Sicilian Boys Set off "Fireworks" in Upcoming Queer Drama
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 9 MIN.
The Italian drama "Fireworks" was screened this week at the Open Roads" New Italian Films 2023 Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. The film is set for a general release in December.
New Yorkers got a preview of the upcoming gay drama "Fireworks," which recounts the tragic event that led to the Italian Pride movement. EDGE spoke to its two leads, Gabriele Pizzurro and Samuele Segreto, and director Giuseppe Fiorello.
On October 31, 1980, in the small Sicilian town of Giarre, 25-year-old Giorgio and 15-year-old Antonio, who had been missing for two weeks, were found dead from gunshot wounds, hand in hand. Both boys were bullied relentlessly because they dared to be in love... with each other. The town went quiet, and the case was dismissed as a murder/suicide. A note, assumed to be faked, was left at the probable crime scene that read: "We are leaving this world because we can no longer bear these injustices, these abuses". To the authorities, it was painfully obvious that it was murder; however, no one was, or has ever has been, charged.
This horrific crime shook the country, and one month later, Arcigay was established, the gay rights movement in Italy, protecting queer people from discrimination.
From this tragic story, actor-turned-director Giuseppe Fiorello has fashioned a powerful, disturbing, and authentic film, "Fireworks" ("Stranizza d'amuri"), which follows the development of the romance between the now-fictionalized teenagers, Gianni (Samuele Segreto) and Nino (Gabriele Pizzurro). Reset in 1982, when Italy won the World Cup, the narrative painstakingly depicts the repressive Sicilian milieu in which the characters were forced to hide their love, and their respective misguided families, who contributed to the hate.
Segreto and Pizzurro deliver raw and natural turns. A ballet dancer, Segreto was born and raised in Sicily. He has a few minor TV and film credits, but "Fireworks" is his first major role. For Pizzurro, who lives in Rome and got his start at a very young age in theater, this marks film debut.
This remarkable cinematic achievement is Fiorello's directorial debut (he shares screenplay credit with Andrea Cedrola and Carlo Salsa). As an actor, he's worked with some of the best Italian directors, including Giuseppe Tornatore ("Baaria") and Emanuele Crialese ("Terraferma"), and had a small role in Anthony Minghella's "The Talented Mr. Ripley."
"Fireworks" was showcased at Open Road: New Italian Cinema, at Lincoln Center, the only major NYC Festival that showcases films from Italy. The film will be released this December via Cinephobic Releasing.
Fiorello and his two young leads, Segreto and Pizzurro, spoke with EDGE while in NYC, attending the prestigious Festival. In addition, director Giuseppe Fiorello talks about his film.
Speaking with Actors Gabriele Pizzurro and Samuele Segreto
EDGE: Tell me a bit about your acting background.
Gabriele Pizzurro: I was introduced to theatre when I was four years old, and I knew I wanted to be an actor when I had the opportunity, at 5 or 6 – I don't recall – to act in "Mary Poppins, The Musical," which toured Italy. It made me realize I wanted to be an actor and that I loved to be on the stage. Cinema came much later in my life.
Samuele Segreto: I never studied acting. I've learned to do it indirectly, doing movies. My first passion was ballet. Now I have a new love, acting. And, of course, I want to study acting and improve.
EDGE: Samuele, you are from Sicily...
Samuele Segreto: Yes, I'm from Monreale, a little town next to Palermo. I grew up in Sicily, and I know how Sicily can be. The Sicily you see in the film in the '80s is still similar to the Sicily of the present. So, I was familiar with that reality, and about what can happen there, like the violence that can occur when boys want to show they can be strong ... so living in the area and knowing the culture has been extremely helpful with playing Gianni.
EDGE: Gabriele, you grew up in Rome, where people are more accepting. Samu, you are from Sicily where people still think a certain way. You're both a few generations removed from the characters you portray. Can you speak a bit about the homophobia in Italia per your generation, and what you learned about the past generation, and where you think we are now?
Samuele Segreto: For sure, the mentality in Sicily is still somewhat closed, but it's better than in the '80s, when the movie takes place. There is still some homophobia and some ignorance about some aspects of [gay people]. I don't think it's just a Sicilian thing. In Sicily, Italy, the world, there's still too much hate instead of love, which is a very stupid thing. What I love the most about the movie is that it brought so many people of different ages to the cinema, and the new generation understanding the themes and being so emotional. This is the power and magic of cinema.
