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Rebecca Tansley’s in-production doco The Concerto is currently seeking funding via Boosted. She spoke with screeNZ about teens, teams and themes.

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The focus of Tansley’s film is Italian-born pianist Flavio Villani, whom Tansley first met some years ago when seeking an accompanist for her own child.

Since then Villani and Tansley have become friends. When Villani announced in the middle of this year that he was soon to return to Italy to achieve his dream of becoming a concert pianist, playing Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2, Tansley decided to document the process.

Having got to know Villani, Tansley realised she had something more than a straightforward tale of achieving one’s dream (or, possibly, not) on her hands. There are a number of strands to the tale. Luckily, Tansley has a good understanding of both music and Italian, making her pretty much the ideal person to drive such a project forward. With limited experience of production, Tansley brought on board Lyn Collie, producer of Briar March’s hugely successful doco There Once Was An Island.

As there were for the environmentally-themed Island, there are clear niche markets for arts documentaries, as Giselle producer Matthew Metcalfe explained during his Big Screen Symposium presentation in September, although one still has to finance the production. Last week, the Auckland University’s School of Music hosted a fundraising concert for The Concerto.

The relatively short notice of Villani’s performance and the need to travel to Italy and conduct a multi-camera shoot of a classical concert to capture the climax of the story are behind the campaign on Boosted, which is seeking $50,000 and closes next week.

Villani’s tale is in some ways neither about music nor his aspirations to perform it, but combines elements of a classic underdog or fish out of water story.

The son of a general in the Italian army, Villani’s childhood musical aspirations weren’t supported at home, with paternal expectations focused on pushing Villani jnr to more practical pursuits, like a real job. It was a situation familiar to many an aspiring artist of whatever nature. To compound that situation, Villani is gay, which was something else his family had difficulty accepting or supporting.

If it were a fiction script, it would be called lazy writing, ticking more and more trope boxes as the story unfolded. A youthful version of Kevin Costner would be signed up to play the role. As it’s not fiction but someone’s life, the outcome wasn’t in a scriptwriter’s hands but in Villani’s.

Having left home and in 2008 made his way to a new life in New Zealand, Villani has studied in Auckland for several years. He’s completed undergraduate and masters’ degrees, been selected by Creative NZ to play at the Venice Biennale, and addressed some of the issues with his family. He’s now about to realise his dream. It’s a redemption song, as is the story behind the Rach 2 (as buffs will know it) which mirrors some of the themes of Villani’s story.

After some early critical success the Russian composer’s first symphony, which premiered in 1897, was a resounding failure and was panned by the critics of the day. Rachmaninoff stopped writing, fell into depression and got engaged to his first cousin. In 1900 he began therapy and then began to compose again. In 1901 he gave a public premiere of a new composition, the Piano Concerto No. 2, which was received much more enthusiastically. Largely on the back of that, his reputation as a composer was restored and his popularity increased tremendously.

Later Rachmaninoff also emigrated to a “New World”, moving to America, although his decision to shift was driven by the Russian Revolution rather than family problems.

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Tansley has assembled a team which also has a good understanding of the music. Emmy-nominated soundie Mike Westgate is much-admired here for his work on projects large and small, from The Last Samurai, The World’s Fastest Indian and Mr. Pip to two low budget titles released this year, Paolo Rotondo’s Orphans & Kingdoms and Rene Naufahu’s The Last Saint.

Also on Orphans & Kingdoms was The Concerto DoP Simon Raby, who has a strong appreciation of music too. As well as shooting classical-themed doco Elgar’s Enigma: Biography of a Concerto he recently shot, from elsewhere on the musical spectrum, Jason Lei Howden’s metal-themed Make My Movie winner Deathgasm.

Other than some rehearsal footage to capture, most of the shoot is now complete until the trip to Italy later this month. Tapping into an Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra rehearsal, Westgate has competed testing of the Soundfield orchestral mic he’ll use in Italy. Luigi Cutore, whose I Am The River was a three-time award-winner at Doc Edge back in 2011, is helping source equipment and additional camera operators for the concert shoot. Villani will perform on 30 December with the Orchestra Filarmonica della Calabria and reunite with family members. No pressure, then.



The Concerto

How easily Tansley and her team to complete the last leg before post depends on a number of factors, of which the Boosted campaign is one. As was commented on during the SPADA Summit session on crowdfunding last week, running a fundraising campaign is a very demanding job.

Away from The Concerto Tansley already has one of those as does Villani, who runs the St Heliers Music Centre.

The Concerto is currently in production. Its Boosted campaign closes on Wednesday 10 December. Tansley hopes to complete the film and begin festival submissions during 2015.

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