Riveting Riffs Logo One Lara Celenza - Brilliant Storyteller
Lara Celenza Photo One

It would be easy to lose track of how many prestigious universities and how many countries film producer, screenwriter and director Lara Celenza has studied in. She has studied in Bologna, Italy, at Cambridge University in England, in Moscow and in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Lara Celenza, chronicles her travels, “I studied everywhere. I did my bachelor’s degree in Bologna, which was already very different from where I grew up, because Italy, as a country is very culturally diverse. I grew up in the south-central part of the country and then I moved to Bologna, which is a sophisticated, university city. It was much bigger than my hometown, but not like a big city. It was kind of a mid-size city.

I experienced the first culture shock of my life there. It was more of an intellectual type of environment, where everybody was sitting down, drinking wine, and discussing literature and movies. It was very inspiring, but at the same time, at the beginning I felt very intimidated (she laughs lightly). It was also kind of wild with the partying. I wasn’t used to having all of these students around. My parents were very conservative and strict. When I went to university it was party, after party, after party. I had the chance to meet people from all over the country and some people from other countries.

I did the Erasmus programme in London, at UCL (University College London), which is quite a prestigious school.

I also studied in two different universities in Russia, one in Moscow and one in St. Petersburg. Then I went to Cambridge where I did my Master of Philosophy and that shaped me a lot. It gave me a lot of discipline and resilience, because it was a very intense course.

Then I moved back to London where I started working mostly corporate jobs, but I really hated them (she laughs), and I was so miserable that I started saving. I did my directing diploma at the Raindance Film School, which was founded by Elliott Grove, who is also the founder of the Rain Dance Film Festival, which is quite well-known on the indie film circuit.”

As for what drew her to study in Russia, she explains, “The attraction for me came from my childhood, because I grew up reading Russian fairytales and I had an impression of it as a mystical land of snow and mysterious creatures, folktales, old grandmas, brave warriors and princesses. It left such an impression on me that later in life I fell in love with Russian literature. I read my first Russian novels Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina.

When I went to university, I had to choose two languages, so one of the languages was obviously English, because my intent was to travel and to be an international person and the other language was Russian. Because I was struggling with the language, I decided to go for a while and practice there. That was a huge culture shock for me. It was a completely different world. It was much tougher. I think it has changed now, but at the time Moscow was very challenging for me as a young person. I was living in a big student house with many other people, but some of them didn’t speak English. I struggled to adapt, and I had to quickly learn how to speak in order to survive there. I don’t know how to put it into words, but it is a very different atmosphere. You don’t have the same freedom, being relaxed and the same kind of student life. You need to be really careful what you do there.

On the other hand, it was also very charming, because there is so much culture in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg. There are museums, theaters, galleries and there is a whole world of Classical music, paintings and books. It was very enriching from a cultural point of view. I visited an Orthodox monastery. I did a little bit of traveling and it is an extremely fascinating land. I would like to go back one day and travel some more.”

First and foremost, Lara Celenza is a storyteller and the creator of stories, such as Falcong and Lost in the City, the former a mid-size documentary film and the latter a feature film now in postproduction, both of which were produced by her eleven-year-old company   Kalifilm Productions. We wondered what it was like balancing wearing the three hats of screenwriter, director and producer.

When you find yourself in these three roles of writer, director and producer it’s literally like having multiple personalities, because what is required is very different. For example, when I am a producer, I have to be very rational, very left brained and very organized. I need to focus on timelines, budgets and contracts. When I look at the story, I think about how expensive it will be and if I will have access to all of the resources that are mentioned in the script. For example, if the script says, interior, night, hotel room, I need to be one hundred percent sure that there is enough of a budget to cover the location.

When I am the writer, I am free. I am absolutely free and I can write, interior, spaceship, outer space. In total freedom, I can create any world that I like. Writing is my favorite part of the work, because it is so free and free flowing. When I am writing I can be intuitive, I can be creative, right brained, so I can be completely free and have any vision that I want. It is unrestricted. It is just between me and a sheet of paper and a pen or if I am typing on my computer. It is fantastic.

When I am a director, that is another kind of animal altogether. It is like a little bit of the first and a little bit of the second. A director is a very specific type of creature. I have to think about both, so I have to be creative, I have to be visionary, I have to be spontaneous and if something arises the plan has to be changed. I also have to be organized, practical and aware of what is possible and what is not possible according to the budget and the resources available. A director needs to have the creativity of a writer and the pragmatism of a producer. I have had experiences when I was the director, but not the writer and I also had experiences when I was directing, but I was not producing. I must be willing to shift and know which role I am embodying at a specific time, so when I write my screenplays, I never write directing notes. Some screenwriters do that and I do not think it is correct. I like my scripts to be very minimalist. I don’t like to dwell on the details unless it is relevant for the sake of telling the story. I prefer to be straight to the point. I write very short, snappy descriptions and keep them to a minimum. I want to let my directing brain take over at a later stage when I am developing storyboards, vision boards and when I am working with the set designer, the producer and location scouting to add another layer to the writing.

When it comes to the writing I focus on the characters only and the type of stories I want to tell. When I become a director I am a different person in a way. I am still connected to the writer part of my personality, but I take it the next level and I start thinking about what is written in the script. Sometimes it changes. The setting might change or the way I choose to see a particular situation and I involve other people in the process. That is another substantial difference between how a writer thinks and how a director thinks. If I am writing a screenplay it is a very lonely endeavor, like the hermit card on the tarot deck. I’m a hermit with my lantern, I am thinking and I am connecting. I have to work with a multitude of people and each one of them has input, so the cinemaphotographer has something to say and the producer has something to say. The set designer, the costume designer and so on, will have something to say. I must be able to integrate everyone’s point of view and sometimes choose certain things or say no to other things. They are completely different ways of working and with experience you can learn to do it all. You can learn to master each skill, but it takes a lot of time and practice. Above all you need to have a lot of compassion and commitment, otherwise you will burn out. It is a very challenging profession.

I think at the end of the day it is more important who you are than what you do, but I still think of my profession, as the love of my life. It is what I really love to do. I love being in that creative space. I love creating roles and giving voices to characters. It is not the totality of who I am, but it is a very important part of me,” she says.

Lara Celenza returned to southern Abruzzo, Italy and the rural countryside, just outside Vasto the small town where she grew up, to film Falcong.

“Vasto is a tourist town, so it tends to be very quiet in the winter, which was not the best thing as a teenager. I wanted to go to concerts and experience the big city. I was a bit restless. The great thing about it is there is great nature, like parks and beaches and the countryside. Architecturally, it is also very beautiful. We had good food, good weather, sunshine and blue sky. It was very nice, but growing up I didn’t appreciate it very much, because my dream was to live in the big city and to experience the buzz, like a big capital city. Now I appreciate Vasto, because I have lived in big cities now, for a long time. I can see now the value of growing up in such a beautiful place. It has given me an understanding of how important it is to be connected to nature. All of my first film projects have been there. It is easy to find people to work with there and it was fun. It was much less challenging than being a filmmaker in a great big city. Growing up there was overall a very positive experience,” she says.

For those who may be wondering if Lara Celenza comes from a creative family, “No, I was the odd one out. Normally, when you think of an Italian family you think of a huge, loud family with grandparents and uncles, and I had all of that. I grew up with my parents and my sister, who is eleven years older than me. I am the only creative person in the family, which unfortunately was a challenge, because I didn’t have any points of reference. I didn’t have anybody growing up that I could look up to, as a mentor or someone I could ask questions about how to setup a business or anything like that. It took me a long time to see film not only as a creative enterprise, but also as a business. I had to train myself. Lara Celenza Photo Four

In the beginning my family didn’t understand what I was doing, and they still don’t (she giggles). Many people think of filmmaking, as something fun, cool, quirky and interesting and they don’t see how challenging it is and how much planning is required. Filmmaking requires many different skills, not just with creativity, but with management, managing people and the capacity to make decisions quickly. (You need) to be flexible and to be able to adapt. My family was completely incapable of connecting to any of that and they weren’t happy for a very long time that I was doing this. (She starts to laugh) Now I think they have given up and things have settled down in that respect.

As for filming Falcong, whose subject was Giovanni Granati, “It was amazing. I didn’t know a single thing about him. I wasn’t aware of him at all. I had a conversation with a friend of my sister, and she asked me, have you heard of the guy who lives in the National Park of Abruzzo with the wolves and the eagles? I was wait, wait a second, what?

I looked him up online and I really wanted to meet him, to just ask him questions about his life. There are two aspects to it I really like animals, wildlife and nature. On a wider more philosophical level I am fascinated by people who shape their lives according to their own preferences. They make their own life instead of thinking inside the box and becoming something, just because they have been programmed. I was fascinated by this guy, because of how he built his career around all of the things he was interested in. He made it work in a way, so it was his profession and his life and not just his hobby. I wanted to meet this guy. I was hooked.

I thought I would spend a couple of days there and make a documentary movie. We didn’t have any budget and it was an indie project. The woman you see in the film is my sister and the kids you see are my niece and nephew. I was so glad to give them this experience, because kids these days spend most of their time glued to their phones, Instagram and TikTok. They were both so excited and we had such good fun.

They were busy being my crew, because I didn’t have a crew. They kept me company, helped with setting up the equipment They were so patient. I wish I had done a more in-depth character analysis. It was impossible at the time, because of the budget. It looks more like a polaroid picture, like a snapshot.

When it comes to these things, there are always two sides to the coin. On one hand you can see animals in captivity and express judgement at face value. On the other hand, the way I see it is it is better to sit, ask questions and to understand rather than expressing judgement, based on your own biases. I tried to understand his point of view and the history behind it and the bond he has with the animals. The whole mission of his work is educational. He does this to teach, children in schools about the same animals who live in the wild and how they should be respected, saved and looked after. He uses his own animals as teachers. I learned so much in these two days. Whenever I see a bird of prey, I feel really connected and I remember that experience. So many people have told me that his work has touched them. I cannot even begin to describe the energy you feel when you are in the presence of some of these animals and especially the wolves. I have to say in the beginning I was terrified, because I thought oh my god wolves. They are magical creatures and they kind of keep to themselves if you don’t interfere with them. They are free and he lets them roam around. He takes them up to the castle for walks with tourists. They are really well trained, they are Czechoslovakian wolf dogs, but they are not exactly the same species as wolves. They have similar characteristics. The eagle was another incredible creature. I feel privileged, because I had a chance to observe this interaction and to learn from it,” she says.

Lara Celenza muses, “I think it is a great portrait of masculinity in a way. Our current culture is very critical when it comes to masculinity and it tends to look at the toxic aspects of it. With Giovanni I saw a side of what being a man really means, of being connected with nature, having a protector role and having wisdom. I see it as a beautiful portrait of a person who creates a life on his own terms. This is brave. Most of the people we know have predictable lives. They grow up, go to school, they find a job, and do this job for a bunch of decades and then they retire. With him he follows his gut and I find it inspiring, especially for younger people who watch the movie, and they think maybe I can be that. I can be something different that I always wanted to be. I think we can all do great things and do what we really want to, as long as we take it seriously, do the homework and we are brave enough to go for what we want, instead of caring about validation from society. I see it as a portrait, not just of someone who lives in sync with nature, but also a portrait of an independent thinker. This is a quality I value greatly in people and that I express.”

This independent thinking, this willingness to throw away the mold, to not be restrained by borders, as a filmmaker comes through once again in Lara Celenza’s feature film, Lost in the City, which is now in postproduction. The film explores homelessness.

I think it is inevitable to explore social issues when it comes to telling a story that is about a human being, because we are social animals. I don’t see myself as a social justice warrior. I do not belong to that kind of a culture. I see that kind of culture as very limiting and rooted in anger and not rooted enough in wisdom. I try to approach things from a deeper understanding of things.

There is a social angle to Lost in the City, because it is the story of a homeless person. The topic of homelessness is very important, and it is a key aspect of the film, but I tried to stay the hell away from stereotypes. I didn’t want to tell a substory and I didn’t want to fall into cliches. I wanted to tell the story of a unique individual, instead of creating a case study. Also, it is not a documentary, it is a feature film. If anything, I was trying to be authentic and of course I did some research about homelessness, the causes and some of the most common scenarios that cause homelessness and how homelessness can become a chronic problem for individuals and family units. I investigated from a social perspective.  When it came to the writing, I preferred to take a more intimate approach and to study the character not as a social case, but as a unique individual with unique features, because I believe it is the deepest and most authentic way of looking at things.

The film is not particularly politically correct. The character is very deranged, and he has a loud mouth. He is a character who is very different from me. I felt like I was possessed when I was writing this story of this crazy guy who lives on the street. He is always drunk, and he is up to no good. He is so different from me, but at the same time that is what made the experience, so fascinating. In a way it took me over and I was working like a method actor. I was becoming him and giving a voice to him. At the end of the day, I realized the unity between him and me. As human beings we all have simple and similar needs. They manifest through different personalities, skills, talents and interests and completely different ways of looking at life. At the end of the day, we want to love, and we want to be loved. We want to belong and to express ourselves. Our needs are very similar, regardless of which social group or class we belong to. It is a very peculiar story. It is not the typical social movie at all. Some people will love it and some people will hate it,” she explains.

Lara Celenza is also sought out as a director, writer and producer for music videos. In fact, just prior to our conversation she had completed a music video for a Texas based artist named International Road and his song Betra Ástand. Since our conversation took place a few weeks ago she has also begun work on two more music videos.

Lara Celenza founded her company Kalifilm Productions eleven years ago, while she was in Italy.

“I was still in my hometown and the name is connected to the goddess Kali, who is a very powerful goddess in the Hindu tradition. I felt really drawn to her, because she is really a bad ass, and she is very mystical. I like the name Kalifilm, because it evokes feminine power. It started like that and then I moved to the U.K. and now I live in (Berlin) Germany. The company follows me everywhere. The company is basically stalking me. Wherever I go the company follows.”

Please visit Kalifilm Productions here where you can also watch a trailer for Lost in the City. You can also follow Kalifilm Productions on Instagram.     Return to Our Front Page

Bottom Photo by: Anya Shvetsova, protected by copyright ©

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This interview by Joe Montague  published May 26th, 2021 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  All photos and artwork are the the property of  Lara Celenza unless otherwise noted and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine.