the periphery of the soul because they are crossed by hordes of tourists that only Covid has stopped, although now everything seems to be back as before. The relevance of UncleRiz lies in the fact that it clearly shows the disaster we are facing: the journey along the river starts from the unpolluted nature of the source to arrive at the ecological disaster at the mouth, in the once wonderful beaches of Castelvolturno. But the film is also a metaphor for human existence, which is born pure and ends up corrupt and desperate. Of course UncleRiz it also aims to raise public awareness of environmental issues, which have always been close to my heart, and in this I am convinced that art can emphasize certain social situations: it can focus on themes, it can suggest reflections. But art cannot be political, much less solve problems, it cannot judge, but only observe.

How much and what did you learn from this cinematic experience?
As I said before, it’s the human experience that’s been really special, free. Social relationships, sometimes tiresome to me, have been resolved here with a common purpose, a sense of work that is not just hard work, but great satisfaction for all.

Do you think you’ll keep getting back behind the camera? Any expectations for future projects?
I can’t wait to get back behind a camera and this time I’ll have more technical knowledge as well. I would like to make a film about Ilva di Taranto, one of the last Italian steelworks, one of the largest in Europe. I would like to film a working evening for a worker who only sees the light of day at the end of the film. The sight of the factory plaguing the city with its miasmas is a theme I already know very well. Going back to a steel mill takes me back to when I was thirty years old and photographed Italsider by Bagnoli. Seeing that nothing has changed compared to dying from work or dying from the lack of it makes me think that in the post-industrial era this is still a totally unresolved drama.

– Valerio Veneruso

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