Gabriele Pizzurro: I don't want to condemn Sicilians or call them closed-minded, the problem is too universal. It's in all of Italy. Even in Rome there is homophobia. Of course, with my generation, things have changed for the better. But in Rome I live in a little neighborhood, and I can see how the young people think, and they're divided into two groups. The first one is closed-minded and follow what their parents think, without having their own thoughts. The other group, and I am among these, are young people who have their own thoughts and see things like homosexuality as normal.
EDGE: How was your character prep and working with [director] Giuseppe?
Gabriele Pizzurro: Working with Beppe [Giuseppe's nickname] has been very important. Without his supervision, his creativity, his help, there would be no film. It was with everyone's help – the cast, Beppe, Samuele – that I was able to build my character.
Samuele Segreto: For me, it's been a deeply internal journey bringing this character to life. I discovered some vulnerable parts of my deep self. And I've learned a lot of things about myself. What I've learned most is the bravery of my character, Gianni. He had to die for love. And he continued to fight for love.
EDGE: Tell me about working and bonding with one another.
Samuele Segreto: It was very easy. Since the beginning, a brotherhood relationship was born. And we were really comfortable from the outset, to building a friendship and relationship. We were confident with each other. Our relationship was born in a very natural way, like our characters in the film. We were very lucky, as we wanted to spend time with each other outside of work as well.
Gabriele Pizzurro: I feel the same as Samuele. Our relationship progressed in a very natural way, the same as the two characters in the film. I have great esteem and affection for him. He's someone very important to me.
Speaking with Director Giuseppe Fiorello
EDGE: Tell us a bit about the real story, and what inspired you to bring it to the screen.
Giuseppe Fiorello: The film was born and inspired by a true story that happened in Sicily in 1980. I discovered an article about it, reading a newspaper, on the 25th anniversary of the death of these boys. I was shocked that I didn't know about it. I felt guilty for not knowing. I immediately imagined directing the story on film. I'm an actor, but I knew I had to direct this to protect the love the boys had for one another and let the entire world know that these two boys existed and were killed because of their love for each other, so their love would not be forgotten.
And this dreadful event sparked the forming of Arcigay, which is the organization that commenced the gay rights movement in Italy, protecting LGBTQ people. This was organized exactly a month after the murders of these boys. This is why it was important to me to illuminate this story for everyone.
EDGE: How much of the real story is part of the film's narrative, and how much of the true facts are even available?
Giuseppe Fiorello: There is a good deal of the real story in the film – the characters, the two families and the dynamics of the families, as much as was known. I studied articles, other factual accounts, testimonials, but there was very little. At a certain point I decided to use my own imagination, my personal ideas, my own poetic license. And it became a love story and an original screenplay. I would say there's 50 percent of what really happened, and 50 percent from my imagination.
EDGE: Let's talk some about Sicily and homophobia. There's this antiquated idea of masculinity there, yet the men are always kissing and touching. But no one is gay. And you definitely can't speak about it. What is your take on this behavior?
Giuseppe Fiorello: There's no way to answer this in an easy fashion. It's a very complex question. Sicily, as you know, historically is a place that's been dominated (conquered) by many. Spaniards, Arabs, Greeks, Romans – the entire world have passed through Sicily. And everyone has left something – some part of their culture. This rapport between men is physical, but it's not homosexual in nature. It's very particular. In Sicily, like in Arab countries, men walk with other men with arms around each other. In Tunisia and Morocco, as well. It's a tradition, yet very strange. It's because of this I made soccer an important part of the script, because when your favorite team wins, all the Sicilian men embrace and kiss one another. That's acceptable. But two gays in love, in true love, embracing and kissing is not. There's hatred of that. But it's not strictly a problem in Sicily or Italy. It's a universal issue. There are many places where men are discriminated against. It's still that way today. Here in New York, it's another world entirely.
EDGE: You chose great restraint and subtlety with the intimate scenes. Was that to make the film more palpable for Italian audiences?
Giuseppe Fiorello: I wanted to create a film about the time that passes as two people fall in love. In most stories, the sexual part usually dominates instead of the sentimental and poetic. I was more focused on the love story. I wanted to tell a gay love story that was universal.
In Italy, there was a critic who told me, disparagingly, "This is a film for heterosexuals." And I said, "Thank you," because this is a film for heterosexuals, for everyone. I am heterosexual. And I was looking to render a love story about two people, not in a political manner, but in a sentimental way... Often, homophobic people just think about sex between two men, and I wanted them to think about the passion between two people, the love.
Check out pics from Samuele Segreto and Giuseppe Fiorello Instagrams:
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute