Italian filmmaker Nikolas Grasso has taken film festivals by storm with the debut of his short movie Doina. Already midway through the year, Grasso impressed critics and audiences with an inspiring movie that clearly shows the professional talent the 22-year-old has to offer.
For Grasso, art was what inspired him to pursue filmmaking. “A movie is like a sequence of paintings: You take the brushes, you choose the colors and then you make them alive with a clapperboard.”
Grasso studied art during high school at Collegio Arcivescovile Ballerini in Seregno, Italy. There, the school provided a wide range of knowledge about what art, poetry, and writing is. Other sources of inspiration for young Grasso included Italian, English, and Latin literature.
“I remember one day when my English teacher, Mrs. Corbetta, while explaining the poem “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth to the class, said: ʻNow close your eyes and imagine those daffodils waving in the breeze, feel the breeze, see the daffodils.ʻ That was an amazing moment that helped me to see and feel more than just read some words,” said Grasso.
At the age of 14, Grasso started making films. Unlike the heroes in the latest blockbuster Super 8, he started out with his first digital video camera rather than an 8 mm. “[It] was a Sony HandyCam with a very low resolution compared to the Canon 7D I’m using right now,” he recalls.
His first project was a video promoting the high school. Nikolas stated that when watching the video today, it seems strange but still nostalgic. He also began filming “video clip covers with lip sync” then editing them on his computer. At first he used Movie Maker then progressed to more professional editing software such as Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro. It wasn’t until his first year at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED), in Milan, Italy. “I was very prejudiced [with regards to] Apple, but now I love it,” Grasso explains. “Let me underline that it is not just about the design; it’s about power and design. For video production, I think it’s the best you can get on the market.”
Doina is a talented teenage pianist from a small Romanian village training for an international piano selection. Following a path acceptable to her parents, Doina is a dedicated student to her teacher but unsatisfied by the instrument she has been made to play. It isn’t until the day of her performance when Doina acknowledges her preference for playing the pan flute.
The film is a poetic ode to the inspiration of music, something meant for those that prefer films that encourage cheering on the underdog.
“I [saw] August Rush after I shot Doina because the priest who acted in my short movie told me my story reminded him about Sheridan’s motion picture,” says Grasso. “It’s a very touching movie on how music connects our souls and on how we are all connected by an invisible but powerful energy. You can call it Telepatia or Entanglement; let me tell you that it’s something also verified by modern scientists.”
Being Grasso’s first film, the story came about as an assignment for graduation. Grasso first started writing a bleak story set against the back drop of the war in Bosnia and of a father who was searching for his son.
“The story was too much for my teachers,” Grasso explained, “[so] I had to write another story. I thought about my mother’s country, Romania. In Italy a lot of people are very prejudiced about Romanians due to the fact that the [media] speaks only about “Romanian” [rapists and burglars.] In addition it happens frequently that “roms” (gypsies) are told to be Romanian by ignorance. I said to myself ʻWhy not [show] something beautiful and positive about this great country? Why should the people not know about the other side of the coin?ʻ Here is the moment in which I thought about the music and the pan flute came right after.”
The entire production lasted around six months, requiring Nikolas to work with quite the international crew. Among those were cinematographer Daniel Serbanica from Romania, assistant director Leonard Von Luttichau from Germany/Hungary, and editor Didier Tommasi from Belgium/Italy.
Like many films, Nikolas and crew faced multiple road blocks. While en route to Romania to start filming, they had to find alternate transportation due to the eruption of the volcano in Iceland which halted and blocked all air traffic.
“We then arrived in Romania by car crossing half [of] Europe… We couldn’t postpone the shooting since everything was already settled, and everybody else was waiting for us there,” says Grasso. Another road block for Grasso was trying to film the live performance. Grasso recalls that two different families cutting trees with an electric saw during the shooting of the scene in which Mariana Preda plays the pan flute in the churchyard.
“We had to record Mariana [Preda] playing live the Lonely Shepherd but the noise in the background was too disturbing,” he said. “So I gave a couple of bucks to the AD [Assistant Director] who went to buy some beers and gave them to drink.” Once occupied, Grasso then shot the scene with Mariana playing the “nai” (Romanian word for pan flute).
Through all these obstacles, Doina has risen to fame with its ever-increasing popularity. The short film has won numerous awards including the Audience Award at NFFTY 2011, the Best Short Fiction Film at the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival.
“Mariana [Preda] never acted before, but [she] was for sure the best choice since she [has] very natural and pure acting [abilities] while being a real talented player; those qualities were rewarded by two awards she got for Best Actress. The first award at the World Premiere in Montecarlo at the Monaco International Film Festival and the second at the Festival du Cinema de Paris”
During the week of June 20 through June 24, Doina will be shown at the Arcipelago International Film Festival in Rome, the latest festival showcasing Grasso’s short.
In the future, Grasso would like to create more films like Doina, where music is the fundamental process.
“I’d like in the future to be able to do also comedies. Most of the people don’t know how hard is to make good jokes and act in order to obtain laughs,” Grasso comments.
He continues to shine in the realms of directing, writing, and editing. He has even considered pursuing acting. Since graduating with a degree in video design from IED in Milan, he is currently working in the television industry as a producer and editor, gaining experience and working on earning money to buy more video gear and fund future projects.
“With my works I want to let you have an epiphany as James Joyce used to say in his works Dubliners. A moment in which by a word, a sound, an image you can have a sudden revelation about your past or your essence as a human being. As we are all made of vibrations you can resonate with that feeling, that sound. Here is the magic that makes me feel good in making or watching a film.”
If you would like more information on Doina, visit the film’s website.
For more information on Nikolas Grasso, visit www.nikolasgrasso.com.