it's half past four in the morning and i've had one of the best nights of my year so far, arguably of my life. our film has had its italian premiere at the eighteenth edition of the small but perfectly formed film festival della lessinia and the response to it has been really quite humbling.
this has been our first genuine, face-value exposure to 'absolute strangers', in that nobody in this audience knew me, or any of us, or was in any way associated with the film, nor had anything to do with its location: it was a house of festival-goers, plain and simple. and it was a respectable house too: the beautiful, modern, three-hundred-odd seater auditorium was, by my estimation, about three quarters full, if not in fact a bit more, and after nearly two hours of more or less complete and concentrated silence - there was hardly any laughter, even at the funnier moments, and no rustling here either, no restlessness - it released its own tension into a long, sustained applause that did not seem to want to abate for what felt like minutes. and what followed was a Q&A that stood out not only by the number of questions people had, but also by the thoughtful, intelligent way in which they were formulated, by how relevant and pertinent they were: i was left with no doubt that this audience had not just appreciated the film, but connected with it, found it thought-provoking, moving.
my whole brief experience of this festival has been overwhelming: from the moment i arrive at verona airport, where i'm met by mattia, one of the drivers, who speaks a local dialect that i struggle a little to understand but who relishes driving the new courtesy car that the local dealership has made available by way of in-kind sponsorship, i feel like i'm visiting home. i haven't met anyone here ever before.
mattia drops me off at my hotel, which is a short walk out of the centre of the village of chiesa boscanuova, and reception is staffed by a boy of about 12 or 13 who gets about the house on his skateboard. he comes across a whole lot more competent than many a grown up i've seen in a similar job, speaks a perfectly workable english and shows me my room. i ask him for the wifi password and he writes down on a piece of paper a 50 character string of random letters (upper and lower case) and numbers, from memory. it's 100% correct.
having settled in, i make my way up to the festival square where i am greeted like an old friend by alessandro anderloni, the festival's artistic director and life force, and whisked upstairs to grab hold of my pass, programme, bag, t-shirt and a bundle of food and drinks vouchers. from now on in, any attempt of mine at buying a round of drinks or paying for any food is futile. the local tv station nabs me to do an on the spot interview and i'm scheduled in for the early evening to have my director portrait taken and do a short interview for the festival website. i am essentially taken care of by the incredible team that alessandro has assembled, who effortlessly and with the greatest natural ease make me feel like i belong right here, and nowhere else, right now.
having got back to my hotel bed at five in the morning following the premiere, i'm rather looking forward to a bit of a lie in, and then catching some films in the afternoon. a phone call at 7:30 from my downstairs neighbour in london puts paid to that: the leak from my flat (so far surmised) has got a lot worse overnight, action needs to be taken immediately. i spend the next seven hours intermittently attempting some shuteye and making several dozen phone calls to my niece (who happens to be staying in my flat), the people who installed my boiler (to an attachment to which the leak has now been traced), my neighbour (who is keeping calm although he's clearly worried), some builder who'd helped find the leak, and variously backwards and forwards between all these, until, at three in the afternoon, my niece texts me to say: it's been fixed, the water is back on. i grab an hour's sleep and head back up to the festival, where i'm stopped three or four times by members of last night's audience, who tell me how much they had liked our film. later, already back home in london, i get to read a generous review in the local paper, which calls our film 'one of the best things seen at this year's festival', and i'm told that the audience vote gave it an average rating of 4 out of 5. i am quietly chuffed.
many years ago, around two in the morning of an australian midsummer night, sitting on a bench outside the hostel-type accommodation where i was staying at the adelaide fringe festival, a young man i'd barely met a few hours earlier quoted to me the line: 'there are no such things as strangers, only friends we haven't yet met'. we're still friends today. and that is exactly the atmosphere that this glorious festival knows to convey. i have a feeling and hope i will see these old friends i've now met again before long, and come what may i will never wish to forget my short but exquisite stay in lessinia.