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Pugliese Film Director, Paola Bernardini

Paola Bernardini won the 2015 Dusty for Outstanding Film. Here, she shares her experience making the film. Puglia, a region in southern Italy, holds a special place in my heart. It holds my family. While my father’s job allowed me to grow up around the world, learning different languages and cultures, we always came back to Puglia, once or twice a year. We had two lives; one of tumultuous traveling; the other a quiet life back in Italy. Two different worlds. I found comfort in that, and have aspired to tell a story set in Puglia for a long time. Thesis year was the opportunity to finally tell my story. Using SVA resources to shoot in Italy, I finally brought my two worlds together. It was inherently difficult, and the pressures I put myself under made it an even more challenging experience. When I leave a place I love, I romanticize it. I developed the story with my co-writer, Dylan Gantz, and a lot of my input consisted of describing the place from my romanticized memories. Once we went to Puglia, our visions melded together. Dylan saw the country through fresh eyes, much like I do every time I go back. When the script was finished, I translated it to Italian. Citta’ dei Sogni (City of Dreams) is a coming of age story about two young brothers who run away from home in search of a town they call “City of Dreams.” A town in Puglia called Monopoli, where all their troubles will be solved. My father and his brother told me their adventures as Boy Scouts traveling in there as well. It all resonated with my own experiences as a kid. I was most trying to communicate the idea of holding on to a fantasy. If you believe that what you imagine can be real, then when that fantasy falls apart the consequences can be shattering, especially from the point of view of a child. Ultimately, I wanted to tell a hopeful story about basics things like friendship, love and family — the most fundamental pieces to our lives. You have this even when you have nothing but a dark past and backpack on your shoulders. I was influenced by Stand by Me, Cinema Paradiso and The Bicycle Thief. A key moment that drew me to this story was my romantic perception of a place that faded after several family members passed away. How could something so tragic happen in a place so comforting? The boys’ experience mirrored my own awakening to reality. The size of the crew didn’t match the size of my ambition. I didn’t know anyone in Italy who worked in film, so pre-production started from scratch. It was a long, slow process. Our financial resources were limited. On set, we were five crew members and five actors traveling in two cars. We all took on many responsibilities to finish the film. Imagine gaffers as extras, actors as booming, the cinematographer sound mixing while starring in the film. There were never-ending problems. Thankfully everyone was professional, and I’m extremely grateful for their hard work. This was the first film experience for the two young boys who carried the film. Luckily, the locals were extremely welcoming and open to letting us film on their property. I hope to make more films in Puglia – the place I call home.