by Amy Thomas

Vibrant, unapologetic, and absurd, Vittoria Rizzardi Peñalosa's work tends to explore the surrealist facets of every given scenario through framing composition. An award-winning Italo-Colombian film director whose work has screened at prestigious venues across the world including the MAXXI Museum of Modern Art in Rome and the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles. As we welcome our newest director to our roster, Amy sat down with Vittoria to discuss very important and serious film topics such as the circus, ducks and archaeology. Read on!

What's the most challenging thing about filmmaking?

I think it would be compromise. Filmmaking is about teamwork, right? It’s not just you as the director, there’s everyone else and it’s important for me to get a lot of input from everyone involved. But I also think that you have to remember the bigger picture too, whether that's a commercial music video or feature films. There's always someone besides the director that has to be happy with what you’ve produced.

Of course, especially when working with clients right?

Yes absolutely, what I've learned is that the challenging aspects about compromise are often also the keys to success. You have to learn how to compromise in a way that means you remain faithful to your vision, whilst ensuring everyone involved in the making of the piece is happy, especially the client. I don’t think that anyone truly masters compromise, but I hope I'm getting better and better.

Did you ever consider a different career? 

Never seriously. But when I was approaching six years old, I started thinking, who am I going to be as an adult? And I was obsessed with the idea of being an archaeologist. So if I had seriously considered another career, it would definitely be archaeology. I just love history and discovering things about the past and I think that connects with my passion for storytelling and discovery in film.

Maybe you could make a film about archaeology one day

Totally! I actually wrote this pilot that was set in Babylon around 200 BC when I lived in L.A. I did loads of research and went down daily rabbit holes about history but sadly it was never picked up because of COVID.

What’s your favourite movie?

My favourite movie is Happy As Lazzaro directed by Alice Rohrwach, who’s an amazing Italian director; she's actually at the Oscars this year for her film Le Pupille. I always go with this movie because it has surreal elements to it, but it's also very grounded in reality and I really see myself in this.

What’s the movie about?

So it’s based on a true story that came out a few years ago in Italy, 2014 I think. It's about this community that was composed of some really wealthy families and their modern-day slaves.

Not just servants, actual slaves that worked the massive tobacco fields these families owned, for no money. It was such a sheltered community that they just had no idea that they had to be paid, because they were being provided a house, food, electricity or whatever. I wish I could find the article, but it was shocking to read about. So the film is based on this story, but also there's this amazing fairy tale story that’s intertwined with it, so that’s where I see elements of my work.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

Can I just say that I'm not saying this to be funny, but it would probably be opening a savings account. I struggle with that kind of everyday stuff. I’m such a hard worker when it comes to what I do, but then everything else about my life and becoming an adult gets a bit crazy, right? So when I manage to take a step towards being a bit more organised in that respect, it's really exciting for me.

What’s your favourite piece of clothing?

Obviously, I have things like my Miista boots, but I think this question is more meaningful, so I’m thinking about something that if I lost, I would be desperate. My mum loves making knitwear. The items she makes are so amazing; I keep telling her “Oh we should sell this!” but she never wants to. She just enjoys making it for me and my sister. So my favourite piece of clothing would probably be one of her knitwear pieces: I have this jumper that’s all of these shades of red, orange and brown, and the pattern is so complicated. I have no idea how she made it but I love it.

If you got the opportunity to remake a classic film, which one would you go for? 

This is a tricky question. I don't want to say something like “Pretty Woman” or whatever, because then I’d actually have to make it and I’d have to consider contemporary thinking and morals and stuff. So I would have to say La Strada by Fellini, which means The Road. It’s a film about a circus and I love the circus. Fun fact, I was in the circus from around 8 to 13!

You were part of the circus?

Not exactly, we had this tiny circus that set up next to my town in Italy and to make more money, they opened their doors to the public as a sort of training gym. I was very hyperactive, so my mum said oh this could be great for you! So, I tried it and I was actually really good at it, specifically trapezium. So I’d love to make something set in a circus.

Incredible! Next question is what kind of superpower would you like to have?

I’d love to be able to switch lives with people I see. Learning things from another person’s perspective would be so cool. I’d be so curious to know a certain actor's secrets for example. I don't know how I would get back to my body though. That would freak me out because I definitely feel good inside here!

If you could direct any actor or actress or actor, dead or alive, who would it be?

I have two answers for this. The first one is Monica Vitti because of the way that she delivers her lines: it’s so raw and real and exactly how you’d imagine someone to say that line. Especially back then, everything was a bit heightened and a bit shrill. There's something about her.

And the second one?

The second one is Shia Laboeuf. Look, I know it’s a bit controversial because obviously, he was abusive toward FKA Twigs. I just think as an actor he's so good. I’m of the belief that the debate around separating the art from the artist is still so important. In my opinion you can’t really expect people to stop liking films that star actors or directors who have done bad things. I think that whatever they produce is one thing, and their life and who they are as a person is something else. 

I think he's an amazing actor. I've heard from people I knew back in LA that he commits to jobs in an almost old-school way; I don’t think that's true for every actor. I think with social media and, you know, actors becoming actors from being influencers, you do see the real craft of acting and the commitment and the preparation for a film sometimes gets lost. Acting is so hard and I think that you do really see the difference when someone commits in that way.

Ok great, let's get down to serious business: if you could be any animal, which would it be and why? 

Oh, God. To be honest, this is the question I really struggled with, because I have no idea. My favourite animal is a horse, but realistically I would never be a horse because I’m not graceful enough. I think I would be some sort of clumsy bird. Maybe a duck.

A duck? 

Yes, because I think that ducks are clumsy, but they also represent an element of freedom to people, with their ability to fly, and I think those traits really resonate with who I am as a person.

What’s your favourite hobby or pastime outside of work?

I feel extremely boring when answering this question! Sometimes when I go back to visit my family for the weekend and I see my friends, they tell me about their personal lives and I just have nothing to say! Sometimes it’s hard because the purpose of having a hobby or passion is to escape the pressure of your job, but I think I'm super grateful to say that generally what I enjoy the most is doing my job.

I feel like you're very lucky to get to say that!

Yes, definitely!

Thanks so much Vittoria!

Thanks to Vittoria for chatting with us. Make sure to keep an eye on our social media for any new work from Vittoria and check out her work here!