I'm Short, Not Stupid Presents: 'A Chjàna'

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By Jeffrey Bowers | Feb 26 2013

Since the most offensive things trolling the internet right now are the Quvenzhane Wallis Onion tweet and Seth MacFarlane’s entire persona, I wanted to introduce something that has a bit more gravitas. Up until I saw A Chjàna last summer, I had no idea race riots and murders were occurring in Italy as recently as two years ago. I’m not going to sit here and pretend like there aren’t a million fucked-up things happening in the world at any given moment, but it’s a rare thing when a piece of art comes along and makes you want to be better.

In 2008, over 1,500 African immigrants from countries like Senegal, Ghana, and Burkina Faso took uneasy refuge in the ghetto of the small Italian town of Rosarno to work in the fields known as A Chjàna (which means "the Plain"). The local Mafia controlled the labor market, which mainly consisted of fruit and olive groves, and forced the men to live and work in abhorrent conditions. In fact, the town was so under the control of the Mafia that a prefectoral commissioner replaced the mayor in 2008. Tensions were high, but the situation didn’t improve. The Mafia maintained its hold on the town, the local residents began to lash out at the immigrants and more and more Africans were forced to pile into squalid, abandoned factories to live. After a senseless, race-induced shooting in 2010 killed a migrant worker, the people began protesting their treatment and took to the streets.

This is where Jonas Carpignano’s powerful short film named after the ghetto picks up. Opening with a striking recreation of the 2010 riots, one is immediately thrown into the violent and brutal world these people endure. The scale and intensity of the riot, complete with burning cars, Molotov cocktails, and motorcycle gangs, is a testament to the assured filmmaking team behind the short film. As the riot grows out of control, two best friends named Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) and Chico (Cheikh Baity Kane) from Senegal and Burkina Faso realize the situation is beyond them and that they must escape. The story transitions to one of male camaraderie, respect, and decency in the face of a city that wishes to strip them of those qualities. Propelled by tense and tender performances by the two leads, the film captures a sense of urgency and gives their plight significant importance. The plainspoken mantra of the film "If you wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes, and if you don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow comes” hopefully inspires you to want to do something important in your own life. 

Jonas Carpignano is an award-winning filmmaker based in New York City and Rome. His short films have been shown in prestigious film festivals around the world including the Venice International Film Festival, SXSW, and New Directors/New Films. His latest short film, A Chjàna, won the Controcampo Award for Best Short Film at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and was awarded a Nastro D’Argento Special Mention from the Association of Italian Film Critics (SNGCI). Carpignano is an alum of the 2012 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Lab where he started work on a feature adaptation of A Chjàna. He was recently named one of the top 25 new faces in independent film by Filmmaker magazine.

Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index.

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