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Student Film Debuts in Italy, Travels to Cannes

When junior media studies major Alexandra Platt studied film production abroad last summer in Rome, she had no idea the documentary film she’d make would end up premiering at an international human rights film festival in Italy in April.

The 15-minute film, Sono Niente (I Am Nothing) was made with director and co-producer James Kilton ’08 and co-producer Charlie Noell, an alum of Loyola University Chicago – through which the study abroad was organized. Sono Niente depicts the struggles of one Gypsy, or Roma, family and their community at the height of anti-Gypsy protests in Italy last summer, including police raids and the fire bombing of one of their camps in Bologna.

The topic was so politically charged that one Italian professor at Loyola University Chicago’s John Felice Rome Center told Platt and her crew, “If you were my grandchildren, I would forbid you from doing this movie.”

“That was basically the statement that showed us why we were doing this project,” said Platt, who edited the film and was a co-producer. While the professor was principally worried about the students’ safety, his comments illustrated the ongoing divide within Italian society that has led the federal government to prevent the Roma – many of whom are native born or decades-long residents – from obtaining full citizenship and work permits, as well as panhandling or collecting and recycling rubbish. A law approved last year even lays the groundwork for all 150,000 Roma in Italy to be deported at the whim of authorities.

Unnerved, at first, by the idea of entering a community they knew little about and had been told was dangerous, Platt, Kilton, and Noell worked through a local nonprofit whose mission is to integrate the Roma – who trace their ancestry to medieval India – into Italian society.

“Our biggest goal, and my biggest goal while editing, was for viewers to see this injustice that is basically unknown in America,” Platt said.

Platt, who had been to Italy before, said she had seen some Roma on the streets begging, but never realized until she began filming that it was basically out of necessity since Italian law prevents them from working.

Tom Kington, a British journalist covering Italy for The Observer newspaper, says that the system is unfairly stacked against the Roma compared to other immigrant groups in Italy. “If you have a system that allows people to get left behind and slip through the cracks, you are going to see people who are not integrated, therefore are more likely to turn to petty crime,” says Kington, who was interviewed for the film in Rome shortly after last year’s protests. “What that means is that you get a backlash, which we’re seeing right now in Italy.”

Upon seeing the film, the director of the John Felice Rome Center suggested the team enter it into the Human Rights Nights International Film Festival in Italy. “A few months (later) we got word back that it was going to be in a showcase with two other films!” Platt said.

Not only was Sono Niente well received at Human Rights Nights, but Platt recently learned the film has been selected to be showcased at the Cannes Film Festival in the short film corner in May.
Written by Edward Carpenter »usfnews@usfca.edu