Matteo Troncone is a struggling San Francisco actor who travels to Naples, Italy to learn about the city’s history, his family roots, and pizza in this selfie-filled doc. He winds up a living example of the film’s title, which refers to the Neapolitan art of “arranging.”
Did you set out to do a film on Naples, or was your story always part of the project?
Naples immediately fascinated me: the crazy frenetic energy, the openness of the people there, the great and sometimes overlooked beauty of the place, and the extreme contrasts of that beauty with darkness. And there, the pizza is another universe, absolutely unparalleled.
Originally, I set out to make a film just about pizza and Naples. During my first trip there for filming, a very good friend of mine in Italy viewed the footage and saw that I was making a film not just about pizza, but more so about “l’arte di arrangiarsi”: the art of making something out of nothing, of getting by, the art of living. I was doing this subconsciously, evidence that I “knew” what the film was before I was aware of it consciously.
I avoided putting myself in the film for some time. I didn’t want it to be about me. But after seeing that the film was more about arrangiarsi, I knew that I had to sacrifice myself and put my own story in it. Because I was “living the film,” my story became the most intimate example of arrangiarsi, and subsequently the spine which connects the other themes of Naples and pizza.
How’s the van?
The “Bison” is still roaming the land. We were in Yosemite together in November. It seems to have the longevity and endurance of a bison as well. Since I no longer live full-time in it, we now have a more “honeymoon” relationship, rather than one of everyday routine.
It will drive it to Santa Barbara in February. I’ve turned it into a rolling art gallery and advertisement for the film. It is covered with photos from the film as well as “graffiti” that I sprayed myself.
Every time I drive it though, I feel again that sense of freedom, expansion, and excitement. I have had so many incredible adventures in that van. Moving into it has remained one of the wisest choices I ever made. It birthed a feature film among other things. I just didn’t realize that I would end up of living in it for five years. That was quite a journey.
After three years in it, I was pretty cooked. But I needed to live in it another two years so that I was able to finish the film; for financial reasons, but more importantly because my life was “writing” the film. And that part of the story had not yet ended.
Have you been back to Naples recently?
I haven’t been to Naples in two years. I needed to focus on the editing rather than be tempted to shoot even more footage. In the seven-year span of making the film, I made a total of nine trips for filming and had roughly 125 hours of footage.
Perhaps I now know that city even better than San Francisco. I have friends there and look forward to returning in 2017 to present the film and also to eat the pizza. There is no pizza like that on earth, no matter how hard people try to replicate it elsewhere.
What was your favorite memory of making the film?
I have so many fond memories. Certainly filming the olive harvest in Chianti stands out as one of the most beautiful autumns of my life that I have ever experienced. I was climbing olive trees and harvesting them by hand. I’ll never forget the perfume of the olive press. And the autumn colors that year in Tuscany were breathtaking.
My other favorite memories are largely made up of meeting all of the wonderful and generous people in Naples, and the seeming serendipity of how it all unfolded. Personally I don’t believe in “coincidences.”
There is no way I would’ve been able to make this film in another place other than Italy. People were so open and generous with their time and not fear-driven. For example, outside of Rome, I was able to film while riding the outside of a wheat combine. That never would have happened in the U.S. They would have been too paranoid about me falling and the related insurance costs.
The farms that I filmed in Italy were more than happy to open up their lives and work to me, even though I only had a $1,000 camera and no crew and was a “nobody.” Feeling the passion for their work, and the heart of it all was really striking. Whether it was the pizza makers or the baristas, or the street artists, each person was equally eager to share their art and craft with me. That aspect certainly stands out.
One of my favorite memories that I actually chose to cut from the film, was how I met and interviewed the renowned author Pino Aprile. Having no leads to contact him, I had given up on the idea for a few years. One day I had a inkling to go to a certain pizzeria for lunch. While waiting for them to open, I was standing on the street and struck up a conversation with Salvatore Argenio, a master tailor and suit-maker next door. He invited me into his shop where we spoke for over an hour about my project and he asked whether I was familiar with Aprile’s work. I said “Of course”, and he replied, “Let’s call him. He’s a good friend of mine.”
Two weeks later, I was interviewing Pino Aprile in Trieste where we both happened to be for a few days. As I said, I don’t believe in coincidences.
That certainly is one of my greatest reminders from this experience: to just listen to my own guidance without trying to make sense of it all beforehand.
What is your next project?
Right now I am resuming work on a narrative script for a feature that has been put on hold in order to make this film. Evidently the idea still is calling me. So I will be following that trail for the next year at least and see if it inspires me on the same level as arrangiarsi (pizza..and the art of living).
My belief is that the most important part of any film is the writing. The structure and how the story unfolds is crucial. My three favorite narrative films of 2016, Arrival, Hell or High Water, and Captain Fantastic, all displayed great economy and masterful storytelling. Those scripts, in my view, are impeccable.
You say that your life is a practice and a prayer. Do you still feel that way?
Of course. That never changes. Life doesn’t end. It’s all a continuous evolution. And as you see in Arrival, it is non-linear.
One thing I know first-hand is how short, precious, and fleeting it all is.
What you are truly passionate about and what doesn’t seem like “work” is your calling. So why not do what you love? You know it is your calling if you will do anything for it, and you will work even if you are ill, or under the weather.
Rumi said, “There are 1000 ways to kneel and kiss the ground. There are 1000 ways to go home again.”
“The Wind” one of two songs which I wrote and recorded for arrangiarsi, is specifically about this.
How is your life today?
Compared to living in a van for five years and camping in a tent in Naples, my life is relatively quiet and inward. I was “out and about” for five continuous years without much down time at all. When that ended, I needed a quiet and cozy place to edit the film and rest. So the last three plus years I have been spent with long stretches in front of a computer screen. That is changing as I start again to do more photography in nature and also prepare to shoot a video for “The Wind,” which I wrote for the ending credits of arrangiarsi (pizza…and the art of living).
Have you incorporated anything you learned about making true pizza into your life?
What is essential is to do what you love; to do what you are most passionate about is what is constantly being affirmed. All of the “characters” in my film are living that to the fullest, first and foremost without great regard to material wealth. I’ve wanted this film to be alive like Naples and the pizza it created. True pizza is born from this.