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INTERVIEW: Davide Pepe talks to Leslie Deere

A film by Davide Pepe and Diamanda Galás

This Friday and Saturday Diamanda Galás and filmmaker Davide Pepe will present the World Première of their new film Schrei 27 at Barbican’s SPILL Festival.  
Davide Peppe is an Italian filmmaker, focusing on independent artistic projects, short films, musical promos and dance works.  In 2006 he was awarded best Italian short film at the Sony Short Film Festival as well as the 2008 Venice Circuito Off.

Most recently his film Giardini di Luce was screened at the 60th Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Shorts.  He often collaborates with actor / co-director Salvatore Bevilacqua and producer James Mackay, who worked with Derek Jarman.

Schrei 27  was originally commissioned in 1994 as a radiophonic work by New American Radio and the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis.  The subject deals with asylum institutionalisation from the patient’s point of view, while being subjected to chemical and mental torture.  

Davide Pepe Email Interview

Leslie Deere: How did you meet Diamanda?

Davide Pepe: First of all, I want to say I started to listen to Diamanda's music when I was 17 (1987).  Although I was not conscious of it at that time, she and my other favourite groups (Coil, Nurse With Wound and Current 93), were capable of propelling my obsessiveness into visions. When I lost my 14 year old sister Daniela in 1991, this was really useful and probably a life saver to me. Indeed having an outlet – creating visions of my fears and obsessions was a kind of exorcism from them.

I've always had the hobby of photography since I was 8 years old and let's say at a certain point of my life, around 1994, I felt the need to see movement inside my pictures in order to better express myself. So I started to create my first videos, shooting with 2 friends of mine, Sandy da Frè and Gigi Martinucci and editing with 2 VHS videorecorders. But I never liked to depend on people to create my work and since I didn't have the money to pay the people who were helping me, I decided to learn everything about video and cinema while experimenting with the possible technology.

I had a degree in computer science but never opened a manual about editing or direction. I wanted to be free from the theory. I wanted to find my own way to say what I had in mind. It was in 1999 when I really became conscious that each time I created a new work I felt better. So I started to experiment using the videos (or my loved super 8 kodachrome 40 films) to create a combination of sound and images that could turn emotions into moving images.

Also, I wanted to be able to create something that could drive the emotions of the audience into their own story. When I became pretty sure of my technique I decided to contact all the musicians I loved, and that I still love, to create something with them.
Since their music had been so helpful and evocative to me I thought giving back with my visuals would create a very powerful result.

In 2000 fate wanted me to meet Diamanda exactly under my street door in Bologna (I'm saying fate because in the same morning I had already seen her around my town, but I didn't have the courage to stop her). We spoke just for 5 minutes, at that time my English was much worse than now, but I was pretty sure something important would happen between us in the future. That was not just a double coincidence.

LD: Did you know the original Schrei works before this project?  What was your introduction?

DP: In 2004 I got the courage to write Tessa (Diamanda's tour manager at that time) asking if I could shoot her Guilty Guilty Guilty concert in Modena. At the beginning Diamanda disagreed, but the day of the concert she asked the theatre technicians to call me and see if I still wanted to shoot it. Of course I still wanted to do it!!!!!!

So that was our first collaboration. A month later I shot Defixiones in Ferrara. In 2005 I asked her to read for my short film Little Boy that was selected for the 56th Berlinale in the panorama section. During the voice recording I showed her several short films of mine and she was so moved by my images and my sound that she told me I was the right person to direct the video of SCHREI 27.

I was not aware of that work at that time so as soon as I went home I downloaded the mp3 and ordered a copy and I remember I was really shocked by it because it was like a pure powerful and compressed vocal energy. I thought it could have been used as a weapon!!!

I started to write some ideas to Diamanda and I created some clips with my nephews and nieces, but Diamanda did not want to use children and I agreed with her because we needed an adult, someone that could represent any individual.  The final meaning of Schrei 27 would have been different otherwise.
Once we fixed this aspect, it became very natural to create the images that came to my mind listening to Schrei 27. So I created the first version only with Salvatore Bevilacqua to give Diamanda an idea of what I would have wanted to create with her as well.

LD: How closely did the sound direct the images?

DP: I followed the sound vibrations to make the light and movement of the body follow Diamanda's voice perfectly. The sound part of Schrei 27 appeared as a film to me from the first time I heard it. This is something Diamanda and I want to be clear about with the audience.

The sound is not just a soundtrack and it's probably even more important than the video. This was the main reason for wanting to define Schrei 27 as a film by Davide Pepe and Diamanda Galás. And this was also the reason for Diamanda wanting to collaborate with me. When she saw my work, she understood that for me the sound is exactly as important as the visual.

After this first step we started to inspire each other, adding new stuff each time inside the film - Diamanda's paintings, my sounds, Robert Knoke and Jim Provenzano’s photos of Diamanda, Dave Hunt’s sounds and mix of a part of the work and so on.

Each time one of us was suggesting something there was a new addition from the other part. Of course this was not a competition but we were just really excited about what was happening at such an incredible physical distance. We were like one mind split into two different bodies. Indeed if I should say what is for me, the film Schrei 27, I would define it as just an incredible short circuit between Diamanda and me (that has been made possible by all those people that worked with us and in particular by the helpful Stephanie Loveless).

LD: How does this project crossreference your overall work and practice?

DP: When I was involved with Diamanda to create the visuals for Schrei 27 I had already started experimenting using long sequences of photos to generate videos.  And in that period I was focused on using this technique to explore the human body as a kind of ‘body landscape.’ I had started this research in 2004 with Tensione di superficie #1 and after that I had created two other short films Body Electric #1 and Body Electric #2 with Miriam King.

Thematically I explore death in all its meaning - the death of a person I love, the end of a love story, the end of a situation like a feast, the end of a generation, and so on. Creating my short films beccome my way to survive my obsessions. Once they are outside of me I can feel relieved and then move forward.

LD: What are you working on at the moment?  What’s coming up in 2011?

DP: Let's say 2011-2012... A new work with Diamanda, a video installation with a painting of David Tibet, a video installation taken from a concert of Nurse With Wound and Blind Cave Salamander (I shot and edited it in the 2009), a work with Andrew Liles, a series of city time-lapses I started to create with Salvatore Bevilacqua two years ago, a work about the Saint Paul feast in Sicily (always created with Salvatore) and I hope to be able to create the work of my life: a work about the acceptance of my sister’s death through my oneiric path. I started to imagine this work in 1997 and James Mackay supported my idea immediately. So in 2005 we started to look for funding in Italy unsuccessfully. But probably Italy is not yet ready for this kind of work that, by the way, would also see the presence of Diamanda.


22 - 23 April 2011
Silk Street Theatre
: £5
Performance time: Time slots from 13:00
Running time: 27mins