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Melina Marchetta

El Templo #31 (diciembre 2012) por Cris Menéndez

Both main characters in your first two novels have Italian roots that influenced them to a greater or lesser extent. What part of your own Italian origin has been reflected in these characters?

When it comes to LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI, I always say that it’s not about me, but it was about my world back when I was a teenager. I grew up with an Italian born father and a mother of Italian born parents so European culture had much to do with our lives. I certainly felt as if I was balancing two cultures and I didn’t feel as if I belonged to one or the other. So LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI was about that balance and many of the stories about Josie’s grandmother first coming to Australian were similar to those of my grandparents. We also made tomato sauce every year, a scene that made both the film and the novel. With SAVING FRANCESCA, I decided not to explore the Italian culture as such, but to use it as a backdrop to family life in Australia. Australian film and TV and books are saturated with Anglo or Celtic family life and it’s important for me to explore the cultural upbringing of many Australians. The rest of the world is so unaware of Australian’s cultural mix because it’s not the way Australia promotes itself. When I go to Europe or the US people are surprised that I’m Australian because I obviously look European. When I taught high school in Sydney there would have been at least twenty different cultures in my homeroom.

Your first book, LOOKING FOR ALIBRANDI, was a great success in the 90s, and is still well-known and loved by the Australian public. Why did you decide to take a 10-year break before writing again?

I suppose I didn’t take a planned 10-year break (it was actually 11 years). I think the success of ALIBRANDI was a bit too much for me and I didn’t cope with the expectations of producing a second novel. I also started teaching a few years after the novel came out and fell in love with my job. I stayed at the same school for ten years and it was during that time that I got the inspiration to write again. The boys at my school are very much like the boys of St Sebastian’s in SAVINGFRANCESCA. On appearance they were awful, but when you got to know them, they were the most decent of kids. I also wrote the screenplay of ALIBRANDI during the 90’s, so although I wasn’t writing another novel, I was kept quite busy.

In 2000 you wrote the screenplay based on your own novel. That caught our attention since there are mayor differences between book and screenplay, for example, the ending. What made you take the decision to make these changes?

The one thing that people don’t realize about film is that scriptwriters don’t have the last say in a film.  Unlike a novel, when I write a film script so many people have to read it, approve it, agree to finance it and so on and so forth. Everyone has a different view of what the script should be, most times based on what the audience is going to want. According to many, the audience was not going to want the realistic ending of the novel. As the scriptwriter you win some and you lose some so I learnt to choose my battles. I love the film, but one of my disappointments with it was the voice over. But so many people have a role to play in a film and I had to learn to let it go and hope that it was still going to be a film I was proud of.

Besides your input with the script, were you involved in the production in other ways (for example, casting)? If not, how did you feel about the final result?

I was allowed to be part of the casting experience so I was there when they first auditioned Pia to play Josie. It was after spending weeks and weeks auditioning thousands of kids. So by the time I saw her perform, she may not have looked like the Josie in my head, but she was great. Kick Gurry who played Jacob was just as fantastic. They were both unknown at the time. Now we’re talking about the casting of ON THE JELLICOE ROAD and I always say, “We didn’t cast known actors for ALIBRANDI and it worked.” I still think there’s a big place for casting the right people for the role, rather than a big name.  Unfortunately these days, the financiers and distributors want to know who the name is. 

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