Based on Kenneth Canio Cancellara's novel Finding Marco, Sean Cisterna's From the Vine casts the venerable Joe Pantoliano as Marco Gentile, a Toronto business exec who departs the corporate world in order to revive his grandfather's vineyard in Acerenza, Southern Italy, much to the consternation of his wife Marina (Wendy Crewson). Leaning heavily on Pantoliano's charisma and DP Scott McClellan's lensing of some luscious Italian landscapes, Cisterna's likeable film harks back to such feel-good fare as Under the Tuscan Sun, and is now available for viewing on digital platforms. I spoke to Cisterna at the Cinergia festival in Łódź last year.
Alex Ramon: When did your interest in filmmaking start?
Sean Cisterna: Very young. I remember going to see E.T. as a kid, and being overwhelmed, coming out crying, and just being really aware of the power of movies to transform us. I started making films with a video camera and then went on to study film in Toronto.
You've taken From the Vine to various festivals. What has the reaction to the film been like?
We've shown the film around the world and the response has pretty much been the same. People say it's like a warm hug from an Italian grandmother! And wine always helps to bring us together!
How does the film differ from the novel?
The book is more introspective. We made the film more plot-centred, while keeping the focus on Marco's journey and his reconnection with his roots in Italy.
Your films up to this point have focused on younger characters. What were the challenges of working with more experienced performers this time around?
Yes, I made a film for Netflix called Full Out and another called Kiss and Cry. So in a way working with older, more established actors meant coming out of my comfort zone. It was daunting to an extent, and Joe [Pantoliano] and I would both admit that we had some struggles along the way. Of course Joe's a very established actor who's acted more than I've directed so there was a bit of "head butting" at times. But gradually the charm of Italy won us all over and we developed a good working relationship.
The dynamic between Joe's character and Wendy Crewson as his wife is one of the most delightful aspects of the film. And Marco Leonardi also puts in a good performance.
Wendy was like the guardian angel on set. She was this warm being we could all go to and have a friendly discussion with. She also added to the script to make her character stronger which was a big benefit to the film. It was also great to have Marco Leonardi in the cast. Actually, he was one of the first actors to come on board after we contacted him when he was a special guest at the Italian-Canadian Film Festival in Toronto. We were so happy that he loved the script and wanted to be part of it, bringing with him his history from films like Cinema Paradiso.
It seems like the the village where you shot really opened up to you all.
Yes, they were great with us. It was the first time that a film had been made there and the locals really wanted to participate. At one point there was a WhatsApp group with 700 people in it! Of course as a co-production we had to have a certain amount of Canadian and Italian crew and collaborators. It came together well, a great reminder of how cool it can be when people from different countries come together to create somethimg. We had some fun with that in various ways in the film, including with the score where we feature an Italian version of Blue Rodeo's "Lost Together," an iconic Canadian song, alongside Italian pop music.
From the Vine is available to watch on digital platforms now.