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Cannes Hidden Gem: A Delinquent Becomes Movie Star in ‘A Ciambra’

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Director Jonas Carpignano’s encounter with a wordly young hooligan led to casting the precocious boy in his Critics’ Week title about life in a small Italian village.

Director Jonas Carpignano doesn’t remember the first time he met his A Ciambra star Pio Amato. But 15-year-old Amato does.

In 2011, Carpignano was shooting the short film A Chjana when one of Amato’s brothers stole his car. So, Carpignano headed to the small gypsy community in Calabria, Italy, where the car was being held for ransom.

“Pio remembers seeing me then, although I don’t remember because at the time it was just a very, very stressful experience when all your equipment gets stolen from people you don’t know, and you’re trying to finish a film,” Carpignano says. “But that experience was what first drew me to that place.”

That place serves as the setting for A Ciambra, a coming-of-age story about a 14-year-old who already drinks, smokes and is desperate to emulate his older brother. One night, the teen sets out to prove his mettle, but things go horribly wrong. The verite drama will screen in Critics’ Week, marking a highly anticipated follow-up to Carpignano’s African migrant drama Mediterranea that became a 2015 Cannes breakout.

A few years after the car incident, the U.S.-born, Italy-reared writer-director returned to Amato’s squalid hometown to make the short A Ciambra. “I was looking for kids to cast and getting to know everyone in the community,” the 31-year-old helmer recalls. “Pio immediately gravitated towards me and told me he remembers me from that time. Either way, he and I sort of hit it off right away. The first thing he does is ask me for a cigarette. And I was pretty shocked. This 11‑year‑old kid was running around smoking.”

Instantly, Carpignano was certain that the audacious tween from the insular gypsy family could carry his short, which served as the basis for the feature of the same name. The film’s shoot last summer was draining, lasting 91 days (an unheard-of duration for an indie film).

“It was a very challenging shoot with very, very limited resources,” says producer Rodrigo Teixeira (The Witch). “We shot the film in the Ciambra where the Amato family really lives. They are all non-actors also. It was as difficult as that might sound, but Jonas guided the entire production through this. He was the glue that held all of this together.” Now, the biggest challenge is trying to get Amato to commit to attending the film’s premiere today.

“I’m having a really hard time convincing him and his family to come to Cannes,” Carpignano says, who had no answer as of press time. “I talk to them every single day on the phone, and every night it’s a different answer. ‘Yeah, of course we’re coming.’ ‘No, we’re definitely not coming.’ Until I’m actually there with a van like parked in front of their house, I won’t be sure.”

This story first appeared in the May 19 Cannes daily issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

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