The Knights of the Lagoon tells the story of the Orbetello fishing community - a Slow Food Presidium in Tuscany. Narrated by the director, Walter Bencini, the documentary received a great deal of popular and critical acclaim during the 64th Berlin International Film Festival (the Berlinale).
Well-known British director, Ken Loach, has also hailed the documentary, praising not only the director, but also the fishermen, highlighting the precious work they carry out every day, as well as their reciprocal collaboration and allegiance with the association Slow Food.
We met Walter Bencini to find out more about his work.
The Knights of the Lake was a great success at the Berlinale: What does this film mean to you?
In addition to having made an incredible human journey, I also had the chance to explore a new genre, a narrative that I had never experienced before. To reconcile the capriciousness of real life with a narrative structure prepared in advance was a big gamble.
Each your films (The Women of Zeri, Trip to Saharawi) could be described as a human journey: What did you learn from the situations you came into contact with and what mark have they left on you? Which do you remember with the most affection?
As with your own children, you don't have a favorite, they are all important; they each have their own personality, with different merits and shortcomings. All of them however are linked by a common thread, namely the fight for freedom and the strength of resistance. All these experiences have created a particular empathy in me, for the protagonists, but also for the environments surrounding them. Each needs to connect our fate with that of the Earth; the food network is the web of life.
In your opinion, what role can cinema and photography have in the advancement of these communities, as well as the products and situations that surround them?
Documentary film is a hugely important instrument for freely debating certain topics, particularly when doing so in contrast to prevailing models. The industrial production of food (in addition to land and water pollution) makes up 40% of greenhouse gas emissions, uses ten times more energy than it produces, wastes 50% of the food produced and has already destroyed 75% of the biodiversity in agriculture. We therefore have a duty to increase people's understanding of the impact that consumer choices can have: buying good, local and organic produce not only improves taste and wellbeing, it also protects the environment and preserves local traditions and culture.
Your career started in the field of music, video art and performance. What led you to cinema?
As my professional career continuously evolved over 20 years, I increasingly felt the need to tell human stories. I thus inevitably found myself taking on the language of cinema. Curiosity, passion, experimentation with style and contamination of different environments made me the person I am today: a soul driven by life's problems. As a professional I like to define myself as an artisan of video, someone who acts locally whilst thinking globally.
How did you come into contact with Slow Food and why did you choose to get involved with food communities?
My encounter with Slow Food began in 2000. My passion for cooking and food naturally led me to discover some of the initiatives organized by the Slow Food Convivium in Valdarno. My holistic mindset paired perfectly with the movement's philosophy, and as a result sparked a passionate devotion that led me to create televised products with this revolutionary vision of the world in mind. The logic of small, local communities, managing their own land sustainably, can seem dated compared with the figures of the global market, however for me it is the only feasible way forward if we want to find harmony with Mother Earth. Even evolutionary science tells us that if an organism is to survive, it must adapt on a local level. Without local adaptation there is no life! It's a question of common sense: If we want sustainable agriculture and lifestyles; we have to study the limits of each specific territory.
How will your artistic and professional project evolve?
On the professional front I am currently developing two new documentary projects. The first is a long journey into the story of Western civilization, aiming to better understand the relationship between man and sexuality. The second concentrates on enlightened agriculture; a new food philosophy which is reshaping the world of food production. As far as the artistic side is concerned, there has been an evolution of the series "Human Nature": introducing new elements such as meat and animal offal, have birth to the series of "Meat Culture", "The Resurrection of Meat", "The Fifth Quarter" (animal offal) and "Withdrawn Meat". It starts from the German philosopher Feuerbach's concept: "you are what you eat" to explore man's contemporary obsession for his own body.
If you had to suggest one image that embodies the idea of good, clean and fair, what would it be?
Without a doubt it would be the portrait of Rudolf II (Holy Roman Emperor) in the guise of the Roman God Vertumnus, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
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