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Director Luca Guadagnino Says Documentary Is the “Highest and Noble Form of Cinema”



Luca Guadagnino may perhaps be best known on these shores as the director of lush scripted films like Call Me by Your Name, Suspiria and this year’s Bones and All. But since the start of his career, he’s also directed documentaries (Bertolucci on Bertolucci; Cuoco contadino, about one of Italy’s most inventive chefs; among others), which he calls the “very highest and noble art form of cinema.”

His latest is Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, about the rise of master shoe craftsman Salvatore Ferragamo, which opened in theaters Nov. 4. With a name that has long been emblazoned on storefronts on high-end fashion streets worldwide, Ferragamo began his career as the footwear-obsessed child of poor Italian farmers who started training for the field at the age of 9. Salvatore follows Ferragamo from these humble origins to Santa Barbara, California, where he crafted shoes (especially boots for Westerns) for an incipient film industry, and later Hollywood itself, where clients included Mary Pickford and Lillian Gish. His work also appeared in films like The Ten Commandments and The Thief of Bagdad. Eventually, Ferragamo returned to Italy, where he patented a modern wedge-heel shoe and invented a steel shank that would support a shoe’s arch, prioritizing comfort even as he continued to craft looks for glamor icons like Sophia Loren and Audrey Hepburn.

Guadagnino’s portrait of Ferragamo’s journey to the height of his profession draws from extensive interviews with family members and footage from the Ferragamo manufacturing process, as well as archival footage and photographs from the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. Michael Stuhlbarg (who has worked with Guadagnino on Call Me by Your Name and Bones and All) narrates, reading passages from Ferragamo’s 1955 memoir Shoemaker of Dreams. Guadagnino wants viewers, he says, “to understand what a real genius is, to confront them with the genius.”

THR spoke to Guadagnino about his access to the Ferragamo family, the mystery that still surrounds the iconic footwear designer and what subjects he’d like to tackle in future documentary work.

How did you first become interested in directing a film about Salvatore Ferragamo?

I’ve always been interested in documentaries and I’ve always been interested in telling stories about people. I remember I was working for the brand Ferragamo, I was making an advertisement, and I bumped into the book Shoemaker of Dreams, the autobiography that he wrote with the help of a couple of screenwriters from Hollywood at the time. In reading the book, I realized there was something about the personality of this man that was very attractive to me: the underdog, the maverick, the eccentric person who is devoted to a mission in life and pursues it with every instinct and every strength he has. has within himself. And the idea of ​​craft and the idea of ​​invention of things, and the idea of ​​the last century, was quite powerful to me as well.

Given that you’ve worked with the brand before, what was the process like of bringing Ferragamo’s family on board to participate in the documentary? Did you have to develop trust over time?

It was quite smooth. I met a few years ago with Diego di San Giuliano [Ferragamo’s grandson], and so we knew each other for a long time already. So I think he was a very good way into the family and he let me be able to express myself with the family.

Did they have any conditions for the film, given that it was about someone in their family, or were they happy to go along with what you were interested in?

I was interested in the genius of Ferragamo, I wasn’t interested in anything else, so because of that they really were immediately up for it.

How much archival material did you have access to in the production of this film?

Everything. We just got the ability to go through every single thing that is preserved in the great archives of the Museum Ferragamo. Really everything.

Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo, the subject of Shoemaker of Dreams.

Italian designer Salvatore Ferragamo, the subject of Shoemaker of Dreams.


What was that process like, to have access to so much information for the film?

Well, we not only had access to the actual Ferragamo archives, but also we really dug very deeply into many other archives, including the archives of the Maison Dior, or the historical archives of Italian national TV, where we could source footage from the ‘ 10s and ’20s and ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. And all the archives we could reach out to in Hollywood to see the world of Hollywood in the movie. I think that in a documentary, when you collect so many ingredients, it’s about the richness of it but at the same time the rigor of shaping this material into something that is cohesive and strong.

Why did you decide to partner with fashion journalist Dana Thomas, who wrote the film, and what did she bring to the end result?

I met Dana a few years ago, and her books on fashion are just fantastic. She has such notoriety in the field. I think the way she looks at things is what I am fascinated by [by] Because she, like me, likes the systems, and she likes to decipher the level of systems and what the system means. She’s really unabashedly curious, curious, curious, curious. I think she brought the rigor of her beautiful mindset, the journalistic precision that she has in everything she does, and also a lot of fun. Because I like Dana, I like Dana very much.

You’ve made a mix of documentaries and scripted films throughout your career. Do you bring any particular elements from your work on scripted films to the documentaries you make, or vice versa?

I think that the effort in filming, particularly in scripted filming, is always to make sure that you can find a way that doesn’t look like drama but more like behavior. I think that documentary is about that too, like you can see things happening without the idea of ​​the drama behind what happens. Salvatore is more of a talking-heads kind of documentary, so it’s a bit different. Of course, I have yet to tackle my behavioristical documentary, which I’d love to — something like Leviathan, which I think is a masterpiece, something like that. But one day.

Yes, I was going to ask you, for documentaries in the future, what subjects interest you?

Oh yeah, I saw this movie that really captured my heart so strongly Honeyland a couple of years ago. It was just beautiful and it was just so humbling, [a] beautiful movie. One day I will probably stop making fiction and really devote myself to that. I think it’s the very highest and noble art form of cinema, documentary is.

Did you learn anything in the production process of this film about Ferragamo that really surprised you or challenged your view of him?

Well, I think that Ferragamo is very reserved. And he was very determined, he was a genius, he was somebody who was focused to make things happen the way he wanted. And he was really able to show part of himself through his work, a sense of form and color and being daring. But he was very reserved: We don’t know much about his sentimental life until he meets Wanda Ferragamo. That’s something that is interesting to me, that’s kind of a mystery, of what did this desire look like? Where was his desire and how was his solitude in LA, in Hollywood, at the time? How did he… I know it was another era, but at the same time, desire is desire, so that’s something that is still a big question mark for me.

Why did you choose Michael Stuhlbarg to narrate this film? Why was he the right voice for this?

Well, because Michael is one of the greatest American actors alive and is one of my good friends and is someone I joyfully work with anytime I can. Why not?

Ultimately, what do you hope viewers take away from this film?

I hope that people can understand that you cannot put yourself into one dimension in your life, that there are things that you can achieve with your sense of will and your sense of endeavour, but I also want the audience to understand what a real genius is. , to confront them with the genius. He’s a genius.

Besides having two new films out, what are you working on now?

I am starting mixing on Challengersmy new movie with Zendaya, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, which will go all the way through January.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The News84Media magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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