Interview: Marco Zaffino

I interviewed Huddersfield-based indie film-maker Marco Zaffino, who for 10 years has written, directed and produced several films on budgets that the word ‘modest’ doesn’t even begin to express.

Huddersfield film-maker Marco Zaffino is to be honoured with an award at the Honolulu International Film Festival next month in recognition for directorship on his esoteric examination-of-cinema feature Kino.

The 100 minute film, shot in and around Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, will earn the 37 year-old writer/director – who co-owns and runs the Doodles Out of School Club with his wife Becki – the Gold Kahuna Award for Excellence in Filmmaking. The news may come as a jolt for many, Marco included, not least because of the hefty financial disparities that exists among the other winners; disparities that in some cases extends into millions of pounds.

“[In monetary terms] the list of the Kahuna Award Winners goes; six million, one thousand-five-hundred, three-hundred-thousand, one million…” Zaffino said, “So the ambition was to use ‘no budget’ as a pallet and to rank up with budgeted films. That is, one, very difficult, and, two, seems to have happened, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

It is with a keen slice of providence that finds Kino, filmed on a budget of £1,500 and starring only friends and amateurs, positioned alongside the likes of $6 million gangster flick, Charlie Valentine –which stars seasoned actor and Platoon veteran, Tom Berenger.

“Is it hard to keep up with the bigger boys? Absolutely.” said Zaffino, “People just say, ‘Ah, put in the Sundance Film Festival’, or, this, that and another, but, you’re competing against people who are backed by, at the least, film councils, never mind the likes of Miramax and everything else called ‘Independents’ outside Hollywood.

“To get in to any festival without famous people; just using amateur actors and crew, and still having the sort of momentum to try and make something as great as you can with what you’ve got; so to even get Kino in a festival is a huge achievement.”

Not that his success substitutes talent with novelty or luck; Zaffino knows what he’s doing. Having been involved in the art community for a number of years, he cut his teeth in photography and literature, before fateful circumstances forced the nursery-owner, by default, to the helm of his first feature, The Veranda, in 1998.

What followed was a lesson in steely determination that inspired his friends, family and casual acquaintances to alight themselves and work without money until the job was completed. In many respects, the against-all-odds, guerrilla style of film-making has become part of the narrative and auteurship of Zaffino’s films, just as his home town of Huddersfield, where the majority of filming occurs, has evolved into the role of a supporting character.

The early but small success of The Veranda, which was awarded Best Foreign Feature at Los Angeles International Film Festival in 2002, added a sense of achievement to proceedings and provided a much-needed dose of morale-fuel. Fresh off the back of his festival recognition, Zaffino embarked on two more projects –the festival-less features The Vendetta (2003) and Spoken by Crowds (2005) — before he garnered attention once more with his latest endeavours, Kino and short film The Faery Tale of Rose and Magdalene.

But even these minor achievements have, for the most part, been too sporadic and too far out of reach. For Zaffino the film industry is still a closed shop; a constant battle against industry nepotism and near-sightedness. “Distribution is very hard. It’s the same situation as getting into festivals or getting an agent, anything like that; usually you have to be solicited, you have to be known.”

Kino is very much inspired by Marco Zaffino’s 12 years as a director/producer; not biographical, but a self-conscious, existential piece of cinema, Kino critiques the inner-workings of an industry which Zaffino has only observed from the perspective of a man on the outside looking in. Yet in spite of the hardships Marco sees beyond the doom and dread and admits that his non-dependent ethos can also be liberating.

‘On the last two films, […Magdalene and Rose and Kino], I really wanted to enjoy myself a lot more –and I did – whist keeping that no holds barred on the creative side. There are no executives with strings above me, no-one telling me what to do and I just decide to enjoy that [freedom] and push whatever creative ideas come to me.”

“The future? Well, my ambitions are to push onto budgets.” said the director, “I have scripts set internationally in L.A, New York, Helsinki, Rome; just in case I only get that one chance, I’m going to make that one film with five beautiful countries in it, definitely!…”

Sometime during the month of April, the small, remote island of Hawaii will recognise Marco Zaffino’s achievement as a film-maker. Marco himself won’t be there to collect his award –he’s unable to afford the airfare –but that is beside the point. The larger issue is that genuine, non-dependent film-making financed by drive and passion alone is a luxury that British cinema is unwilling to entertain, except occasionally on the festival circuit.

So Marco’s story is largely untold because it remains unfinished. As of yet, there is no grandiose finale, no success story to complete the third act. The tale just continues and people like Marco keep making films. Because it is what they have to do.


About craig shaw

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