Interview with Valentina Castellani
By Stacey Blanchet
Before Valentina Castellani was a flicker in her parent’s eyes, she was destined to change the world. She was born in Florence, Italy, and her family owned an Opera House Theatre, called “Teatro Verdi.” Her Grandfather Riccardo Castellani was one of the most important producers of the Fellini films and distributors of the Golden Era of Italian cinema. With this estimated background, where is she going to make her mark?
After the death of her husband, Francesco Quinn, son of Oscar winning actor, Anthony Quinn, she created Quinn Studios and embarked on a journey to make him proud. Quinn Studios decided to put it mark on the global stage in the areas of entertainment, the arts and world peace. A very tall order indeed. Ms. Quinn wasted no time and in 2012 produced her first television documentary series called “Life on a Bike” based on the Italian pro cycling tour “Giro D’Italia.” With her feet planted and her wings taking flight, Quinn Studios co-produced the movie “The Butterfly’s Dream” https://www.youtube.com/user/butterflysdreamofcl/ and caught the attention of the Golden Globes and Academy Awards in 2014 with a nomination “Best Foreign Movie.” A “Butterfly’s Dream” would go on to take 13 International Awards. As Ms. Quinn started entered the global stage, her studio helped on the post-production of “The Square” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twB2zAOzsKE . A documentary on the Egyptian conflict, which won major International Awards, including the “Directors Guild, “Sundance Film Festival,” “Berlin Film Festival,” and “Dubai Film Festival in 2014. Not shying away from conflict, Quinn studios completed an award winning documentary about Peace in the Middle East: “ ONE ROCK THREE RELIGIONS” www.onerockthreereligions.com and won the “Human Rights Award,” along with “The U.S. Congress Award” for its recognition of the films efforts to create dialogue among countries, religions and ethnicities worldwide.
After making her mark on the global stage in such a short period of time, the awards started coming in. In 2017 Valentina was given the “City of Los Angeles Award” by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Council Member Jose Huizar, for her initiative, efforts and achievements in promoting the restoration of the Iconic Anthony Quinn Mural “The Pope of Broadway.” In 2018 Valentina was the recipient of the prestigious British “WIFTS” award for her work as a visionary producer. In attendance to accept their awards were the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, and actress Gal Gadot, of “Wonder Woman” fame.
In 2019, Valentina expanded her Producer studios and created Quinn studios Entertainment https://quinnstudiosentertainment.com/ . Her first production is the film titled “The White Snake” that will see her working with Native Americans and exploring alternative energies to oil, and its impact on the world. With her growing body of work, taking on this project was a challenge she felt ready for.
It might be easy to underestimate this soft-spoken, petite mild manner lady, but she packs a punch. She is diving in head first with her team of renegades on the ground and using her moral compass as her guide. Her films have taken her to the Pope’s Garden, Palestine, Standing Rock and next up, the jungles of the Amazon. She is working on her legacy and making her family proud. I sat down with Ms. Quinn to talk about life and was inspired by what the human mind and spirit can accomplish.
1) How do you decide what films to direct and produce? What is the meaning behind your decision making process?
My projects challenge me deeply and force me to step out of my comfort zone. I study different parts of the world and cultures that I don’t know. I always believed that projects choose us somehow….just like the famous Harry Potter quote “It’s the wand that chooses the magician.” However, there are projects that resonate with me very deeply. Although I have produced very different films and documentaries in my career, at the core each of the films I produced, they have in common the love for humanity, a quest for understanding our spirit, our strength, and a call to awaken and elevate the human condition. I always achieved my highest goals in life, when I’m forced in a state of deep comfortability and need to find my center through uncertainty …the missing ring, which unites the chain and closes the circle.
2) Your films focus on worldwide issues. Do you believe a film can help or make the decision better in two hours or less?
Yes. I am firmly convinced that films are still the most powerful and influential platform to convey an idea and message. With a simple phrase, a scene, a good script, some great documentary story, we can inspire an entire world. I tend to face world issues because I like to make people reflect and take a stand. Our last Documentary about peace in the Middle East, “One Rock Three Religions” www.onerockthreereligions.com won many awards. It was screened for US Congress, receiving the ‘US Congress Award Recognition’ for its effort to promote an open dialogue between countries, religions and ethnicities. As a result, Congress created two bills to promote peace and establish protection of the minorities in the Middle East.
I always say: “World Peace is a process, it takes time. To stop being afraid is a decision that can be made in an instant. It bends time and changes the course of history.
3) The story of you meeting the Pope for ‘One Rock Three Religions’ is an incredible story. Can you share details for one how you got there, why you got there and what happened when you were in the Garden?
Meeting Pope Francis and filming in the Vatican Gardens was certainly one of the highlights of the film.
