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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Italian filmmaker Vanessa Crocini on her inspiring documentary shot in Kenya

Vanessa Crocini, an award-winning Italian filmmaker, is the writer, the editor, the director, the producer of the documentary 'Get Together Girls' (GtoG). In this exclusive interview, she talks about herself, her profession and her inspiring documentary. 

Vanessa Crocini is the GtoG writer, director, editor and producer.  (Photo: Crocini)

WOMEN & AFRICA: How long have you been filmmaker? And why did you choose this profession?

Vanessa Crocini: I started working in entertainment since I was 8. I was an actress for commercials and model for 6 tears. I knew right away that what I wanted to do was directing. I was fascinated by the director's figure, calling the shots and use creativity to convey a message. I studied film in Italy. Then, I got a scholarship in Santa Barbara at the University of California in 2004. Later on, I studied documentary production at UCLA. I thought documentary filmmaking was definitely matching my personality. Documentaries are films that expose issues, events, situations and stories that we often are not aware of. They educate,  empower, inform and make you care. Every documentary filmmaker is an activist as well. We choose certain thought provoking topics because we care and we want to activate change and actions from the audience. I love documentaries that expose its viewers and make them think about possible things to be involved in. It is not an easy task as documentaries have often very low budgets. Our filmmaking is not considered real cinema, but the truth is, making a documentary is tough. A lot happens in the editing room. Every decision we have can have an ethical aftermath. So, a documentary filmmaker you have to be careful about your creative decisions as well.


"The girls of GtoG are incredibly strong."- Vanessa Crocini (Photo: Crocini)

WOMEN & AFRICA: Why did you make the documentary 'Get Together Girls' (GtoG)?

Vanessa Crocini: I thought it was an incredible story that needed to be shared! Talking to Grace and seeing her passion for this project made me understand that this was the story I wanted to tell. I didn't know if it was going to be difficult to approach the girls and be able to show the project for what it really is. I wanted to capture the differences between Grace's set of mind and the girls', to bring them to the screen in its most natural way. Grace is not a saint, but she is a very sensitive yet strong woman. Leaving a comfortable life in Italy is not easy. She has to adapt to a different culture where a lot of situations and events are never understood completely. On the other hand, the girls are attached to Grace so much. She is a pillar in their lives and a reminder of how far they have gone since they were children when they met her during their rehabilitation at Anita's home. Their connection is a result of time, work, will, acceptance, a learning process that is still taking place. Grace's choice is a big example. Unfortunately, not everybody is able to make the radical change she made. However, the documentary can really activate a chain effect of thoughts and actions on how to develop concrete ways of helping many young women around the world. 


"The girls are very attached to Grace (in the middle)."-Vanessa Crocini (Photo: Crocini)


WOMEN & AFRICA: Which challenges and rewards did you have while filming the documentary 'Get Together Girls'?

Vanessa Crocini: I went to Kenya by myself with my camera and my microphone and spent 5 weeks with Grace and the girls to build a trusting relationship with the girls. I didn't shoot the first couple of days so that everyone could get comfortable with me. I filmed them in their professional and personal environments, including some of the slums where the girls' mothers live. I shot in three different slums : Mathare in Ngon, Mathare and Kibera in Nairobi. This was done with the help of Kelvin Nyangweso, a local shooter, who used a GoPro. I was walking backwards, trying to focus on the shoot. It would be difficult at times, not to be distracted by the surroundings. I wasn't scared. However, I always wanted to make sure I was not invading the space or taking away the dignity of people. I wanted to respect the space I was allowed to walk in. It was a lot to take in, being the only person in the crew. I had no one to talk to at the end of the day about what needed to be done next. I allowed myself to get involved in the lives of Grace and the girls, to elaborate on incidents. Interviews were emotional at times. 


"GtoG is an inspiring positive story about a group of young women."- Vanessa Crocini (Photo: Crocini)


WOMEN & AFRICA: What do you hope the W&A community will gain from watching your documentary 'Get Together Girls'?

Vanessa Crocini: Many Kenyan women and men that told me that they were not aware of certain situations. And I think I can say other African women too. I felt that viewers will benefit from the information and stories shared in the film. The girls of GtoG are incredibly strong ; they have a lot to teach to any woman. Going through difficulties and never lose hope is one big thing that can be taken from the film. It is also important to know that community projects like Get Together Girls are not always easy to set up. There are ups and downs on a daily basis, but to keep the final goal is mind is essential for success. Get Together Girls is an inspiring positive story about a group of young women.

                    "I was walking backwards, trying to focus on the shoot."- Vanessa Crocini                                                                (Photo: Crocini)

WOMEN & AFRICA: Your film 'Get Together Girls' has received numerous awards in various festivals. What's your take on this worldwide recognition?

Vanessa Crocini: I am incredibly happy how people receive the documentary. The awards from film festivals have made me understand that people want to be educated and informed about positive and inspiring stories like the Get Together Girls one. I love that people come to me after screenings and they are thankful for the exposure of a project like this one. Sometimes, it takes a film to inspire someone else to start something somewhere else in the world. The trailer and clips of Get Together Girls have been watched in 116 countries worldwide. This is an important step of empowerment for other women who face similar challenges. At times, everything seems hopeless. However, it takes one little seeds to grow a small plant that can become a tree. It is important to open people's minds because there is a lot of ignorance about the continent of Africa, its history, its countries, its cultures. The international media doesn't help at all to understand and to educate people. Bringing awareness of characters, stories and places around the world that many people would know otherwise is important. My goal is to share stories and to influence the way people think and encourage them to take actions.

For more info about the documentary 'Get Together  Girls,' click here