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Backstage with Ilaria Borrelli

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Tempo di lettura: 7 minuti

On November 16th at Rome’s Theatre Adriana, Ilaria Borrelli’s “Talking to the Trees”

Interview with Ilaria Borrelli, director, writer and actress who in the film tells the terrible story of a child forced into prostitution and becomes a slave of an infernal bordello in Cambodia. An act of protest that comes to Italy with the aim of putting an end to the exploitation of minors and to sex tourism.

By Tiziana Primozich
Photos by Carlo Bellincampi

Writer, director and actress, but also a woman and mother, Ilaria Borrelli is about to come to cinema screens in Italy with Talking to the Trees, a film that has the blessing of the United Nations and the full support of Unicef for the delicate theme that it handles without a false sense of shame. A real slap in the face that takes us from our lives of well being in the western world that we are fortunate to have and takes us directly into the hellhole of a Cambodian brothel where the prostitutes are children of barely 11 years of age, taken from their families and forced to live the daily horror that sees them victims of every form of sexual abuse and with no means of escape. Talking to the trees is a film of protest that touches the conscience of each one of us and since Ilaria Borrelli is both the director and actress together with the young Seta Monyroth. She intends continuing this theme, thus exposing the conditions of women and young girls in the poorest areas of the world. We met her in her home in Rome. A sweet face and smile with two enchanting dark eyes that betray her Neapolitan origins with an allure that captures our attention and which quickly put into light the fact that behind her feminine and courteous appearance there is a determined woman who is convinced that she will take this heartfelt battle to its conclusion.

Why make a film on such a hot, almost scandalous subject?

In Talking to the trees I tell the true story of a Cambodian child forced into prostitution to ensure the survival of her and her youngest brother. But a European wife who goes there to find her husband discovers that he is a regular customer of the brothel and finds him as he abuses the young girl. Horrified at what she sees she renounces her fake married life and tries to save the child. The choice of such an unconventional subject comes from my love for my children.  Since I became a mother I became even more sensitive to the issue of sexual violence to children and particularly young girls. The young girls of poor societies quickly become objects, the first cog of a society that in poor countries must give up healthcare and education and who is sold to make money with nobody who cares for her fate. The film tells the story in the raw way of what these babies must deal with and which, unfortunately, is all true. It was filmed for only 50,000 dollars in Cambodia and provides for profit sharing by all those who agreed to share this adventure with me. They tried to stop us during filming with threats because of the delicate nature of its subject and even an unexploded bomb put in our way. But we made it till the end due to our conviction that the problem of child prostitution exists everywhere in the world. We must talk about it, as it is the only way to ensure that these criminal organizations are taken apart. The children alone have no voice and they don’t know how to defend themselves. It is a form of slavery of defenseless young people who are imprisoned without papers. There are children out there who will never be able to escape on their own, even if it is around the corner from our home. There are 600,000 child prostitutes in North America, babies taken from their mother in supermarkets, our children risk kidnapping because nothing makes as much money as this, not even arms sales. In the field of crimes against human beings child prostitution takes the highest position, easier and less dangerous than the sale of drugs or arms.

The film will be shown in Italy at Rome’s Adriano Theatre on November 16th. But it has already been shown around the world.

This film has the support of Unicef and Amnesty International and has been shown at the European Parliament at Brussels as a symbol of the International Day against the sexual exploitation of children. It won Best Film awards at Los Angeles, best film of the Miami International Women’s film Festival, 5 nominations at the Madrid International Film Festival and it was shown in 160 cinemas in France, but unfortunately it has never been distributed in Italy. Despite Italian reluctance to distribute it, we have managed to have a premiere at the Adriano in Rome on November 16th, then at the Cinema Modernissimo at Naples on the 23rd and at Florence’s Alfieri Cinema on the 25th. We already know it will be presented at Pesaro, Milan, Perugia, Genoa and Turin. It was a self financed film and who wants to helps us make a presentation in their city can do so. It only needs a contact with a cinema, or with someone who programmes one to set a date and then it is very easy. We simply send a file via the internet. I am convinced that even in this way this film will be shown in my home country and I wish to remind people that 250,000 children disappear in Europe every year and we pretend nothing is happening in relation to a tragedy that involves our children. We will then be present at each screening and with us there will also be representatives of the local Unicef and Caritas. It is a message that must reach the most places possible. Soon after we will begin working on a protest film about child brides and we have also programmed a third film about the state of the young girls in the war in Syria.