When we started filming the Documentary, we had a very small budget, and no great connections. I read on the paper that Pope Francis, just returned from Jerusalem where he invited the two Presidents, Shimon Perez and Mahmud Abbas, to pray together in the Vatican Gardens. I thought, ‘this is it. We have to find a way to get the permits to shoot the meeting’ …Of course, this was an historical unprecedented event, with the highest security and no public or press invited, accept the Vatican press.
I had no connections in the Vatican, but I have great determination. I knew we could find a way… I Googled the Pope…seriously…I Googled the Vatican offices and called them at 3am LA time…there are 9 hours of time difference with Italy. This is how my 10 night’s confession (as I call it) started: I would call and speak with the Vatican Press office, night after night, explaining what we were in the process of doing with the film. I realized right away that no “big name” or connection would matter, but actually what they cared was to understand what kind of person I was, my values, my intent.
…On the 10th night I received the official permit to come and film the historical meeting between the Pope and the two presidents, and their prayer in the Vatican Gardens.
This moment shifted completely our perception and vision of the film: If the Pope was believing in our project, we understood that we weren’t just a couple of filmmakers believing in a cause, but actually a full “tribe” around the world connecting and uniting in the same vision.
4) How did you end up in Standing Rock filming while the standoff was going on? How was that experience for you?
Our film “THE WHITE SNAKE” is about the Native Americans and alternative energies to oil.
I felt that the saga of Standing Rock was very symbolic of what is happening globally.
It was humanity against technology. The protests spoke loudly to the world about the importance of respecting the planet and the environment. But, more importantly, to remember who we are as human beings, resonating together as one with the planet, each other, and our soul. New technologies are out there that have proved successful in other countries that will ignite a new ‘system’ which beats in harmony with the heartbeat of the planet.
The honor of filming with Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Chief of All Stars Nations, and the Natives, in the middle of vast fields of nature and snow, surrounded by traditional Indian tepees, was like going back in time. I felt one with these people and nature, like part of a much bigger vision. It fully changed my relationship with humanity and our environment. It made it real and full of hope.
5) Do world affairs effect you down to your soul or are you an optimistic person and believe humanity and love will always win?
I am firmly rooted in the human condition. After having made a film about peace in the Middle East, and filming in Gaza and meeting with the people and the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions as well as the leaders and people of many countries and ethnicities, it reinforced me on the amazing power of the human spirit.
I have filmed with Native Americans on their Indian reservations. I saw them fighting for water, I saw them fighting injustice, I saw them defeated. And yet I saw a tremendous spirit of unity and resilience arising. A spirit that goes beyond the actual facts and the daily insurmountable challenges. I saw a majestic spirit of strength arising… I called it “THE WHITE SNAKE” from the ancient Native American Prophecy, which refers to a new era arising from the dark ashes of the last century. An era of re-discovery of the human spirit and its original connection to the earth and humanity as one.
It feels like it takes so much courage these days to believe and stay strong and positive. I meet a lot of people every day, from every walk of life, fully discouraged, almost lost.
In my personal story and the journey I walked through after the death of Francesco, my husband, and the amazing developments of my life and my work as a producer, taught me tremendous resilience and flooded me with hope and radiant positivity. How can we not see the silver lining?
6) What are two core principles that you live by?
My life has brought me difficult challenges. Some I chose and some I didn’t. I had to face them with great humility and endure. I have great love for humanity, my Italian origins have always helped me stay grounded to love and the genuine spirit of courage, honesty and hope.
7) When filming, how are the tough decision on what to put in and what to leave out of your films handled? Is there a voting process or do you just trust the editor?
I think making a film is always about team work. When I make a movie, my crew is my family, and we are one in creating the project together. We meet daily and review the footage and editing together. We discuss and sometimes we have different opinions. Everything is put into account and each opinion matters. But, I always keep in mind storytelling: the story has to unfold itself as a thread with its own dynamic and rhythm that needs to be understood and respected.
8) Films do not get made on their own. There is a business practice you must know. Movie packages, financing, meetings and how to handle getting it all done. What advice do you have for film makers on how to secure financing for their films?
There is never a rule and only one way to find financing for a project. Each film as its own story and personality.
I think what is important first of all, is to be prepared. Have a good script. A treatment. A press kit on the project. A list and bio of each member attached from the Director to producer, to talents. Have a budget and business plan developed that includes location shooting, daily costs and a time calendar. It is so much more affirmative and reassuring for an investor to see a well-developed plan.
I love to meet with young filmmakers and listen to everybody, but many times I meet with people that tell me “I have an idea” …as if it is my responsibility to develop it into a plan. I encourage everybody to put their ideas on paper, well organized simple practical press kit.
9) What do you want your legacy to be?
My legacy is already unfolding. It is one captained by enthusiasm for life and people.
It is one of love and courage. I’m a believer and a storyteller and believe our destiny is within. We just have to be brave enough to see it!