Having just published my book about Basilicata, Italy, I was naturally drawn to the film From the Vine, made available in the United States this past week. The drama tells the story of a burnt-out corporate executive who quits his job with a Canadian car manufacturer to return to his roots in Acerenza, South Italy.
Isn’t this everyone’s dream? To disentangle oneself from the contemporary rat race and find a new lease on life in a simpler, more wholesome world?
From the Vine fulfills this dream for Marco Gentile, who hops on a plane, then a train heading for the village of his birth and early childhood. Acerenza is a magical place, where Marco is embraced by old friends and makes new ones. In all those years, he hadn’t ever visited Acerenza. He hadn’t even gone back for his grandfather’s funeral. But now, the old feelings are coming back. He sees his beloved nonno in his dreams and walking through the vineyard. Nonno talks to him, and so do the vines.
ACERENZA AND AGLIANO DEL VULTURE WINE
While the film embraces fantasy, the village and the wine are very real. I have slept in Acerenza and I have drunk Aglianico del Vulture wine. From the Vine highlights the beauty of the hilltop community and the excellence of the local wine. Acerenza is, in fact, one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia (Italy’s most beautiful villages – yes, there is a list). Its medieval construction is crowned by a monumental cathedral, the basilica for which the region Basilicata is said to be named.
And the wine! The Aglianico grape came to Southern Italy with the ancient Greeks. “Vulture” refers to the growing area on the slopes of the extinct volcano of the same name. Its collapsed cone is just northwest of Acerenza. Aglianico del Vulture is a fragrant, robust red wine with a rich tannin structure that ages well. Highly recommended.
THE MAKING OF FROM THE VINE
From the Vine is based on the book Finding Marco by Kenneth Canio Cancellera, a Canadian-Italian who was born in Acerenza. He is also the executive producer and makes a cameo appearance as the train conductor. The film’s director Sean Cisterna met the author through a mutual friend. He was drawn to the storyline’s ethical themes, such as green manufacturing and organic farming, and also saw the marketing possibilities with regard to wine, as well as with the involvement of both Canada and Italy in what would become a co-production.
Cisterna’s enthusiasm for the project was also in his blood as his father is Italian and his mother, Canadian. He quips, “I’m a Canada-Italy co-production myself.” And as fate would have it, his father was born in Pisticci, about 100 kilometers from Acerenza, which gave him the opportunity to track down his father’s childhood home. For Cisterna, “It was a pretty special moment in the entire From-the-Vine experience.”
THE PEOPLE AND THE PLACE, IN THE DIRECTOR’S WORDS
That adventure began with Acerenza. The film’s director, Sean Cisterna, recounts his initial impressions:
We first drove from the airport in Bari with Ken (author of original book), my cinematographer Scott McClellan and lead actress/producer Paula Brancati, and we were all mesmerized by the rolling hills as we crossed over from Puglia into Basilicata. When we finally arrived in Acerenza, we just marveled in the spectacular views taking the winding road up to the old city. And, as you might expect, the warm welcomes from each and every resident of Acerenza was the most memorable aspect of visiting this magical place.
All the Italian scenes were shot in Acerenza, Basilicata. He elaborates:
Filming in a small city in Southern Italy is a challenge, as there’s no local props rental company or trained film actors…but that was also the beauty of deciding to film our entire movie there – because the community came together to help source anything we needed. And anyone who wanted to be in the film was given the opportunity to act alongside our professional actors.
FROM THE VINE, ITALY UNDER YOUR SKIN
The international cast was led by veteran actor Joe Pantoliano, who compellingly portrays the frazzled corporate Marco’s transformation to the communicative, countrified Marco. His personal growth and that of his vineyard do move along rather quickly, but it’s the movies where it’s best to let yourself be swept up with the moment. He inspired his on-screen family and the villagers to strive for that better place, and I imagine the film may also spark several moviegoers to cash in their retirement accounts and try to save their own souls, as well as that of their nonno’s community.
And who knows? One of them might run into a handsome, real-life Marco, that is Marco Leonardi (whom you may remember from Cinema Paradiso), who engagingly portrayed Luca, local policeman and on-screen Marco’s best friend from his youth.
After all, Italy and Italians have a way of getting under one’s skin, in a good way. Cisterna reminisces:
Every time I screened the film at a festival around the world, I’d always instantly recall the moment each scene was filmed. The texture of the walls, the cobblestone roads, the nearby smells of the restaurants and the feeling of the cold winds being that high up above sea level. Above all, the warm and friendly faces who were so happy and appreciative that we were commemorating their beautiful city in a feature film that’s being enjoyed across the US and Canada now, with more countries to follow in the coming weeks and months. Acerenza is special. And I can’t wait to return.
We’d all like to travel somewhere, anywhere at the moment, but for now, Acerenza, Italy is a most lovely place about which to dream, and the beautiful cinematography of From the Vine will take you there.
And as the director says, “The Aglianico del Vulture is worth the trip alone!”
From the Vine is widely available on VOD (Video on demand) services. Follow From the Vine on Facebook.
Read more about Acerenza, Aglianico del Vulture wine and the region of Basilicata in my new book, Basilicata: Authentic Italy.
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