Aspen Shortsfest: ‘Rita’ captures edgy portrayal of childhood |

Aspen Shortsfest: ‘Rita’ captures edgy portrayal of childhood

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Courtesy Aspen FilmThe Italian short drama "Rita" shows at Aspen Shortsfest Friday in the 5:30 p.m. program at the Wheeler Opera House.

ASPEN – Filmmakers Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia were insistent that their first film would shed some light on their hometown of Palermo, Sicily. The city is known for its churches, architecture, seafood and deep vein of Catholicism, but in pop culture, it has become a touchstone for stories about the Mafia.”We needed something new, a new starting point to tell about Palermo,” Piazza said. “The most important thing for us was giving a specific point of view, that helps us tell about Palermo, Sicily from a new point of view.””Rita,” the first narrative film by Piazza and Grassadonia, is, indeed, set in Palermo. But viewers aren’t likely to come away from the 18-minute short – which screens Friday at Aspen Shortsfest, in the 5:30 p.m. program at the Wheeler Opera House – thinking in new ways about the city. Instead of a panoramic view of Palermo, “Rita” offers a tight, even claustrophobic view, of one of its citizens. The film focuses on a troubled 10-year-old girl whose world, as far as we can tell, is restricted to what is immediately around her – above all, her over-attentive mother.The title character – played, coincidentally, by a young actor named Marta Palermo – is blind. As the film tries to present, as much as possible, the atmosphere as Rita experiences it, we don’t get much of Palermo. We get the world of Rita.”From the first moment, our intention was to tell the story from her point of view,” the 40-year-old Piazza said. “Which is an impossible point of view, because she’s blind. It’s enigmatic – you don’t see a lot; you have to guess a lot from the sound.”The primary sound is the voice of Rita’s mother – never seen, but experienced like a grating, ever-present buzzsaw. “She’s leading a claustrophobic world because of an overprotective mother,” Piazza said. “That’s something we’ve experienced not only with blind children, but with children who can see. When the family is overprotective, not giving enough freedom, they’re not able to lead their own life.”The course of “Rita,” however, takes a significant turn, as the girl enters the bigger world. The film ends, however, on another twist, a clever device that forces the viewer to rethink all of Rita’s experience. The film becomes a meditation on escape, freedom, danger and imagination. The loose nature of the story, Piazza said, “made the producer suffer a lot: ‘The audience will not see, how will they understand?’ ” But audiences have had no trouble grasping this edgy portrayal of childhood. “Rita” has earned awards at all each festival that has screened it, including top prizes at Las Palmas Film Festival in Spain and at the Bratislava International Film Festival in the Slovak Republic.The theme of blindness is close to both Piazza and Grassadonia. Piazza lost 50 percent of the sight in one eye due to an infection, while his creative partner has a family member who is blind. The two filmmakers, who share writing and directing duties, expect to continue looking at blindness in their debut feature. “Salvo,” for which they are still putting together the financing, is the story of an odd meeting between a Mafia killer and a blind woman, the sister of one of the killer’s victims. The Mafiosa gives the woman her sight back, and both of them become obsessed by the miracle.”Salvo,” naturally, will be filmed in Palermo. “We were passionate about telling a story in that environment,” Piazza said.

“Rita” screens at Aspen Shortsfest in Friday’s 5:30 p.m. screening program.Aspen Shortsfest runs through Sunday, April 11, with daily events in Aspen, and with additional screening programs Friday and Saturday, April 10, in Carbondale. For full program information, go to

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