The soul of stories
Story of a correspondence with Simone Massi

«I don’t want to know the mystery about swallows and fireflies, I just want them to come back when the time comes»


It always begins with «once upon a time». It is a reassuring expression, rooted in the past as every ritual. However, there are some stories that can only be told conjugating verbs at the present tense and looking at the future. These are the ones illustrated by Simone Massi, who chose to express himself with animations: an art born to give a future to the drawing. This process occurs even more in the example of the artist from the Marches, thanks to his characteristic figurative technique: the method consists in scratching with a drypoint the figures previously sketched on a paper with oil pastels. This way, the original subject, after every single engraving, gradually transforms, showing a trembling soul hidden in forms.

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Just as ladders become rails, it also happens that a sequence of crossed streets reveal themselves to be… nothing more that the lines on the palm of a hand. These are examples of how all the visible becomes variable in the dance of images proposed to the public by the director. The lines that incessantly reshuffle in Massi’s short films remind of the essence of the idea of a tale, that is the path you choose to define a sequence of events through the progression of occurrences and characters’ life paths. A style that defies time. It crystallises it, decomposing the movement in many phases that are all to be illustrated in order to recreate the illusion in front of the eyes of the spectators. While watching Massi’s drawings passing by, you enter a confidential dimension. You feel like you are composing a conversation discussed from a distance: just like when sequentially retracing the writings of a correspondence. Therefore, an animator is probably nothing more than a «pen friend» who experiences the use of forms of expression other than words. He prefers to mark courageous and poetic lines. Signs that can become emotions when observed.

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Simone Massi shows his soul in his drawings while his answers to Illustratore Italiano’s questions represent an opportunity to discover his voice.

Simone, you like describing yourself as a «resistant animator» and, on the manifesto published on your website (1), you explain in detail how difficult it can be to live as an independent artist: it is a constant swing between loneliness and rivers of people (not always good people).

The stories you narrate seem to derive exactly from this particular balance: do they grow and exist precisely because you resist?

I’ve never thought about that. It can be. There may be something more than resistance: I mean, a certain sensitivity for a world that I saw when I was a child and that I could see dying. The stories I tell probably grow from a mixture of emotion and determination.

Your dedication is surprising: we spot coherence between the art you chose and the kind of subjects you like the most (nature in all its forms and animals). Therefore, both the animation techniques and the narrative universes represented require patience (the former to finish the works, the others to be examined).

Have you ever thought that, in the end, what you are describing to your spectators is the importance of time?

The incipit of the first answer is valid for nearly every questions that I’ve been asked and will be. I don’t have a good answer, I believe that an attentive and sensitive spectator can be more aware than the author. Well, if I tried to give an answer: I don’t have to think too much about what I do, I just have to do that. I’ve never been curious, I don’t want to know the mystery about swallows and fireflies, I just want them to come back when the time comes. I don’t want to investigate the possible signs in my stories, but I’m always very happy when the others do.

You live far from the frenzy of the city centres and you animate far from the «industrial» reasoning of big productions: these are choices that evoke a great sense of freedom. A freedom that appears to be linked to the ethics of deep respect for human beings and for the planet, as represented in your animations, that earned you the comparison with Olmi and Piavoli’s cinema. Do you recognise yourself in those artistic links?

I do recognise myself in the way they are described and the way I imagine them. I might be moodier and slightly more moved by the animal problems but I’m deeply rooted, free, reserve and annoyed by relocation just like them.

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The first edition of the Animavì festival is forthcoming: from the 14th to the 17th of July it will host artists from all over the world that will exhibit their animations to the Marche, in Pergola (PU).

When did the desire to transform your native town in a melting point of creativity grow?

What kind of spirit and atmosphere do you expect?

I had the idea many years ago after having seen how things worked in the other festivals: I didn’t like them, didn’t understand the reason for some choices. That’s why I thought about how I’d like a festival to be. Basically, apart from some weak attempts, the idea remained unrealised for fifteen years, until last summer, when I found the right people to fulfil it: among the others, Mattia Priori who is the proper organiser.

It’ll be an atypical film festival, with only poetical-artistic animations and without any time or year limitations.

I’m only concerned about quality, I don’t care about numbers. It will be a festival with a few films but there’ll be other things I consider more or as important as animation: people, stories and music. We’re certainly keeping it small because we’re aware of our dimension and means, which are very poor indeed.

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I know who I am. I am my grandfather and my father, Every face I have seen, thought of or kissed.”

That is how Simone Massi describes himself in his autobiographic short film I know who I am (Io so chi sono, 2004).

In addition to this identity full of memories, he is also an animator and illustrator very famous worldwide (he got more than 200 awards in more than 60 countries). That is to say, an artistic identity, built up step by step thanks to the numerous films made in twenty working years.

After two Nastro d’Argento and the creation of the theme song for the last four editions of the Venice Film Festival, Massi is now ready for Animavì and for testing new forms of narration with a very defined idea, for getting straight to the point, since the online declaration on the official website (2) where he states:

«Animavì aims to represent the “Artistic and poetical animations” internationally. This is that kind of independent and auteur animation that wants to narrate evocatively. Animavì’s aim is to clarify things while distancing itself clearly from commercial and mass animation.

The festival aims to be a showcase on the most interesting movement of the category, referring exclusively to the works that speak to the soul of the spectator.

These are works where every single frame is thought as an artwork since the beginning».

One after the other, just like the scratches that Massi arranges on the paper to compose a figure, lots of cultural figures are getting enthusiastic and ready for the event.

The artists who form the committee of honour at the festival are already more than thirty: among them, Emir Kusturica, Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, Marco Paolini, Goffredo Fofi, Erri De Luca, Laura Morante, Valeria Golino, Neri Marcorè, Daniele Vicari, Ascanio Celestini, Daniele Gaglianone.

It often begins with «once upon a time».

And, sometimes, the best endings coincide with new departures.

And this time is just like that: while Simone Massi’s transforming frames burst into reality, ready to set it up, his idea of cinema spreads.

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