Paolo Zucca, Director of The Referee: 2014 Heartland Film Festival Interview

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After Paulo Zucca graduated from university in Florence with a degree in modern literature, he was selected for a scholarship for the RAI School for Film and Television Screenwriters and took a diploma in direction from N.U.C.T. (New University of Cinema and Television) in Cinecittà. His film/graduating thesis, Banana Rossa, was shortlisted for the Young Director Award at Cannes and the Golden Globe of the International Press in Italy. He has written, directed and produced five short films and about 30 advertisements, winning numerous prizes the world over. His short film L’Arbitro (The Referee), won the David di Donatello award for best short film in 2009 and the Prix Spécial du Jury in Clermont-Ferrand.

HFF: What is your film about, and how did the project come to be?

PZ: The Referee (L’Arbitro) is a comedy about the ethical, social, political and metaphysical aspects that soccer involves. Before to become a feature film, The Referee was a very successful short film with the same title. The short film won the Jury Special Prize at Clermont-Ferrand in 2009 and many other awards worldwide, including the Italian Academy prize David di Donatello. I showed the short film to many producers and I found the right one to go on with the feature. In order to avoid the ‘pouring water into wine’ effect that often comes out when you develop a feature film starting from a short one, we decided to write a ‘prequel’ and not to enlarge the short film. The 15-minute short film is all about a crazy soccer match. The feature film tells how the main characters get to that match and why. We changed the main actor and the shooting devices, so we had to shoot the crazy game again (with some little variations).

HFF: What was your role in the production?

PZ: I produced the short film on my own with some local institution money. Even if I don’t have a production credit in the end titles of the feature film, I worked very hard on the production field: I chased and casted personally every single actor, including the background ones. I chased local institutions and sponsors and during the last days of shooting I had to buy sandwiches for the crew too.

HFF: Why did you submit to the Heartland Film Festival? Have you been to the Festival before?

PZ: The international distribution company submitted the film. I confess I didn’t know much about the Heartland Film Festival.

HFF: This year’s tagline is “Shift Your Perspective” – what lasting effect Will your film ave on moviegoers?

PZ: One of the aspects that I consider most original about my film is its ‘Shift the Genre’ style. In fact, The Referee continually shifts from Comedy to Drama, from Epic to Grotesque, from Western to Musical, from High to Low, mixing toghether different tones and genres. These changes of mood and genre are deliberately quick, unpredictable and ‘brutal’. I consider this shifting style structure the most important artistic achievement of the film.

HFF: What has inspired you to become a filmmaker?

PZ: I always liked writing and drawing stories with a pencil. After my university degree in modern literature, I tried to produce and shoot a short story that I had written, and I never came back to real life from that moment.

HFF: What is something that you know about filmmaking now, but you weren’t told when you started your career?

PZ: I didn’t know anything at all about filmamaking when I started. I was aware that writing is the most difficult and important part of the process and still I am.

HFF: What are some of your favorite movies? What’s your favorite worst movie (you know it’s bad, but still love it)?

PZ: Some of my favorite movies are Jaques Audiard’s A Prophet, P.T. Anderson’s The Master, and Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. My favorite ‘bad’ movie is an Italian popular comedy from the 80s: Vieni Avanti Cretino.

HFF: How many film festivals has your film been a part of? What do you like the most about the festival experience?

PZ: The Referee participated to more than fifty (50) film festivals around the world, so far. I went personally to Venice, Busan (South Corea), Dubai, TromsØ (Norway), Guadalajara (Mexico), Buenos Aires and many times to attend Italian and French Festivals. I like to meet film directors and I have some very good ‘ festival friend’ that I meet sometimes around the world. I confess I very much like winning prizes too.

HFF: Heartland Film Festival moviegoers love filmmaker Q&As. Let’s say a Festival attendee wants to earn some brownie points—what is a question that you’d love to answer, but haven’t yet been asked?

PZ: How did I choose the names of my characters.


See The Referee at the 2014 Heartland Film Festival:

  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 1:15 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 17 – 8:45 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Sunday, Oct. 19 – 5:30 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Tuesday, Oct. 21 – 5:15 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Wednesday, Oct. 22 – 8:00 pm at Wheeler Arts Community
  • Thursday, Oct. 23 – 4:30 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
  • Friday, Oct. 24 – 1:45 pm at AMC Traders Point Showplace 12
  • Saturday, Oct. 25 – 3:15 pm at AMC Castleton Square 14
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