Luca Guadagnino, whose Zendaya-starrer “Challengers” was pulled as Venice Film Festival opener due to complications from the SAG-AFTRA strike, is on the Lido wearing his producer hat on several films.
One, especially close to his heart, is animation short “The Meatseller” by debuting director Margherita Giusti.
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The 17-minute piece, which uses hand-drawn imagery, is inspired by the real-life story of Selinna Ajamikoko, a young Nigerian woman who now lives in Italy after leaving her native country as a 15-year-old and embarking on an infernal two-year journey across Africa and the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
“The Meatseller” screens in Venice’s Horizons section.
Giusti, who is a graduate of Italy’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school, came across Ajamikoko’s story when she interviewed her while searching for a strong female empowerment story to put on screen.
“She was the first interview I did,” Giusti recalls, noting that she became fascinated by the fact that Ajamikoko worked in Italy as a butcher, following in the footsteps of her mother who is also a meat seller in the village they come from in Nigeria. She had gone through her harrowing odyssey from Nigeria to Italy to accomplish her dream of becoming a meat seller like her mom, albeit in a wealthier world.
This animated journey, led by Ajamikoko own voice, criss-crosses between descriptions of the perilous crossing of the Sahara with her passionate disquisitions about the art of butchery and the skills required to properly carve up the carcass of a cow and her preferred meat cuts.
Once Giusti had a first draft of the story she sent it to Guadagnino who came on board to produce it via his Frenesy Film Company.
“I’ve known Margherita for a while. I first met her as a storyboard artist,” said Guadagnino. When he decided to produce “The Meatseller” they brought Margherita’s animation collective Muta Animation on board, and recruited Lorenzo Giordano, a line producer specialized in animation, “well aware that to make a well-made animation film takes lots of time and resources.”
“It’s a very powerful story,” noted Guadagnino. “Both Selinna, in recounting it, and Margherita had the intuition to view it as the story of an identity that is being forged based on an obsession for wanting to be something; in this case a butcher,” he continued.
“That was a beautiful take on a story that could have instead fallen into the trap of banal migration tropes,” Guadagnino went on to point out.
As for his rapport with animation, Guadagnino said he considers animation and documentary filmmaking “the purest forms of cinema that exist.”
“I’ve also often dreamed about making an animation movie myself,” he added. “Some of the greatest epiphanies I’ve had in recent years come from animation films.” But this hasn’t happened yet, possibly because Guadagnino needs live action to get his mojo working.
“Obviously having to do with a talented animation director like Margherita fascinates me because the point of view of someone with animation in their DNA is very different from mine,” he noted.
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