by Betty Dravis
Betty Dravis: Welcome to my world, Antonia Tosini. I’m honored to have such an icon of Italian literature and cinema as my guest today. Not only are you the Ambassador of Peace for your home country of Italy, but I hear that you also write cutting-edge screenplays and have a best-selling book in France…among many other things.
You come highly recommended by many of my friends with connections to Italy: Tony Tarantino, Susan Kennington, Katherin Kovin Pacino and Romina Arena, to name a few. I’ve had the good fortune to interview all four of those outstanding Dream Reachers recently and am delighted that they’re featured in Dream Reachers: Vol. 2 along with you.
Since having our works become movies is every writer’s dream, your huge writing success fascinates me. Not only that, you enthrall my readers, too–since many are authors with high hopes of seeing their books and screenplays filmed. Many more of our readers are in the entertainment industry and they’re always seeking their next great role. I can think of a dozen or two who would love to be cast in your next movie. (laughs)
We’ll talk about your many successes later, but now I’d like to know when you first began writing? Do you remember your very first work? And what was it like growing up in Italy. Since you currently live in Napoli, is that where you were born?
Antonia Tosini: My dear, allow me to thank you for this interview. I started my career not so very young because I wanted to give priority to family and my two children. (laughs)
At any rate, in my film there are already some American actors, and I can tell you that I understand fully also the dream of the writers that is to create a film, but I can assure you that it is not easy. After I write a script, I have to work hard to find a production that wants to accomplish it–and do not always succeed. What I can recommend to people who do this job is to believe in what you write and move on, very, very determined.
I was born in a mountain town in the Abruzzo region (Avezzano, L’Aquila), but I grew up in a town of sea: Pescara (always in the same region). Mine was a very quiet childhood and adolescence. My father was cinematographer, so I breathed an air of film cinema.
As a child I started my career by writing diaries, poems and short stories, the legendary “Newspaper of the Small.” (laughs) Thanks to my teacher of primary school where I told the wonderful world of emotion that I tried to convey to friends (about the natural world and the universe). Now I am reminded of a memory of my childhood and I want to tell you. Usually, when you have three or four years, children spend their time playing with toys. The way I passed the time was different. I remember that I put on my Latvian parents, surrounded by about fifteen books scattered on the bed. Next to me was my favorite doll. I opened a book and I began to “read”. Of course it was all fantasy, because at that age I could not read. My love for cinema and a passion for books are my two souls. With passing time, I grew more and more passionate about the cinema and so I attended a directing course at the Film Academy in Rome. My first job was a documentary dedicated to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Arch, by title: Life and Miracles of Ex Votive.
Betty Dravis: Well, Antonia, you are an original now and from your childhood I can see you were always unique. Like you, I wrote poetry as a child and started my real writing career late (age forty to be precise) because I devoted myself to my six children during their formative years. And your answer to my question about “writers desiring movies from their books” is perfect. We all can relate to how hard it is to find a good publisher and/or producer. (laughs) You are also right in that it takes determination…
Your childhood in Italy, growing up in a house where your father “lived and breathed” cinema is different from our experiences, but I think we all relate to your sweet anecdote about reading to your doll. What a precocious child you were! (laughs) Thanks for sharing about your first documentary, also. That must have been exciting and was a great start for you. I wish they had it on DVD for posterity, but I’m sure they don’t…
But moving on, what was the title of your first novel? I understand you also have a novel that’s a best-seller in France. That’s phenomenal and I’m dying to hear about the books you’ve written. And when did you write your first screenplay? How many screenplays have you written? And please talk about some of the directors and producers you’ve worked with.
Antonia Tosini: Those are good questions, Betty, and I’ll try to answer them all. (laughs) I cannot say that I have written many books; I have written more screenplays. The first book is entitled The Book of Life/Euthanasia Social and is a very dramatic story, written in a surreal way, with the tone of a fable, a kind of philosophy that is reminiscent of the Greek theater. The story it tells is of a young couple who suppress their newborn son because he is deformed. The second Bread and Sunflower is a book of poems on human rights, the third, The Pink Wound, is on the rights of women (abuse, rape and violence against women) and Hourglass is a collection of short stories (to be published next year).
I started about fifteen years ago (not so young), with the title of “Director in the Drawer” in a not-very-special time in my life. As I said, until then my time had been prioritized by the family and not to my dreams. To recover the lost time, I did an unbelievable race against time. I worked in theater as an assistant and assistant director; I did some small theater directing (I’ve made a documentary), but nothing blatant. So after a while I shelved the idea of the direction and I am dedicated exclusively to writing.
The shift to cinema was laborious: On this new path, I have worked with various writers and directors more or less known. Among these I will mention one: Algerian Rachid Benhadj, a great director who is famous for the film Pane Nudo. He is a director of an almost maniacal precision–one that puts all the passion into his works. He taught me much and is a true master.
If I remember correctly, I wrote my first screenplay in 1978 and I have written about twenty-five screenplays. I wrote scripts for plays and made the dialogue for television drama … I wrote on commission… In the end, I gained a good appreciation and consideration by some colleagues and producers with whom I worked for a while and I gained very wide experience.
Among the producers, I worked with many of Italy’s biggest: Ennio Pontis on Tetraktys (and am working with him again now). I like to recall the experience of writing in the production of Cinema International Communications (CIC) of Giuseppe Colombo (“Beppe” for friends). He is a man very famous in the world of Italian cinema. He has produced international major motion pictures with major international directors. Some of his credits: The Bee Keeper, directed by Theo Angelopoulos, screenplay by Tonino Guerra; The Stendhal Syndrome that starred Marcello Mastroianni, directed by Dario Argento (with Asia Argento, Thomas Kretschmann, Marco Leopardi, Paolo Bonacelli). Beppe also produced the Wax Mask, directed by Sergio Stivaletti, supervised by Dario Argento (with Robert Hossein, Romina Mondello, Valery Valmond, Gabriella Giorgelli); The Phantom Of The Opera, directed by Dario Argento, script by Gerard Brach (with Julian Sands, Asia Argento and many others…) Beppe is a person of great experience, a man of class. To work with him, for me it was a great learning experience. With him I have still a beautiful friendship…
Betty Dravis: Wow, Antonia, you have an incredible background working with the best Italy has to offer. As for your books, we’ll talk about Bread and Sunflower later, but at the moment, I’m overwhelmed with all of your cinematic accomplishments. I’ve heard that working with Giuseppe Colombo and Ennio Pontis is the American equivalent of working with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. Now that blows my mind! I would be in seventh heaven if I could work with them!
Everyone has heard of The Bee Keeper and The Phantom of the Opera, but other than that, my knowledge of Italian cinema is very limited. I apologize for that, but please continue. I hope you don’t mind talking about the most recent movie for which you have written the screenplay.
Antonia Tosini: I wish I could share all about this one, my dear Betty, but we’re still in negotiations, so I can’t talk too much about it or the French producer. But he’s a great director/producer and I’m completing a screenplay for him. I can say the story is set in the suburbs of Paris…in an underground where the discomfort is palpable and where there is a constant danger of promiscuity and violence.
Betty Dravis: I’m cool with that, dear Antonia… I understand contract restraints… So let’s move on to the next question: Are any of your screenplays in production now? If so, tell us about it. If not, please update us on what you are working on now.
Antonia Tosini: I am currently working on various projects, but my own screenplay Between the Olive Trees is more imminent. It’s in pre-production and will be directed by David Worth. I state that the director was originally to be Tony Tarantino. He’s a skilled professional and I respect and am very fond of him. Our work together links us in a long and sincere friendship. Unfortunately, there was a scheduling conflict, in the sense that we were unable to reconcile our time with him, but I hope to work with him on another project in the future.
I’m humbled and grateful because in September Between the Olive Trees, the project and the script, was awarded the “Award Penisola Sorrentina” at an event organized by the journalist Mario Esposito. The motivation of award is: For the project Between the Olive Trees, an example of a significant insight of Mediterranean creativity, imagination and intelligence combined with the psychological excavation. The mystery and the plot twist are in the best tradition of the thriller genre.
Now back to the production: After the split with Tarantino Productions, Ennio Pontis, the producer, contacted David Worth, who knew of the fame and brought the script. After he had read it, Worth wrote a very nice message, adding that he found the story very compelling and, of course, was happy to do the directing. Worth is a man of great culture, is a director and cinematographer with a great experience. He has worked with big names in international cinema, such as Clint Eastwood, and directed films such as The Game’s Prophet with the great actor Dennis Hopper and the series of Shark Attack, just to name a few. Between us has now established a good relationship of respect. We write often and we exchange views on international cinema.
While with Robert Reed Altman on Psicopompo, a paranormal genre film, I have to say that he, after reading the script, wrote a message that was very rewarding to me. I think he’s a great professional, a person with a great delicacy in relationships, in that he has a lot of respect and consideration for people. Robert (“Bobby” to his friends) is an extraordinary person who has much respect for the name he bears. I state that I have always been a big fan of his father, Robert (Bernard) Altman, who was defined by many–the “adorable hateful” of America–as a “renegade,” but who was later recognized as one of the greats. MASH (the film), Gosford Park and A Prairie Home Companion are three of his better-known works. Working with his son, for me, is almost like working with him. Bobby is exceptional in his work, is loved and respected by all. He has worked on more than sixty successful films, as director of photography. I am convinced that in addition to the physical resemblance to his father, he has inherited the same energy and brilliant directorial skills, typical of the best Masters.
The other project deals with a social issue relevant today and problems with racial issues. It’s set in Italy, tentatively titled The Face Of The Moon and with the Bravo director/producer Ziad H. Hamzeh, an artist of Los Angeles, who has won over forty awards for directing, producing and writing, including the coveted Kennedy Center Achievement Award.
Betty Dravis: Ohmigosh, Antonia, you are beginning to sound like Superwoman! How do you manage to do all that and remain so gracious and always look so elegant? That’s a mind-boggling list of screen credits and you are working with the “big boys,” as we say in America: David Worth, Ennio Pontis, Robert Reed Altman… and your own “Beppe”… (laughs) Those are names even I have heard of…and I am by no means a “film buff.” As for the Altmans, Robert Reed Altman last worked with his father on A Prairie Home Companion. Our American readers will relate more to the TV shows your “Bobby” has recently worked on: Boston Legal, The O.C. and Lost in Hawaii.
Antonia, I’m sorry it didn’t work out with Tony Tarantino because I would love to have seen him direct your film Between the Olive Trees. Nevertheless, I’m pleased you’ll be working with Worth because I have a personal liking for the Shark Attack movies. My dear friend, the beautiful actress Jenny McShane, played the female lead in SA1 and SA3. She was interviewed for our first Dream Reachers book by my co-author Chase Von and we three became good friends after that. Unfortunately, she had to turn SA2 down because she was working in The Watcher with Keanu Reeves at the time. In fact, I enjoyed her life story so much I decided to interview her (from a woman’s viewpoint) for this second DR book, making her the first person to be featured in both books.
I, personally, am intrigued by the title and plot of your film Between the Olive Trees and can’t wait to see it on the big screen. Which brings to mind, what do you enjoy more…screenwriting or writing novels?
Antonia Tosini: Mi dear Betty, I look forward to reading about Jenny and all the beautiful people in this book and am honored to be a part of it.
I like to write about everything and I love to find the key language in every theme and every kind of writing, but I do not deny my love for the script because this allows me to experience the emotions of my characters more than any writing.
Betty Dravis: I sort of anticipated that response, Antonia. Filmmaking is a fascinating business and working with the actors and actresses would be a thrill for me. You know, you are a lot like the man you admire so much, the late, great Robert Altman. This quote by him reminds me of something you would say: “Filmmaking is a chance to live many lifetimes.”
When I Googled your name for research purposes, I got 77,500 results and that was only their 24-second finding. If I had done an advanced search, no telling how many would have come up. That’s a lot of info about one little lady, my dear. (laughs) I can see why, though, since you do so very much. I see photos on the Internet of you with a lot of influential people, including your current producer Ennio Pontis, our own Tony Tarantino and a man named Bruno Garofalo. The first two are pretty much “household names,” but since I’m not familiar with Italian cinema, who is Garofalo? And at what event were those photos taken?
Antonia Tosini: My dear Betty, the pictures of which you speak were taken during the visits for location of the film Between The Olive Trees. Bruno Garofalo is the art director, which is his role in many films, including Scusate il Ritardo and Scugnizzi by director Nanni Loy. He is also a famous director of theater…very, very good.
Betty Dravis: Thanks for telling us about Garofalo, Antonia. Now tell us something about your husband Tony Sorrentino. I understand that he’s an accomplished star in his own right; huge among Italian musicians. Exactly what does Tony do? And since I’m such a romantic, I would love to hear how you met him and to learn something about your children.
Antonia Tosini: Well. Tony is a good musician, graduated from the Conservatory of Music. He’s a pianist, composer and conductor. He has participated in various transmissions and shows for Italian television RAI and radio. He has worked with the great orchestras, including also with the great master Roberto De Simone, with whom he toured the world with his works, and with two myths of Italian songs: Sergio Bruni and Claudio Villa, famous in all world…and other singers. In the ‘80s Tony began his parallel career as a theatrical composer, alternating with being a conductor. For ten years he wrote numerous music for plays and important musicals for the Sannazaro Theatre in Naples for actress Luisa Conte. Among his most popular musicals are: Women in Parliament and Lysistrata by Aristophanes, just to name a few. And for twenty-five years he composed for the compagnie by great actor Giacomo Rizzo, but also for theatrical companies Nazional. Tony is a very famous composer and conductor.
I met Tony thirty-seven years ago in Pescara in Abruzzo. We were very young… At the time, I studied singing and one day he came to replace my teacher who was due to travel to Milan for other commitments. We fell in love and married eight months later. From our union were born two sons, Massimo and Daniele, who followed their father’s footsteps. In fact, both are musicians. In addition to doing concerts, they also compose music for theater, documentaries and film. Their latest work is a short film entitled House Hunting by the American, Angela Kennedy, and now they are in talks with a Los Angeles director for another soundtrack. I’m also pleased and humbled that our sons, Massimo and Daniele, have been selected to compose the music for Between the Olive Trees.
Betty Dravis: That’s incredible, Antonia, that your entire family is so gifted, but to know you can sing along to their beat…well, that’s a “toe-tapping” thought… (laughs) Musicians are special people and we all need music in our lives. I know you’re proud of your husband and sons. I bet Tony has influenced and enhanced your career and is one of your prime supporters. Since you’ve met and worked with so many important people, who are your other mentors and how have they affected your life?
Antonia Tosini: Surely, my husband is my great supporter, but as I already told you, since childhood– thanks to the occupation of my father–I love the film. I can tell you my point of reference: Although I never worked with him, my mentor was the late, great Robert (Bernard) Altman, a creative genius, an unconventional man, critical… Most people failed to agree with him and few supported his thoughts, but he defended to the last, winning against all the odds. I think like him and fully endorse his work. I consider myself a very creative person and I believe in what I write, and I do not ever adapt to castrating market logic. That’s another reason I was so grateful to work with his son, Bobby Altman…
Betty Dravis: What you are saying is that you admire your mentor, Robert Altman, for his independence and not “caving in” to public opinion that would change what he created… He had his own vision and stayed true to it, despite those who called him a “renegade.” You know, I suppose that’s one of the many reasons I always admired my mentor, Clint Eastwood, who is quoted as saying, “I have to keep challenging myself and try something I haven’t done before. The studios aren’t always happy with that… But playing it safe is what’s risky because nothing new comes out of it.”
Antonia Tosini: Mi scuso, Betty, but I wish to state that I have admired and loved Robert Altman for everything he was and stood for. He never bartered his art and his thinking. He WAS the Art! And no one ever has surpassed him (this is my point of view, of course). He left to young people a great deal of material to study and learn. Blessed are those who knew him and worked with him. They surely have learned many great lessons of life and cinema. The only thing you cannot learn is the genius. The genius is not taught; it is a gift that is not given to all…but Robert Altman had it. A characteristic of Altman’s was to never take anything for granted and to seek new opportunities to direct.
In my opinion, the directors of today tend more to the technical special effects, which certainly are very important for film, but only if combined with the heart, the history and inventiveness. First of all, it would be necessary to form a good basis for critical-theoretical approach to film with philological method–view and review films. The legendary French director Claude Chabrol said that the technique is learned in four hours. So…?
Betty Dravis: I think you are a lot like your mentor and certainly learned much from him. In my opinion, you are a genius among filmmakers too. You, Antonia, are not only an extremely talented writer who understands human nature, but you are also an intelligent, outspoken, independent woman. That’s as it should be when your original creations are on the line; no one knows better than you what you mean by your writing and nobody understands your characters as well. Truthfully, I love and respect that part of your nature, and Altman would be proud of you following his example.
Along those lines, I have another question: If you could spend an entire day with one person from any period in history, who would you choose and why?
Antonia Tosini: Without a doubt, I would choose Cleopatra. She was a great woman–smart, intelligent, spoke several languages, was a writer, and a skillful strategist. She was the last Queen of Egypt; after her, nothing, total vacuum… Her history fascinates me.
At this point in the interview, I was going to ask the question about one thing you would do to change the world, but since I learned that you are Italy’s Goodwill Ambassador, I already know the answer to that: You would seek peace at all costs. Right? (laughs)
This brings to mind a quote I once read by the late Mother Teresa: “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.” Those are words of wisdom that I can imagine you saying.
But moving on, Antonia, I’d like to say that as much as I admire your phenomenal writing accomplishments, I’m super-impressed with your status in Bryant McGill’s growing movement. Bryant, as you know, is the founder of The Goodwill Treaty for World Peace and a great humanitarian that I had the pleasure of interviewing for this book. Is he the one who chose you to represent Italy…or was it done by a committee?
Antonia Tosini: My sweet friend, I think the right way to go if we want to change the world is to learn how to unify the heart, reason and faith. We should all start making small changes and have the force of the weight of our ideas and great responsibility to carry them out. It is not an easy thing, but humanity must learn to love and to respect what God has given us. In this regard I would like to dedicate to your readers, this poem from my book Bread and Sunflower.
Oh God I pray you!
let our world be everyone’s homeland
let nobody ever use your name
to make war…on our earth
metallic glares explode like drums
and incessantly turn around agonizing
peoples subject to the world and to the sound
of the absurd…souls overflowing with smoke, hunger
and solitude, the livid oligarchy dribbles magma
plunderer, which dominates and accumulates lands
and capitals in a scenery of living dead
lying on a cradle adorned with crosses hammered
by the yelling thirsty power…let there be
no longer hate for the colors codified in the
chromatic scale of of your skin, let the world belong
to everyone and nobody outrage his brother anymore
let there be no more homelands to save and
let the world be living without conflicts.
That’s the only way, oh God, we could be people living in peace!
As for Bryant McGill, he is very beautiful person. I remember that he had a call from Chase Lesley Barton, Goodwill Ambassador, to propose me to become an ambassador of peace in Italy. I felt very honored by this endowment which made me change my way of acting. At first, my words on peace were few, but from that moment on I tried to do something for those people who not have vision and speech. As I always say, I’m not a rich person (matrialmente, talking about), so I had to invent something concrete to give to help the persons who are weak. So I started writing books for solidarity.
My dear friend, in knowing about Bread and Sunflower, you seem to be informed about everything. (laughs) I admire the research you did to conduct this interview. But I want to add that my book Bread and Sunflower has gained the appreciation of the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano and the French President in the person of Carla Bruni Sarkozy and that honors me greatly.
Betty Dravis: Congratulations, Antonia, to be recognized by the President of one’s own country and of France, too, is the very highest honor, indeed. I’m proud to call you my friend.
