Sydney Sibilia is the Italian director behind 2014’s I Can Quit Whenever I Want and its two sequels. He returns with the comedy-drama Rose Island, which stars Elio Germano as Giorgio Rosa, an idealistic engineer who built a 20m x 20m platform in international waters off the coast of Italy in 1967-68 and declared it a micronation.
ASFF: How did you first hear about the story of Rose Island?
SS: On Wikipedia! There’s a Wikipedia on page, called, ‘Do you know that?’ And there is this picture of Rose Island, a micronation. And I clicked on it and on ‘micronation’ and what that means. And I read about that story. And thought it’s an amazing story to do a movie. And I’m a filmmaker. I can do this movie!
ASFF: The fact that Giorgio Rosa physically built his own island – or platform, to be precise – in the sea is amazing. Is that how you felt?
SS: Yes. The system you see there is one that he patented and it is still today Giorgio Rosa’s patent. And it’s a very, very clever system which he created, really, with a lot of ingenuity because he’s created this system with these pillars which can be filled with water. And this is something which is quite difficult to achieve, in an economical way, without spending too much money building such a platform.
ASFF: How did you construct the set? Did you use digital effects?
SS: No, we built an island! It’s almost the same island, it’s a little bit different. We built in this huge pool in Malta. In Malta, there’s this amazing studio called the Mediterranean Film Studios. It has a 100 metre by 100 metre pool. It’s a huge tank. It’s four metre deep. And you can go with the boat on it, and we built the island in this pool, the same size as the original. 20 metres by 20 metres. But we changed some things because we need some space to shoot the movie. Because the original one is not building for shooting!
ASFF: You were able to meet Giorgio. How did he reflect on these events shown in the film?
SS: He’s still sad, for the [government] destroying the island. It was painful for him to remember the story, the last part. He really, really loved the island. And I thought it’s not a joke for him. It’s not a joke. It’s a real thing. He loved the island. He loved the world on the island and he really loved how the people understood the island. The people loved the island. They loved what the island represented for the local people and for the tourist industry. I don’t know, in the movie, if it’s clear, but it was an important tourist spot.
ASFF: Talk about Elio Germano, who has already won Best Actor in Cannes and Berlin for earlier movies in his career. What was he like?
SS: He’s one of the best actors I’ve ever worked with, frankly speaking. He spent a lot of time in Bologna, to speak the dialect. And he listened to so many audio files [of dialect]. It was unique to go so deep into character. I first spoke to him before I started the screenplay. It was strange for me because I usually start to write and then I do the casting. But I called Elio: ‘I have a story. Do you want to hear it?’ OK! We met and I tried to explain the story but not the film’s story. The real one. And he said, ‘If the movie as you say, I’m in!’ And two years later we were in Malta to shoot.
ASFF: What do you think the themes of Rose Island are?
SS: It’s about the power of just one person. Every person can create a world. It’s a part of the movie, where it starts. In May 1968, hundreds of students in Paris were protesting for a better word. At the same time, that same day, just one guy build that perfect world that they want. It’s simple. If you want a better world, you can create your world. It’s not so difficult if you have a couple friends and 700,000 lire!
Rose Island is available on Netflix from 9 November. For more details click here.