Among the films screened at the 39th San Francisco International Film Festival one of the best was one produced by Italian-American Director Odetta Ciancarelli. The film, La Murciaiola (The Girl from Murci), tells a bittersweet story about romance, friendship and the patterns of life in a small village in Tuscany.

Remarkably, Odetta Ciancarelli produced the entire movie for $15,000. Even more remarkably, and to her credit, she paid for about half that expense from money she earned waitressing. One can’t help wondering how much less the project would have cost had she shot it on digital videotape.

Odetta is not the product of a Los Angeles film conservatory. She’s a member of a staff that produces another international film festival. Seeing so many interesting movies from around the world inspired her with the notion that she could, and should, make one about her favorite spot. She visits the charming village of Murci frequently. Why not shoot her film there?

She moved out confident that she would learn what she had to learn as she went along. She stuck to it though the shooting lasted far longer than planned, though working with “real people” rather than actors proved very trying. Above all Odetta’s virtues rules Tenacity.

Contrast La Murciaiola with, say, Ulysses’ Gaze, a film by Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos shown at the same festival. Ulysses Gaze tries to deal with the degeneration of the 3,000-year old cultural patrimony of Greece and the West. The camera follows the protagonist through all of Eastern Europe to settings public, romantic, surreal.

Far more expensive to produce, epic in scope, this film aims for the sky and falls flat on its face. It’s stiff, pretentious and boring.

La Murciaiola, on the other hand, proves that you can do a great deal with very little. Ciancarelli’s camera stays close and personal, and the budget stays small. The film lasts only an hour, but it works. It moves people with its humor and realism.

We see the elder women of the village gather in the open air every morning. They knit, prepare food and discuss the great issues of the day, such as the foreigner who has just moved into town. This they do with the homey wit of rural people everywhere. On the purported fickleness of the main character’s fianc, they lament: “Men. They go all the way to the ocean, but can’t find water.”

La Murciaiola shows just what can be achieved with the materials at hand. Ms. Ciancarelli took her own experiences of love, friendship and the village of Murci and wove them into a story that cannot be far removed from her own story. What’s more, she had the villagers of Murci play themselves. She shot the film in the homes, yards and piazza of the village. Though she had not planned to do so, she played the lead role herself. She says this helped set an example for the other non-actors in the film. Of course, it also gave the director the most intimate control over the mannerisms of her lead character.

Sometimes we overreach ourselves. We move our plans and cameras too far from our own day-to- day lives, our own memories, our own known. Probably the foremost killer of unborn video ideas is the mind’s tendency to complicate projects before we ever pick up pen or camera. We start to embellish them with the desire for things we might not have: time and money being two prime examples.

Instead, we should repeat to ourselves, like a mantra, our version of the first advice given to every generation of novelists: write what you know. For us: shoot what you know.

Odetta Ciancarelli had to work hard to make her film, but she never departed from equipment and people she knew or from a simple story only she could tell.

Stephen Muratore is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.

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