The award-winning Writer/Director Eitan Pitigliani’s SISSY was inspired by his own personal story of losing his mother. This heart-wrenching tale shares the story of Luca (Vincenzo Vivenzio) and the young girl (Dea Lanzaro), played by a 7-year-old little girl, who was the one that saved the director’s life after his mother’s passing. SISSY is her debut screen role.
I understand this must have been a deeply emotional film for you to make, what made you want to turn your story into a short film?
Sissy is a very special film to me. I came up with the story about a year after my mother passed away, and it was truly thanks to the encounter with a magical 7 year-old little girl that I was able to start living again. I’ve known her since she was 4, and she was actually at the world premiere of my previous short film in Rome. It was the last screening my mom attended and I feel there must have been a coincidence that this little girl was there that day. I met here again after my mom passed, when she was 7, she was full of joy and energy that was just so overwhelming and she pulled me into a sort of emotional rollercoaster thanks to which I was finally able to face my deeper inner-self, and my grief. All this ultimately brought me back to reality and inspired the creation of SISSY. After the loss of my mother I went through an extremely rough patch that I couldn’t do anything but shut off completely. I just stopped communicating with the outside world and I thought that everything was over. That’s why I thought of giving a voice to this story, because, thanks to this little girl, I discovered the magic of life, again, and in a different and peculiar way, looking at the world from a different perspective. Realizing that my mom, as well as all our loved ones, are not gone for good, at all, and even if they’re not physically here and we don’t see them, they live within us, and most importantly, I believe they’re somewhere, in another dimension, looking down on us, while they’re finally able to be happy and to have the time of their life. I believe they can finally have their joyride in a magical place. Even giving themselves another name, like Sissy does, and taking the shape they like the most. That’s how I like to picture my mom today.
It was truly thanks to the encounter with a magical 7 year-old little girl that I was able to start living again
The young actress is tremendous in the film, can you tell us more about your experience working with her?
Oh yes, she’s incredible and her performance is exceptionally mesmerizing, I must say. I’m so proud of her. An anecdote is that she is actually the same little girl that inspired the story, the one I bumped into a few months after my mom passed. Dea (Sissy) in Italian means ‘Goddess’. What is funny but also astonishing, is that although Dea is only 7 years old she saw the suffering and the sorrow in my eyes, and grabbed my hand and said to me ‘this is not the way to live man, you have got to pull yourself together and wake up’. From then on, I started realizing that I wasn’t doing any good for myself and most importantly for my mom who gave me life. That’s how I managed to rise up and finally start living and ultimately coming up with Sissy. Working with Dea has been incredible. She embodied the very special role I wrote for her in such a magical and powerful way that I was just blown away and left speechless when I saw the footage for the first time once in the editing room. She’s just magical, and her role wasn’t easy at all, since she plays the role of a little girl, magical and full of joy but at the same time with the knowledge and the wisdom of an adult woman. A special thanks goes to my soulmate and phenomenal choreographer Anna Cuocolo, who brought Sissy’s character to life, like a fairy princess that dances and bounces all round the room, a room to which she brings a new and colorful life, thus pulling Luca into her magical world. And I’m very happy when I hear people say that Dea is unique and that they have never seen such a magical little girl like her on screen. The audience was amazed in Cleveland and seeing them with puffy eyes crying from joy while at the same time laughing at the little girl’s jokes and funny lines just made me so proud and able to realize how marvelous this story is and that Dea was right in pushing me to come back to reality and to share my story with the audience.
What is funny but also astonishing, is that although Dea is only 7 years old she saw the suffering and the sorrow in my eyes, and grabbed my hand and said to me ‘this is not the way to live man, you have got to pull yourself together and wake up’
How does it feel to be premiering this timely short at the Oscar Qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival?
It’s incredible, and I am so honored for having been part of this top-notch line-up created by the festival programming and by the shorts programming manager Paul Sloop. He’s a very special man who loves cinema so passionately and so deeply and the shorts program he made was just spectacular and really exceptional. Every film was so powerful, meaningful and so perfectly put together with the others that the audience was blown away and astonished, as well as I and the other directors. It was a magical festival, and I’m extremely proud and happy that Paul picked Sissy, he believed in it and the audience loved it, and world premiering at Cleveland Film Festival was just magical and such a good-luck charm for the film. I am just so in love and grateful for all this and the wonderful journey Sissy has embarked on at Cleveland.
What was the process like when working with the actor who played you?
Vincenzo Vivenzio, who plays the lead, is a phenomenal actor I met a few years ago and I have followed his work over the years. When I started writing the character, which is not 100% me but still a big part of myself I found in him, I thought right away about Vincenzo, he is a very gentle soul and such a talented actor of timeless beauty, both inner and outer. I was sure that he will deliver outstanding performance. He is so amazing in the first part before Sissy breaks into the scene, where you can feel the drama yet at the same time there is something else is going on at a deeper level, in his soul. Vincenzo shows it perfectly as if something magical is about to happen you feel the spark of joy in his suffering, like magic is there, even in the darkest time of your life. And that’s what I was looking for. While he’s lonely and craving for his mother’s love, unable to face reality, preferring to sleep among the homeless on the street instead of staying at home, Vincenzo’s performance shows that something is about to happen. Credit is due to the fantastic job Vincenzo and his coach Lucilla Miarelli did in the preparation of the character. Lucilla is such a terrific acting coach and taught him to use the Susan Batson technique, which I knew before as I had the honour of meeting Susan and studying with her in New York a few years ago – thanks to this, Vincenzo was able to deliver a mesmerizing and mind-blowing performance, feeling the character so profoundly and bringing the inside out in such a powerful way. Even before Sissy’s equally astonishing performance, he was already spreading magic on screen.
Vincenzo was able to deliver a mesmerizing and mind-blowing performance, feeling the character so profoundly and bringing the inside out in such a powerful way
What can we expect next from you?
Right now I am working on a couple of projects, first of all my debut feature film, also dedicated to my mom. I’m also writing another script about a story that I am deeply in love with. Even though Sissy has a special place in my heart, the most special I have to say. It’s like a mission to me now, in memory of my mom. And I am so very happy to be able to travel with it on the festival circuit and to share it with the audiences around the world.