Emanuele Gerosa: “I always jump into what I am doing with a lot of passion”

Emanuele Gerosa. Photo by Marina D. Richter

Emanuele Gerosa is genuinly curious about people, not subjects. His documentaries feel like being scripted at moments, because he comes so close to his characters that they drop their guard. Ask his mother and aunt about it, they’d confirm it in a heartbeat. And when you do it, please come back to us to report about what they got to say about Gerosa’s stubborn interest in someone’s life.

One More Jump is his second feature length documentary, but we take a big breath before refusing to call it sophomore. Gerosa directed far more than that: two middle lenght films, and one short – at least according to what he lists on his website. There must be more out there, at least when you hear him speaking about the experience collected on a torny way to beeing officially entitled to the foldable director’s chair.

We are talking at lengths about his film days after we bonded over cigarette breaks in the ice-cold Icelandic wind. One More Jump is screening at Stockfish film festival among hand-picked indie movies, in good company of some of the greatest titles released during the past two years. The audience in Reykjavik has a lot of questions to ask. They are blown away by a film that despite of being shot in Gaza, doesn’t have a bone of political commentary, instead concentrating on a small group of parkour and free running enthusiasts trained by one of the first people who brought this sport discipline to the region – Jehad. At the end of the day, they are not used to meeting a white person who isn’t even try to explain them the world he never lived in, through moving pictures. The confusion is complete. One More Jump is a film that sticks to its description with the deepest honesty, and it’s one of the reasons (but not only) why we were interested in talking to Gerosa about his remarkably genuine style.

Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?

I am Emanuele Gerosa, a documentary film director. I actually haven’t studied filmmaking. My fields of study were history and philosophy, but as soon as I graduated from the university I felt that I really wanted to dedicate my life to the audio-visual language. I discovered – let’s put it this way: the ‘existence’ of documentaries. From that moment on I wanted to understand how they were made. Thanks to some projects that I had proposed to an NGO in order to be able to go places and make videos about their efforts in the third world countries, I managed to gather some experience. These were my first attempts at documentaries. I learned a lot, especially what the people I filmed had experienced. For me, that was pure magic; trying to suck in the reality with the lense, watching situations developing in front of my eyes, trying to incorporote my point of view and at the same time also to pinpoint the moment at which the story begins. That was a hook for me, and since then I’ve dedicated my life to it. I keep on learning, and I try to tell those stories the best I can.

How much of a philosopher do you discover in yourself while making a film?

I think that on one hand, coming from the film background you are blessed with lots of advantages, but on the other hand being an outsider and coming from a completely different field, you have a radically different perspective especially at the beginning when you are less technical and less knowledgeable about how the film-making works. Knowing the history of the cinema is good, but you cant also get stuck because of all the references, or simply because you are afraid of failures. Coming from my background, I always jump into what I am doing with a lot of passion. My own history helps me to try not to pay attention to the storytelling only but also to try to connect deeply with the reality, with human beings and their past.

I never worked with an NGO in terms of a genuine cooperation in strict terms. But you can get a lot of help through them, because they enable you to pass through some gates that otherwise would be closed or barely accessible. At the same time, I really admire the work that many NGOs are doing in many places. I found that many times by simply taking a close look at what they do, you can find a right path to discover a small portion of reality that inspires you and ignites passion to get involved with a certain topic.

You stumbled upon the parkur community of Gaza, and you went to make the story about them. How did they catch your attention?

I discovered their existence by chance. I was randomly watching videos after finishing my previous feature documentary (Between Sisters/ 2015). I was looking for some inspiration for my next project. And finally, I ran into a video of those guys on the internet. I was completely amazed by what they were doing. You know, in Gaza you can’t do just whatever, and I was thinking that it would be very interesting to make a film on such a complex territory. For me, what these guys are doing – the fact that they are perfoming the parkur, a discipline so much connected to their lives meant dealing with obstacles through a complete control of body movements. That was an incredible, and at the same time a dramatic metaphor about the kind of life these people were leading since childhood. I really wanted to try to meet them and talk to them. As soon as I got in contact with the group in Gaza, they told me that one of the two co-founders lived in Italy. Me as an Italian, I thought that this was kind of a sign and that I had to contact him to see if I can tell their story. Eventually, the film was all about Jehad and Abdallah.

I am not that kind of person who is capable of making a film simply about a specific topic. For me, the best is to connect with people, with someone who is slowly becoming the character of the film and to put this relationship as a core of the story. Small narratives about a character or characters are more prone to giving a bigger picture about where they live, what’s their environment like, what is influencing them…

I really didn’t want to make any political film, and that was very important to me. I am not an expert in the field and besides, there are thousands of films about the political situation in Gaza. I was trying to describe and follow the daily life of these guys. But of course, certain things pop up because their lives are marked by constant tension in the area.

For this type of connectivity that you managed to establish with the two guys, it probably took a while until you got to know each other and make them feel comfortable in your company.

