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Balancing Life and Art: A Candid Conversation with Antonio D’Alfonso
I met Dr. Antonio D’Alfonso back on
Claudia; I know you’re a writer, editor, publisher, filmmaker, and former professor. Which one do you identify with the most?
Antonio; For having worked as a publisher and an editor for forty years, it would be a lie to say that the creative aspect of my personality dominates my being. I have always approached creativity as an editor and as a producer. As a young man, I never saw myself as an artist who had a product to sell to the public. Whatever product I had to create I saw as belonging to something larger than myself. Now that I have crossed that 60-year-old line, I might be seeing myself as an artist. Yet I cannot escape my need to help other artists. I need to help other writers, I translate the books written by fellow writers, I work on scripts by other film producers, I edit manuscripts written by other published writers. Generosity is an important part of being an artist. I would not be where I am without the generosity of a handful of producers, publishers, editors, and writers.
CDB; When did you realize you wanted to produce films?
AD; I always wanted to produce films. Film is my second love. Music was my first love. I should have continued working on music (and I still do), but I am not a great composer. To be a musician you have to be given the genius of heaven. I don’t have genius. I am a hard-working person. Film allows that sort of person to work decently. All my studies have been in film. I have a Ph.D. in film analysis. Only film enables me to explore the plurilinguistic realities that I know as a person on a daily basis. But I was never given the right to make a real film with real film funds from this country. There is no reason to close the door to young people who want to create their works. There are not many artists in the world. There are many technicians, but few artists. I always considered myself a filmmaker, no matter how bad or good my films are. Quality is not a criterion for being.
CDB; Are you working on a project now?
AD; I am always working on a project. In 2013 I translated over 1000 pages of poetry from French into English. I also published two books of translations; one by the Swiss poet, Jean-Pierre Vallotton and a large anthology of Quebecois Poetry, and my poetry book, Un ami, un nuage. I started an autobiography; Volume One is called De l’insignifiance. I am now translating Un ami, un nuage into English. I am working on selected poems in Italian. I have reworked a film script, Duse and Me, which I wrote with Jennifer Dale, and I hope to shoot in 2014. We are looking for funds for this film that takes place in
CDB; Tell us a bit more about your latest film.
AD; I have made three feature-length films; My Trip to
CDB; I know you’re trilingual, however, which language do you feel more comfortable with when writing a book or producing a film?
AD; Language is not an issue. It has never been an issue. I love working in all languages, and the films I have made so far, work on the complex texture that plurilinguistic realities create. This contemporary global sickness for one language and its purity is a sign of our stupidity as citizens confined behind the gates of nationhood. Language is a tool for a certain kind of communication. It is nice to see language dance like a ballerina, but the dance is one form of communication. There are other forms. When it comes to writing, I write in the language the book will be published in. I am now translating my poetry into Italian, and even there I notice I would like it to be in dialect more than in Tuscan because the voice my brain speaks in, uses the sounds of my Molisano dialect. I am scared of writing film and theatrical works in the official language of a country. They always ring so terribly official, regally. What about the serfs and peasants of the world who do not speak the language of politicians?
CDB; Did you get support from your family in your chosen career?
AD; My parents, my sister, my ex-wives, my daughter, my partner supported and continue to support me. My father wanted me to become a musician. I should have followed his advice. But I couldn’t. I was not a given that magic touch the Platters sang about. My parents continue to help me. I am a poor man. If it weren’t for the occasional help from my parents I am not sure I would be around anymore. It is difficult for loved ones to see someone like me become a failure.
CDB; What about professional support from your community or fellow writers/directors? Do you get any?
AD; To become a professional means you have received the support of the community of artists. Some artists are jealous of one another; others are kind to one another. I have found some supportive people.
CDB; I know a lot of fellow artists, including myself, who are very sensitive beings, they’re spiritual and they are also connected with their higher self. Do you think you also fall into this category?
AD; I am not sure what spirituality has to do with art. Art is spiritual even when it is not spiritual. Spirituality is a personal layer of being. When there is a poem to write, however, you have to know how to write the poem. No amount of spirituality will help you in fulfilling that task. If there is a scene to film, you need to know how to film that scene. Young people mistaken depth of feeling with heightened awareness. I have run into murderers who had more heightened awareness than many so-called Buddhists I met. We must be careful to measure sincerity of feeling with creative achievement. Many artists are not spiritual at all, and some are frankly quiet unpleasant persons to have around. A belief or a moral system is an ideology that gets involved in one’s work. Nevertheless, it should never determine the quality of one’s work.
CDB; Where does your creativity come from?
AD; My parents, my family and relatives. It also comes from friends, discussions, arguments, reading, films, photographs, music, and commissions. If someone asks me to write, I will write.
CDB; Can you tell us more about your career as a professor? Did you like working with young adults?
AD; I have been teaching creative writing for twenty years, mostly using film and film writing. The person who wants to write is faced with immediate problems that need realistic and direct solutions. Unpublished poets and writers quickly reject any suggestion that might affect their work in a serious and profound way. They rapidly mention some famous dead writer, “Well, he did that!” And I reply, “Yes, he did that. He is not you.”
You cannot be a writer if you are unable to accept any form of criticism. Suggestions from an editor do not mean confrontation. All creative output is a collaboration. Teaching is about passing on the ability to accept editorial decisions. The greater the investment on the part of the student, the greater his education will be. I have taught thousands of students. Out of these, only a dozen or so actually became writers. Most were arrested by vanity. Vanity has less to do with creativity than with impotence. To be a good teacher one needs good students, young men and women who are open to new ideas. Many students are conservative by nature, a conservatism brought about by their lack of experience. The arrogance of the ignorant is the worst enemy of education.
CDB; There are a lot of college kids that would like to get into the film business. What advice would you give them?
AD; Study with the very best. Get out of your city, your region, you country. Learn many languages. Watch a lot of films from the past. Watch films from every country in the world. Read a lot of poetry. Read philosophy. Read novels. Find yourself a normal job. Spend your first thirty years learning about life. Find love, and keep it. Most of the people in film are lonely people who gambled their love away. Find love, accept love, and stay in love. Without love you will go nowhere. Without love, art might never come to stay.
CDB; Do you have any regrets (professionally)?
AD; Yes, many. I should have stopped daydreaming when I was 25. When you get to be my age, you realize that art does not pay. There is not much money to be made in the arts. I got addicted to books and films. You must never get addicted to anything. You go nowhere if you are addicted to something. There should be an AA office for life.
I regret having chosen art as a lifestyle. I might not have had a choice. I don’t know. Maybe art chose me. And I am grateful for having been chosen for what I think I am good at. It is a tough career. But I have lived a great life. I did what I wanted to do as a man. Surely I am blessed.
You can learn more about Antonio by visiting his website at; www.antoniodalfonso.com
Or for any artistic projects you may contact him via LinkedIn; ca.linkedin.com/in/antoniodalfonso
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