With an award winning production company, feature film and short documentary under her belt, Valentina Signorelli is already a force to be reckoned with. Add to that a burgeoning academic career and this young Italian woman is showing us all that drive and adaptability can propel us towards great achievements.
Born in to a small North Italian community, Valentina developed a love of writing from an early age and in 2008/2009, she moved to Rome to study film. With no family background in the film or media industry and knowing no-one in the capital, her adventure began. Eleven years later, chatting with her now in London where she currently lives, I can see that her attitude and drive has been shaped by these early experiences.
As Italy was gripped by economic crisis, Valentina found it hard to secure a permanent job after graduation. An entire generation (and more) had been hit by the financial state of the country. What people like Valentina did have, was the digital technologies available on their laptop. She tells me “I was in survival mode...and my colleagues as well. In order for me to survive in the job market, I had to be adaptable.”
I think it’s an interesting point. The concept of a job for life now seems less viable than ever. Multi skilled individuals are in higher demand and the ability to change and learn quickly seems key. Valentina nods in agreement “ten years later, this is what distinguishes us....not being hyper specialised in just one area”.
So, in 2016, born from a desire to work and create, Valentina and her colleagues Lorenzo Lazzarini and Lorenzo Giovenga, established the production company Daitona. Fledgling but already award winning, it is a mutually beneficial collaboration and whilst it took ten months for them to win their first project, they have since gone from strength to strength, creating countless commercials, transmedia projects, documentaries and a feature film. Valentina tells me that they wanted to "use the company to grow together...and invest in our own projects”.
Wanting to know more about her personally driven projects, this seemed like a good opportunity to interject, so I leapt forward to ask about the short documentary Valentina wrote and produced entitled ‘Where is Europe’.
Depicting life on board the NGO ‘SOS Mediterranee’ rescue ship ‘Aquarius', the film explores the time the vessel spends in port as the crew restock and change over. Showing a different side to the experience of sea rescue and migration, Valentina’s passion for the film and subject matter couldn’t have been clearer. She spoke quickly and personally, as I asked her what sparked her desire to make the film. “It started the day after the Brexit vote. It was the first time I realised the word migrant was attached to my person.. despite my family having a long history of migration , I’d never really considered myself a migrant”.
Valentina had already been in the UK for three years by this point and by her own admission is part of the generation that has benefitted from the EU and peace. Now she found herself exploring what it means to be European, to look closer at the humanitarian crisis and the existence of borders. In Sicily, helping friends organise a music festival, Valentina tells me she “witnessed the disembarkation of people and could see young people arriving…we were organising this festival but they were in a very different situation”. Interested in exploring what happens, not at sea, but between rescues, ‘Where is Europe’ came to fruition after ten months of negotiation and gaining the trust of those involved. Boarding the ship with just one colleague, filming was transparent and open. Nothing was done secretly and crew were invited to speak with them if they wished. This approach has helped mould a fascinating film that gives a unique insight in to those that volunteer and the work taking place on board the ship.
With festival success around the world, the film also became of interest to broadcasters, when the Italian Minister of the Interior investigated and stopped the Aquarius, denying it port for over ten days (with 600 rescue people on board). However, Valentina did not entertain the idea of selling the film to a broadcaster. She did not want them “to butcher my work and take sequences out of context”. Ultimately, no incriminating evidence was found against the vessel or its activities and this vindication spurred Valentina onwards. “To criminalize, what is essentially a charity, a voluntary organisation, is something I cannot accept”. I can sense that Valentina journalistic tendencies are as strong as her creative ones and this may play in to the fact that she is also an Academic. Whilst teaching at various universities, she continually learns from her students and keeps research and growth at the core of her being. Even when reflecting on those filmed for ‘Where is Europe’, she tells me she hopes that people “discover new things about themselves”, which is an honest and emotive desire that I think reflects her motivation as a filmmaker.
As our conversation continues, Valentina starts to open up a little further. She tells me about ‘Anséra: Trace the Future’, a film she wrote and directed in 2016, where she embarks on a road trip around Bergamo with her grandmother, reflecting on the changes during her lifetime. Sharing the same narrative of social commentary grounded by personal experience as ‘Where is Europe', I feel like I am getting to the core of Valentina’s storytelling desires. Indeed, she tells me that she hopes ‘Where is Europe’ will become a bigger project and is currently working on a film about the physical border in Cyprus and how people live and experience that border. Not wanting to be prescriptive, she expects the story to evolve and is currently looking for distributors and platforms to collaborate with. It’s a sensible way to start such a project. To get people involved early in the process is one that perhaps many of us could take on board. (If anyone does want to support the Cyprus project, reach out to Valentina, she is ready and waiting).
It is clear that the drive forged in her youth continually spurs Valentina on to look for the next opportunity and to have had this success at such a young age is no mean feat. On her birthday in June she had a double celebration, she turned 30 and the feature film she co-wrote and produced with her colleagues premiered in Italy. A dark / screwball comedy entitled ‘Daitona’ (yes, the same name as the company) it follows the exploits of Loris Daitona, a washed up writer who wakes up in strange room, not knowing how he got there and with the mafia on his tail. After initially struggling to find a distributor for the project, Valentina and her colleagues used their skills and tenacity and created a campaign around the film; including a you tube channel, a mockumentary and Daitona’s ‘book’. It took time but the work paid off and the film has now received a national release in Italy.
When Valentina talks of these successes, she remains very grounded. She doesn't brag or bask in the glory. Perhaps that is the academic side of her character? Or possibly the practical one that knows you are as only as good as your next project? Which leads me on to my question; what is her main ambition?
She pauses before telling me that a huge goal would be to have her name displayed on a poster, the same size as the Director's. She feels that writers are underrepresented and I can’t help but agree. So is writing her passion above all else? Again, she thinks a little before answering, “I wouldn’t call it passion because writing for me has always been very complicated….I know writers can be very happy but I'm very sad when I write. On the other hand it’s the only thing I can do well I think.” It wasn’t the answer I was expecting but I find it refreshing and incredibly positive. So often nowadays we hear about people loving every single moment of what they do. I think it’s the ‘insta effect’ - portraying life with a sheen of permanent joy. Perhaps there are those that enjoy every second of the creative process but I think it is important for people to hear that it can be hard as well as rewarding. Surely, that makes us all feel a little more human?
With a new academic year on the horizon, writing a feature length project, the Cyprus episode of ‘Where is Europe’ and countless company projects, it’s safe to say that Valentina won’t be scratching around looking for things to fill her time. She laughs a little and tells me that to her, the main aim in life is “to be happy about what you're doing”. With her students for inspiration and her company feeling like family, it seems to me that she is on the right path. I can see that there have been challenges and pain along the way, but I am left feeling that Valentina has the tenacity and self belief to see her name in big letters on that poster not too far in the future.
Discover more about Daitona…
Contact Valentina: email@example.com
Where is Europe? (15 mins, 2018)
Written & Directed by: Valentina Signorelli
Produced by: Daitona
Producers: Valentina Signorelli, Jacopo Sartori
Daitona (94 mins, 2018)
Directed by: Lorenzo Giovenga
Written by: Lorenzo Giovenga and Valentina Signorelli