I want to devote some time to your book Bread and Sunflower, so we will discuss that more below, if you don’t mind. But first I’d like to talk a bit about the Peace Treaty. Since it is McGill’s goal to have almost everyone in the world sign the Peace Treaty, one of your duties as Goodwill Ambassador is getting signatures for the Peace Treaty. Is that right? What are some of your other duties?
Antonia Tosini: That’s right, Betty, and if you and any of your readers would like to sign it, here’s the link: http://www.goodwilltreaty.org/ Other things I’m doing are spreading the word and getting contributions for the cause. Contributions that will help people in need…
Betty Dravis: I notice that in addition to your “Antonia Tosini” Facebook page, you also have a second page under “Antonia Tosini – Author & Screenwriter.” I understand that page is something you’re doing for World Peace. What’s that all about, Antonia?
Antonia Tosini: My dear Betty, this page is devoted to my book Bread and Sunflower. I hope to sell more books through this page because I’m donating all the proceeds to African children. Proceeds will be donated to the Onlus “Tram African” to help build a hospital in Kenya. For more information, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Betty Dravis: Wow, Antonia, you really are amazing! That’s generous and so caring of you. I can see why you are so dear to the hearts of your countrymen and all who know you.
Since you’re a humble person, I hope you don’t mind my talking more about your special book. I was pleased to learn that Bryant McGill was chosen to write the preface and be a contributing author for Bread and Sunflower, which is a book of bilingual poems and meditations on peace and human rights. It’s also beneficial to know that it’s written in Italian and English and features cover art by the Florentine painter Maurizio Vinante and notes by film director Rachid Benhadj.
It must make you and your family proud (in a good way) that your book has received official sponsorship from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and support and sponsorship from European Parliament, Parliament of the Council of Ministers and Social RIA Television.
Here is a portion of what the great Bryant McGill had to say about you: “Antonia Tosini’s masterful tribute to human rights and peace, Bread and Sunflower, is a collection of ideals worthy of every reader’s time and meditation. Ambassador Tosini’s commitment to peace and human rights is commendable. Her visionary work in this book and her humanitarian efforts around the world are a gift to us all.”
That boggles my mind! I’d be dancing a tango with Al Pacino if any of my books reached that stature. (laughs) But seriously, Antonia, you’re a remarkable woman. I’m proud to count you among my friends. Congratulations again…
Antonia Tosini: Thanks, Betty, I’m a lucky woman to be doing what I love for a living. And I would enjoy to see you tango with that great actor Al Pacino. (laughs)
Betty Dravis: Hahaha, Antonia, I guarantee it wouldn’t be a very graceful sight, so I don’t know if Al would be too pleased with me. (laughs)
But now, before leaving you, I’d like to mention some of your other interests which are rather self-explanatory: Friends of the Dalai Lama, The United States of America, Il Libro della Vita (Eutanasia Sociale), “Butterfly Kisses” Parent Bereavement Group (Loss of a Child), Super 8 International Filmmakers Association, Wild Hanlon Cartoon, etc. And you enjoy horror books, which is something else we have in common. I enjoy reading them as well as writing them. I have one coming up in the future and hope you do, also…or at least a gory screenplay. (laughs)
In closing, Antonia, I’d like to share a few places where people can find you:
Antonia’s MySpace site:
Antonia’s Facebook site:
I regret that we must part, my dear Antonia, but it’s time to thank you for spending so much time with us. After chatting with you, I predict a long, prosperous future for you in writing and the cinema. I’m looking forward to reading your latest book of short stories, Hourglass, and to seeing your works on the big screen in the USA. And may God bless your humanitarian work too.
I know it’s your dream to win an Oscar one day…and I think you will. Your cinematic works are magnifico.
As you know, I don’t speak or read Italian, but through your magic, this interview was made possible. I hope you keep in touch to update us from time to time about your career and your personal life. Please let us know when your book Hourglass is released and when your movie Between the Olive Trees premieres… And now, to use words that you and Tony taught me, I’ll bid you a fond farewell: Ciao, bella donna… Molto bello…
Antonia Tosini: Thank you, very sweet and professional lady. It’s my pleasure to be with you, your readers and the Dames of Dialogue. Cheers, as you say in America… See you soon and BIG hugs.