Giovanni Robbiano

Giovanni Robbiano was born on 25th november 1958 in Genova, Italy. Writer, scenarist and cinema teacher in Genova, Milano and in Greece, Giovanni Robbiano is also director. After having studied in Columbia University in New York in Emir Kusturica's class, he directs Figurine based on one of his scripts, then 500 !, a comedy co-directed with two friends at John Landis style, and Deadly compromise a thriller made with the same team.

His last film Hermano should have been HIS big feature, but a financement problem prevents it to reach the screens.

Today, Giovanni works on a big new script…

Exclusive interview with Giovanni Robbiano

  • Giovanni, you were born in Italy but studied cinema in Columbia University at the time Emir Kusturica was teaching there, in 1990. Did that happen “by chance” or have you moved specifically to meet him ?
    • Giovanni Robbiano : Actually, he came in the fall of 1988. I had already been studying there for a year when a person from the administration called me upstairs at Columbia for a big matter and told me that someone was arriving to teach directing and he was “coming from where you come from” ; he did not remember the name and said “Costa something…” so I replied if he was Costa Gavras, and in the end I mumbled to myself : could he be Kustu-rica ? Yes. I was stunned twice, first because I had seen both Dolly bell and When father was away on business and he was already one of my all time favourites, second because to this man Yugoslavia, Italy, or anywhere else were the same area of the world…
  • Tell me more about Emir Kusturica as a teacher. What do you recall as his most memorable lesson ?


  • GR : Soon we made up a Kustu-class, and later it became a Football team, the “gypsies”. We named it so because there were people from all over Europe, and even an iranian goal keeper ! Some of the americans just couldn't hold on with him, Kustu could come in the morning and not feel like teaching, so we could go around in the park or downtown, that was exciting, but some of my fellow mates could go crazy ! You know, the attitude you have in the USA with the university is that you are a customer and you are supposed to get a service. I teach in Italy now and still some students look at you like some guru or a “wise man” that has a superior knowledge and is somehow unattainable. Kustu, anyway was completely even with us, he didn't have any arrogance or attitude, he was just interested in movies and his classes consisted mostly in watching movies and discussing about scenes and shots. I remember a lot of course, once he stayed on one shot in Pudovkin's “mother” for a long time, it was strange and fascinating for us, he was questioning himself about the choices, the thinking, everything, he was fond of russian silent movies, those which he had studied in deep when he was studying in Prague. Here's a small list of kustu's teaching material : Mouchette and Pickpocket 1), Amarcord, La dolce vita, (he was so proud to be named the new Fellini) Kurosawa's The idiot, Loves of a blonde (he was Forman's close friend and it is Miloš Forman who brought him at Columbia). Here's a sentence I can't forget, “you cannot come up with anything in storytelling that dostoyevsky hasn't done yet”. He had Columbia buying a 16mm copy of Roublev since he said that he couldn't go on with teaching without showing us Roublev, maybe it was his favourite movie… but on the other hand I remember he was fascinated by a cheap US flick, “against all odds” a probably forgotten movie (though it was a remake of a Robert Mitchum classic of the fifties)
  • Did he have a rigorous program for the course, or was it more improvised day by day ?
    • GR : Anything could happen, he could come and stay for one hour then excuse himself and say he didn't feel like, or spend the whole day, have lunch, go on until late at night, we used to have dinner with him at times. Stribor (his son) was a little kid, very shy, which is amazing when you see him now. He plays drums in his band and he is a giant. Besides I was one or his favourite pal, we could talk about Football and about Politics or just go around in New York.
  • David Atkins was also one of the students of this course. He is said to have proposed his scenario to Emir Kusturica and it became Arizona Dream, but can you tell me more about how this happened ? Did Emir mentionned to you he wanted to make a film in the United States at the beginning ?
    • GR : There's one thing to say about Emir, it is my repeated experience, I was asking him what is your next movie and he started telling a spared collection of situation, loosely tied together, very emotional but without a strict narrative logic, so I didn't understand the story. The ast time it happened was in Torino and he was telling me he was going to shoot a version of “the Nose” but I couldn't make sense out of it and I said, ok Emir, I don't understand the story but I'm sure it will be excllent as usual and he laughed. He once told us a story about a naive painter form Yugoslavia, getting to the States and being - if I remember well - the victim of a plane accident… I think some of this stuff went into Arizona Dream. David's story was called originally “the arrowtooth waltz” and Emir loved the title, it was very very different from the final result. David was extremely talented, but if you understand me, it is difficult to make a movie with Emir without his own energy taking command on everything. I believe he was disappointed, but Emir is a real director, I mean, a vampire : he absorbs everything and turns it into his own style. And it is a style we love. This means that he was always interested in what was happening around, if there's a good idea coming up, he is instantly interested, he is a true director… On the other hand his ideas are so complicated and personal that is difficult for him to work on someone's else material, he has to adapt it to himself. He wanted to make many things in the States, I remeber he wanted badly to shoot Crime and Punishment in the russian neighborhood of Brighton beach in New York, contemporary. He had negotiations for that, even with Cecchi Gori, by the time the greatest italian producer, but it fell down, he met them in Los Angeles and when he returned he said to me those people were stupid… Anyway, the situation with Time of the Gypsies went bad, the film was coproduced by Columbia (not the university…) pictures and he had a deal with them that allowed him to make Arizona Dream with a big (for him) budget and a big cast, he simply had the hardest time with the studio. Arizona Dream had a lot of problems that in someway you can read in the film even if it is beautiful, it was painful for him, he got sick. He loved Johnny Depp, though, they became friends, he said to me he was a brilliant young man. by the time he was considered an outisder in he States, a rebel, he didn't have a good reputation, and Emir, obviously liked him.


  • For Hermano, you only shot two days with Emir Kusturica, but how was it to ask who was once your teacher to act in your own movie ?
    • GR : I think mostly we were friends, it was difficult to consider him just a teacher, he was very open, you see, some of the people in Kustu's class (and in Kustu's Football team) made it up to become directors, that is what we wanted most, even if I am definitely a screenwriter. I remember Ben Ross, David Atkins of course, Tobias Meineke, from Germany… There was a guy form Poland that shot a movie and I don't remember his name… So It was not convenient to have him in my first or second movie, but Hermano was just right, I tried to reach him and I had a long gone cell number, that was not active anymore, the only way was to reach him through his agent in Paris,I spoke to her and she was of course reluctant… there's this unknown guy from Italy telling he wants to talk to Emir in order to have him for a cameo in his movie… Sounds crazy, I said to her, please tell him I think he will reply, she promised to do and the following day she called back, it was ok, and emir was glad to do it !
  • Your last film seems to suffer from a lack of public financement in Italy : can you tell me more about the situation of your film in particular, and the cinema in Italy in general ? Is the situation getting worse ?
    • GR : The situation is desperate, the public funding for movies has been stopped abruptly and for one and a half year no films were substained with money. The system is moving to supporting only the commercial productions and those in Italy are very very cheap, The problem is very complicated, I am a professional filmaker and I believe that any movie must find his pubblic and support itself in the market through sales, on the other hand it is impossible for the particular situation of my country to produce any movie that it is not strictly TV oriented, since the TV is so powerful in Italy (no surprise that our prime minister is a TV mogul) and decides which movies are to be done. RAI and Mediaset are the two main film producer here and of course are two TV networks (controlled by the same people…). Real cinema is just a boring appendix, nobody wants to take his part, so our industry is pratically dead, everybody works for TV writing and directing lousy serials or so called “fictions”. Currently the fashion is life of the saints, popes and so on… Nobody goes to see an italian movie in the theaters, what's the use when any american film is better ? Thus, it is going worse and worse, but finally now agony has started, our cinema is dead. Amen. To tell you the truth Italy is the most stupid country in the whole planet, its government is a general shame for Europe and the cultural life is reduced to talkshows and gossip. That is the truth.
  • What are your projects now ?
    • GR : Back to writing, I am working with a close friend writing his first movie (with a british producer). I wait if there will be the opportunity to shoot another movie in the future, I have two projects, one is already written by two of my former students and the title is “camping”, the other one is a personal project about which I don't want to even mention the general area…. Oh, I forget ! I also wrote a nice vampire treatment with the same two kids from “camping”, and there is some interest about it… Besides I keep working as editor or consultant for other projects, it's going fine, if not for Hermano.
  • What is your favorite Emir Kusturica movie, and why ?
    • GR : Difficult question. Probably Underground all over but I am very close to Time of the Gypsies because Emir was completing it when we met and we followed it so closely, almost shot by shot…
  • What is your favorite movie of all time ?
    • GR : You want a straight answer at this impossible question ? Ok, Alien (strange isn't it?)
  • What is the last film you've seen at the cinema ?
    • GR : Saw.
1) a film by R. Bresson
en/giovanni_robbiano.txt · Last modified: 2007/04/15 16:50 by matthieu1