In her artistic career Ilaria Borrelli was first an actress and then a writer and director. How did these changes come about?

Even though I had been the star of films and television programmes, I was very unhappy when I was an actress. I was very unhappy with the superficiality of the characters that were offered to me and I had the natural tendency to change the punch lines, or the words I had to recite until one day a director told me – “Ilaria, this time make my film, the next time make yours”. And in that moment something clicked inside of me and I truly began thinking about making a film of my own, but Italy 20 years ago was no place for female directors. I was acting at the time because I had attended the Silvio D’Amico Academy of Dramatic Arts and I had lived in New York to take a course at the Actors Studio. There I saw friends making short films and studying directing and script writing at New York University. So I made up my mind, I gave up everything and I too enrolled into New York University where for two years I studied directing and screen writing. At that point I even managed to direct my first film in New York. It took three years to find the money and so was born “Our Italian Husband” with Brooke Shields, Mariagrazia Cucinotta, Pierfrancesco Favino and Chevy Chase. In those years I also wrote my novels “Scosse”, “Look at me”, “Domani si gira” and “Tanto rumore per Tullia” which are available on Amazon. They are very autobiographical novels where I protest against sexual discrimination, in Italy if you are a woman you have to be horizontal, without the backing of a powerful man you can do nothing important, there is no interest in hearing the voice of women.

Why is there so much discrimination in Italian artistic life?

I believe that when we came out of the war we saw a moment of cultural development beyond the economic advances which was full of ideas and plans. In the past I had the pleasure of knowing the great screen writer Fulvio Scarpelli and I remember being invited to eat with him at a restaurant that was a haunt for directors and screen writers who had come out of the war who told stories of moments lived at the end of the war, it was abuzz with projects built on a great sense of solidarity, they all helped each other. Italian cinema taught the world and masterpieces came out of that period. At the time even feminism contributed to the growth and the knowledge of the potential for women. Then came the twenty years of Berlusconi when women were relegated to the role of objects, they had to be show seminude and this was the maximum that could be done by art. We have gone backwards. I see it at the cinema, the roles in the past were incredible, they were scientists and they made war. Today the female roles stop at wives, lovers and sometimes only mothers and in any case secondary and subordinate to the male leads. Even today the only film in many years that was truly feminist is “Erin Brokovich”. Even “Thelma and Louise” that was celebrated as the film that symbolizes feminine independence is not so in reality since at the end they are forced to commit suicide. Today there is no interest in women’s ideas. At the same time, since they do not see any examples to follow, they struggle to understand who they are. I, a woman of 48 years of age who has written novels struggle to recognize myself in these characters. I am disoriented and I have no desire to go to the cinema. In France I see some differences from Italy, there are directors there that make good movies, for example Mustang by Deniz Gamze comes to mind, it was chosen to represent France at the Oscars in 2016 and tells the story of five young sisters who fight for their freedom against an overpowering religious and patriarchal hierarchy.

Don’t you think that deep down this need for male supremacy hides a weakness of theirs?

I can say without fear that I am a feminist, even if today it almost seems a swear word. However, we women have spoken a lot amongst ourselves, but we have not spoken with men. Today I have a son and I came to understand that those who educate the boys have a lot of responsibility. You have to speak to them as they grow up; it is a social fault not knowing how to speak with young people. It is a serious matter for me that we do not talk about sexuality in our schools, whereas as they do in Germany. Young people often have their first experiences via the Web, without the supervision and explanation of an adult. Even sexual tourism, if we could talk about it without taboos, we could surely save more children who would otherwise become victims, knowledge equals salvation.

What meaning does the word love have for Ilaria?

Love is something that is given, and it does not mean that it is reciprocated; it is given and nothing else. The effect you get from giving is to improve yourself, who gives does not feel sorry for themselves, who cries constantly is destined to never be happy. Amongst the examples of love given to me are my mother and my husband in a period of my life. Other great persons in our History, such as Mother Teresa, have left their sign in me. I am struck by those who give without expecting anything in return, as did a woman with a serious handicap some days ago who, even though she grew up as an orphan in institutions, told me she had had a happy childhood, this woman transmitted much love and amazed me. Despite her sad story she told her life with love. Doing things for love is surely the key to a happy life.

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