In fact, it took quite a long because both Jehad and Abdallah were quite known around the world when I met them. Some TV channels have already made short reportages and news about them. For me, it wasn’t easy to explain to them that I didn’t want to film only few minutes of their lives and then leave like all the others before me. I wanted to make an adventure with them, to enter a joint journey so that I could learn something from them. Together we could make a film that would be much deeper than a mere reportage. I think that they started to trust me when I came to Gaza for the second time. During my first visit I made a promise of coming back, but when I appeared for the second time, they looked at me and said: “Wow, you are the first person who kept that promise. Now we know we can trust you.” That was the turning point because our relationship went to the next level.

It resulted in some very touching, personal scenes. The photography is very strong, and it captures memorable moments of self-doubt, intimate exchange of thoughts with family members, and the fight for personal freedom.

A lot of the photography comes from Matteo Delbo, but at the same time I would say that – because it was just the two of us on the field, we established a beautiful partnership. I had my own ideas about how I would want to film the parkour or action scenes and more of everyday life situations. We matched our ideas and we built up a style we wanted to have. I would say that we have this kind of very productive and nice relationship. At times, one of the two is visualising things better – the scene, the moment… That’s how we immediately understood that if one knew how to make that one shot, then the other one had to let that free imagination to flourish. When Delbo was in charge he would state the things more precisely in terms of how he was shooting the scene. I would accept that and follow him. On other occasions, I would be the one in charge. We can name things by their name – I am not a schooled filmmaker, and I am learning each time while shooting a film. I also take what I can not only from the documentaries that inspire me, but also from the feature films.

To return to the question – many people believed they were watching a live-action movie due to the fact that you captured strong, intimate scenes which felt scripted.

My previous film was about my mom and my aunt. I followed them for a couple of years, so I would say that through that work I understood the style of a film I wanted to make. Even if in this case I didn’t know the characters, and the situation was completely far away from my culture, the film was about people, unique human beings with passion for something. That’s why I had to establish a strong relationship and build the mutual trust by spending a lot of time with my protagonists. For me, my attempt – and I hope that it will get better and better in other projects as well – is to try to make films with real persons about their real lives, but with a feeling that the viewer is watching a fiction, scripted drama narrative that is more exciting than the proper fiction.

It’s pretty impressive how camera moves in sync with the parkour guys, always just a step behind them. How long did it take you to adjust yourselves to their tempo?

Actually, luckily both my DoP and I are quite fit. We are jogging on regular basis. But, I must say that the parkour team was in training for several hours a day, and that it wasn’t that easy to keep the pace. Also, you must not forget that they are specialists in what they are doing which we aren’t. In order to give this feeling that we strongly wanted the film to have when you watch the actions scenes while crashed on your chair and realising how spectacular the parkour is, we had to make you feel as a part of the group, like you are there with them running over those ruins. We had to train, and we tried those scenes a lot of times.

There must have been a moment when you were completely surprised by the filming process.

Absolutely. Sometimes when we were happy about something that we filmed and tried to reshoot those scenes (not just the parkour but also the intimate ones) – something magical would happen and we were lucky to be there. That is exactly why I am totally in love with the documentary film making and why I think that there is nothing that can give you that kind of satisfaction. There were moments when you felt like witnessing a real event, and we had to film from a certain position in a certain way either from the distance or very close, In such situations, we realisedthat this magic was alchemy working with all elements available at the given moment. You can feel that you have something you really can be very proud of.

The sound is pretty good, which means that you had to work on it a lot in the post-production. As far as I know, you were almost always the one holding a very long microphone.

Obviously, every scene was covered with sound. We recorded every time, and yet most of the live sound wasn’t powerfull enough. I would say that it was some kind of two-dimensional sound, and when we went into the post-production, we worked with an Italian sound design company based in MIlan, called Fullcode which consists of two specialists: Tommaso Barbaro & Massimo Mariani. They did an incredibly good job. They were not only trying to push some sound to equalize the volumes, they recreated that world. We said that we didn’t want to invent anything, but what we feel is in the movie.

Both Jehad and Abdellah currently live in Italy. Are you still close?

Absolutely. When this film came out, them being in Italy was the consequence of it, both in the positive and negative way. Their relationship was crucial to establish this kind of narrative. Obviously, in the end you cannot simply forget the person you worked with and simply pass on to the next project. A big part of that relationship keeps being alive, and this doesn’t only come from a sense of duty to help someone who gave so much to the film, it is also the pleasure to help them out when they need me. After the film was wrapped up I helped out Abdallah to a certain extent because he was in a big need of it, so I brought him to my hometown where he lives now. Last year, thanks to a festival we managed to bring Jehad to Italy as well because that was his dream. Now we are in contact, not on a daily basis of course, but I see both very often.

Have they finally reconnected?

Yes! This was also one thing that made me very happy because as soon as we had the final cut, the first people that I wanted to show the film to were Jehad and Abdallah. I was able to watch the film together with Abdellah and I sent the link to Jehad in Gaza. After watching it, they phoned each other. In a way, they could see what went wrong only after they saw it through someone else’s eyes.