Bella Ciao! was inspired by the East Vancouver neighbourhood in which I live. The writers and I wanted to capture this place where people with such different histories live and work. We wanted to capture how the great majority, despite differences, learn to help and support each other.
Our histories may be distinct, but our lives intertwine.
It was just before the first table read of the screenplay that Carmen Aguirre was introduced to us and cast as Constanza. She has brought an authenticity to the character that influenced the script’s development, and her wonderful, strong, performance drives the finished film.
Carmen, like Constanza in the film, is a refugee who fled Chile after Pinochet’s CIA backed coup. Fortunately, Carmen’s mother was not one of the disappeared, but remains alive among us. In fact, it was Carmen’s mother who connected us to the director Patricio Guzman, as we sought footage from his masterpiece, The Battle of Chile, to help represent Constanza’s inner journey. I consider it an honour to have worked with his historical footage.
(photo by Sergio Vera-Barahona, left to right – Carolyn Comb, Carmen Aguirre, Andrew Forbes)
The screenplay is shaped by how characters initially see each other – and then learn to trust and rely on each other. I focused on performance during the shooting, and edited to keep the transitions within the relationships clear.
In many respects, the cast are the living roots to this project. Tony Nardi, as Arnaldo, is a strong Improviser and his experience on set helped the young talent deliver their best performances.
(photo by Sergio Vera-Barahone, left to right – Tony Nardi, Taran Kootenyahoo, Andrew Forbes)
Marie Clements came to the production later. In fact, the role had been written for Margo Kane who participated in its development and who, through Full Circle: First Nations Performance, introduced us to Taran. Margo had committed to perform in Spain in a play written by Marie, so we asked Marie if she might step into the role. She read the script and agreed. Her nuanced portrayal of Hester is, for me, one of the highlights of the work.
The musicians, too, are specific to this place. If you’re lucky you can bump into The Carnival Band as they march down the Drive or dance in the park, or catch one of Gord Grdina’s bands performing in a local bar, or Ann Hepper and Michael O’Neil playing gamelan nearby. Composer/singer Tiffany Moses’ original song “I Want to See You” is central to the piece.
(photo by Clark Henderson of The Carnival Band)
We used Pallet Coffee on Semlin Street for Tony’s Cafe. This picture was taken at sunset on the last day of photography, as we were completing the shoot.
(photo by Clark Henderson, left to right: Renee Sutton, Kate Pierre, Amanda Burke, Alison Denham, Carolyn Combs, Masha Weisberg)
And this was taken inside Pallet on the same evening, just before we called it a wrap.
(photo by Sergio Vera-Barahona, left to right: Ben Rugg, Carolyn Combs, April Telek, Massimo Frau)
An incredible amount of community support came together to tell this story.