Luigi Campi is an Italian screenwriter and film director. In addition to his work in music videos and video art, Campi's first feature film My First Kiss and the People Involved premiered at Los Angeles Film Festival; Woodstock, where it won an Honorable Mention; New Orleans, where it won the Audience Award; and Ashland, where it won Best Cinematography and Best Film.
In an exclusive interview for Filmatique, Luigi Campi discusses Youtube inspirations, materiality, kismet on set, and his next projects.
FILMTATIQUE: My First Kiss and the People Involvedrevolves around the experiences of Sam, a taciturn girl living in a group home in upstate New York. The film is attuned to texture, sound, and sensation, immersing us in Sam's inner subjective universe. What was your inspiration for this character and for this story?
LUIGI CAMPI. I spend time on Youtube. There's a video called In My Language, in which a non-verbal woman relates to her surroundings through humming, smelling and touching. Her language of sounds and gestures feels rich and alive. But what does it feel like for her to be the only person who speaks that language? She was one of my first inspirations for the main character of Sam, although the core of inspiration, the reason why I obsessed over this project, took time to reveal itself.
It wasn't until the second or third draft of the script that I realized why the film was personal to me. Sam's plight echoes some events from my childhood. This actually happens to me on every project, this moment of personal revelation, and it's one of the most exciting moments of the creative process. The story is hidden inside us, until something outside mirrors it and, in doing so, baits it out.
FLMTQ: Rather than conventional drama, the film dwells in ostensibly quiet moments, orientating the spectator towards alternative epistemologies or ways of knowing the world. What was your process of creating this sensual cinematic universe through techniques of sound and image?
LC: Cinematographer Giacomo Belletti and I have worked together on many projects, and we enjoy finding the right tool for each task. For My First Kiss we chose to use MiniDV cameras in a painterly way. We pared the film language down to long shots that focus on one thing at a time, intensely, like our main character would. The elements are few, the colors are ecstatic. This allowed the film to walk the line between a subjective experience of the world and a fairytale-like feeling. Bonnie McAlvin's original score walks that same line: between trauma and Debussy.
FLMTQ: The film scholar Laura U. Marks has articulated a theory of haptic cinema—works that mobilize the other senses, notably touch—as inherently political, insofar as it subverts ocular-centric paradigms of storytelling that privilege the representation of certain perspectives, while occluding others. My First Kiss similarly foregrounds the sense of touch, from the grainy image to the way Sam frequently grazes the surfaces of spaces, or objects, in order to forge a relationship to the world around her. With My First Kiss, did you set out to make a political film? If not, to what extent do you believe the film can be read politically?
LC: I like the sound of that. Materiality has been on my mind. Both in the sensorial experience of the film and in the final product. What do we make when we make a film? The end product is ephemeral, there's nothing tangible. The compromise is to create a film that has texture, that feels like a found object that you can pick up and turn around in your hands. I like to think that making films which allow me and the audience to explore an uncharted part of ourselves is a political act with a far reaching effect. Kafka once said that "a book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us."
FLMTQ: Bobbi Salvör Menuez delivers a captivating performance in the role of Sam, a character that is at once withdrawn, willful, and ethereal. Can you discuss your casting process for the film, and how you worked with Menuez to bring this character to life?
LC: Of all the people we auditioned, Bobbi had the most instinctive connection to Sam. We met a few times after they had accepted to play the role. We went to Central Park and to the Natural History Museum to see how Sam would behave in those environments. I didn't have to say much. Bobbi knew Sam better than I did. On the first day of production I calibrated how outward the performance should be, but from that point on I was mainly following Bobbi's lead. When I'm sitting in the director's chair, it's tempting for me to become a puppeteer. But it's important to recognize when something is working, and let it be.
FLMTQ: My First Kissis an auspicious first narrative feature. What was it like getting the film made; what obstacles did you face, and how did you overcome them?
LC: Making films is problem solving. Two days before shooting we realized that we needed an extra van, and we heard that the neighboring farmer had one. Producer Mayuran Tiruchelvam and I went to ask her if we could borrow it, and when we arrived she was sowing her plot of land. She said: "You can borrow the van, but in return you will walk over the field so that the seeds sink into the soil." And we did. We walked up and down the field for an hour until all the seeds were covered with soil. And we got the van. I wish all obstacles were like that.
My First Kiss is a small film, shot on MiniDV, with an almost-silent lead. Commercial considerations were the main obstacle, both in getting the film funded and in releasing it. We didn't necessarily overcome those, but we did find like-minded allies—like Filmatique—who got excited about the peculiar creature that we created.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects, and if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
LC: I live between Rome and Athens and I'm enjoying some exciting collaborations. I'm co-writing a thriller set in Saigon, a Sicilian series about faith and miracles, and a Byzantine buddy movie. As far as my solo projects go, I'm developing a VR project based on a gothic theater play. I'm making a series called 'Secret Video Folder,' in which I rework found videos into new narratives—you can see those on my website. And I'm developing my next feature, to be shot in Italy: a comedy about a man who makes a movie to correct the movie that was made about him.