Best Director Winner – Lisa Battocchio

Lisa Battocchio is an upcoming Italian film director whose surreal short film Cochlea won her the Best Director award at the inaugural Sur-REEL & Uncanny Film Fest. Cochlea is a remarkable piece of work in many departments, notably the edgy cinematography.

The director sublimely captures the stunning Mediterranean scenery in the opening scenes where she shows a wizened old man wandering around an undisclosed rural setting with a cheery smile that reflects the sunny climes. But she uses the clawing heat as a metaphor for the protagonist’s state of mind as he faces his darkest fears. Her directing skills bring these subtley contrasting elements together and she weaves an experimental masterpiece with little dialogue.

In this interview she shares her surreal vision and how innocent-looking snails play their part in an old man’s spiralling and grotesque nightmare.

Congratulations on your Best Director win at the Sur-REEL & Uncanny Film Fest. What inspired the snail theme in your surreal short film Cochlea?

Thank you for including our movie in your festival! The snail theme comes from a vivid vision I had some years ago of a man alone on a sun-dried landscape, standing in front of a house – and snails slithering around inside the house. I can’t recall if this was a dream I once had or if I was just picking up on childhood memories.

At the time, I was studying film in Beijing and often missed the Italian countryside and nature. I often found myself recalling faces from home, also smells, the atmosphere and fleeting memories from my childhood. In the Venetian dialect there’s an old nursery rhyme about snails. It stuck with me for a long time and was a great inspiration for the first ideas for Cochlea.

At first, I decided to turn the dream/vision into drawings and sketches so I wouldn’t lose the feelings associated with that memory and it later evolved into a story.

What is your film background? Are you working in the film industry now or studying?

I graduated last year from Beijing Film Academy but because of the pandemic I couldn’t go back for my final year so graduated online from Italy. I’m currently looking for directing and film production jobs in Italy and the UK. After being in China for so long (5 years), it’s quite hard to start again and build connections in a new place.

As regards my film background, I received a scholarship from the Chinese government through a high school competition. I decided to apply to the Beijing Film Academy because filmmaking has always been one of my greatest passions. While there I achieved a BA in cinematography, but in the 3rd and 4th year of university I specialised in directing.

Cochlea was my graduation project and my first experimental film. My latest film Morrison the Unloved Guru is completely different; more narrative and linear. I also shot a documentary and a music video and worked on some student films and had positions in independent production companies in Italy and China, as an assistant director, PA or anything I could help with.

Cochlea, directed by Lisa Battocchio

What experiences have you had as a female director in Italy and generally? Would you say the film industry is open to women directors and treats them fairly or have you experienced gender inequality or unfair treatment?

I still don’t have enough experience in the film industry to make a valid point here but so far I haven’t experienced much gender inequality. But outside of gender inequality, I’ve experienced a lot of pressure for just being an aspiring filmmaker. People don’t value this kind of job and sometimes don’t even recognise it as a proper job, especially in my small town – which is sad.

As regards being a woman on set, sometimes I’ve had to express my capabilities and show I was able to do physical work. I felt that it was important that I actually do these physical tasks myself to learn vital skills. For example, carrying and moving heavy equipment and putting up lights etc. But that issue didn’t often crop up. I actually think things are changing for women directors and I’m seeing a lot more opportunities for us now. Which I won’t spoil, for sure!

What advice would you give to aspiring female directors?

I’m an aspiring director myself, but I’d say be bold and trust your own vision. Art is so subjective, especially if you want to make less narrative and more experimental films. You’ll never make something that everyone likes, so make something you like and you’ll find people that see something in it as well.

Also, I prefer to work with less experienced people or film students who have a lot of passion for the project rather than more experienced people who are arrogant or don’t put much effort in. However, this means post-production can get really long and exhausting because you’re doing most of the work yourself or with a few people. But it helps you grow your vision and also stay in budget.

What future projects do you have planned? Can we expect to see a surreal feature film by you within a couple of years?

I’m trying in every possible way to get a position as a director or an intership somewhere; whether it’s in Italy, the UK or abroad. I am handing out my CV here and there. Also, I’m writing short films and music video ideas in my notebook as well as drawing/sketching and finding new sources of inspiration. I’m also writing a story that merges cut-out animation and video.

Yes, I’ll definitely shoot more surreal films! After filming Cochlea I realised that surreal elements best express my vision. I intentionally left out a lot of the characters’ backstories and reasons behind their actions in order to let the audience add their personal experiences and give their own interpretation. And I received so many different interpretations, which I loved!

In its ideal state, Cochlea was written as a feature film, with a lot more surreal elements, but I’d like to gain more experience in short films and find my style first, and then shoot a feature film. But I’d definitely love to dig deeper into the world of Cochlea and share more of the symbolism and the philosophy behind it.