By Erin Grover | SydneysBuzz March 9, 2014 at 8:00AM
Vincenzo Cosentino's writing and directorial debut 'Handy' is a brilliant and new perspective on the heroic journey. The Sicilian filmmaker based his first feature film on one of his short films Being Handy. Handy was well received at last year's Austin Film Festival and continues to tour the festival circuit with official entries at this year's Cleveland and Atlanta film festivals.
Even though Handy was mainly shot in Italy, Cosentino filmed in 23 different countries (including parts of Africa, Australia, Greece, USA, Holland, Belgium, and China) during this four-year production.
The most admirable aspect of Handy is that Cosentino is the editor, the director, and the only visual effects artist (something he taught himself to do just for the film). He made most of the film in his bedroom, all with little money and countless hours of hard work over the course of four years. This is real, inspirational filmmaking that deserves big respect.
The story of 'Handy' is a world wind and mystic adventure, a story of love and loss, personal growth and shows the magic of stepping into the unknown, but all from the perspective of a hand. Yes, a hand!
It sounds absurd, but remember hands are alive too! In Cosentino's genius and original story, he gives life and emotion to hands, a body part that is taken for granted and almost considered lifeless. They will make you laugh. They will make you cry, and they will inspire! 'Handy' will also make you forget that the lead characters are, in fact, hands. The film proves that Cosentino can give life, depth and character to any object or body part--at a recent exclusive screening of 'Handy' in Beverly Hills, the audience's authentic response of laughter and tears was proof.
In a recent interview, Cosentino explained the hard work, inspiration, support and miracles that made this film possible, with highlights of the involvement of legendary Italian actor Franco Nero and its official selection into the Austin Film Festival.
What is the most important message of Handy?
Vincenzo: Too much freedom put humans in a cage, because when you have too much freedom, you don't know what to do with it. That's the story of Handy. It's good to be free, but sometimes you shouldn't forget where you came from. So you gotta go back home. It's a journey. The line of the movie sums it up when Handy says, "I traveled the world to find that the only place that I wanted to be was home."
Did you feel supported in your process, even though you made most of the film on your own?
Vincenzo: I wouldn't be here with this film if it weren’t for my family and some of my closest friends. They were the first and last ones to believe in me. Who was going to be the producer to give me a big budget to make my first feature film including lots of visual effects? No one. This was the only way to actually make it, with lots of hard work. My parents watched me for four years, never going out and always in front of the computer working like a crazy man for a visual effects movie... They couldn't see the results. They were kind of my producers that always wanted to see how I was doing and after the first year, second year, third year, the movie was not there. There were just scenes. They loved it when the movie finally came together.
I never lost my concentration. I knew I had to keep going without caring about anything.
On my side, the legendary Franco Nero wanted to help me out, acting in my movie for free because he believed in me. He read the script and said, “I love it. I'm going to do it”.
That gave me a big boost. After I shot and made the visual effects for his scene, he told me he loved it. So all the time I was thinking, "This man did more than 180 films and he trusted the guy who never made a feature." Since Franco and my parents believed in me from the start of this film, it means I can do it, no matter how big it is.
What was the main drive that kept you going during the four years it took you to make Handy?
Vincenzo: When I was writing this, I wasn't thinking about the story. It came naturally as I wrote. All these stereotypical movies make people robotic, but people are fed up with these films. I wanted to write a story that spoke to everyman, no matter where he lives in the world. The formula of big actors and big visual effects, it doesn't help. People watch these films because they don't have an alternative. But if you give people an alternative, people will choose the alternative.
Many times the alternative is cheaper than what was spent on the bigger special effects films. This was the hardest film that I could have made. I wanted to make the film look like it had a big budget and had to work so hard to do it. I broke my back to do this, to make a film that people would enjoy and a film that would respect their intelligence.
If you don't try, you'll never know. When it premiered at the Austin Film Festival, I was not represented. I didn't have an agent, but the people at the festival believed in my film. And everyday I watched the crowd loving the film like crazy. The audience at the Festival said that those hands created emotion when they watched it…and this is for me was the greatest achievement.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could tell a story with an object that's almost impossible to narrate. This makes me believe that I can direct any other film with humans ten times easier. It was to show my storytelling skills. I mean, I was able to direct a hand. (he smiles).
What were some of the greatest challenges of making Handy?
Vincenzo: The challenge with this film was the visual effects. I would have loved to hire visual effects people, but I couldn’t' have afforded 60-70 dollars per hour. I had to learn nine different pieces of software, but it was ok for me. In my mind, it was always, "I need to make a film that people want to see."
The sound was difficult. There are thousands of sounds in this film and I took six months to record all the sounds, the voices, everything. I did it all in my home. Then I met Gianfranco, a great audio engineer from Rome that made an amazing sound mix. I also had the great honor to have the assistance Sveinung Nygaard of , a talented composer that helped me build a great soundtrack since day one. The skillful prop master Mariuccia helped me as well.
I created most of my sets and props from scratch, with paper and all different kinds of toys.
Another challenge was to make the characters, funny, but not in a vulgar way. Whatever they did, it had to be done as if they were humans. At the same time, I wanted viewers to laugh, because they are not humans. So you don't need to be vulgar. You don't need to use bad words. You don't need to insult people.
Making the hands looking like a human... That was the hardest process, but also the easiest process because I was no longer thinking like a human. I was thinking like them. If I were a hand, what would I love to do? Every time I screen the film, people tell me things like, "At the beginning it seems strange, but after 10-15 minutes you get used to these hands. They look like humans." And that's what I wanted to do because if I were telling this story from a human perspective, no one would care. All I wanted was to give the people a character that they could relate to.
Did you experience any miracles along the way?
Vincenzo There was a reason for everything that happened. From the bad to the good--it all made the movie better. Strange things would happen. I'd be alone in the middle of the night with my camera. Many times something would go wrong, like with lighting. I'd get upset, but then afterwards editing in post, the lighting would look amazing. Moments like these proved that some things are just meant to be.
How did you grow as a person during this process?
Vincenzo: Making this movie was like climbing a mountain. You know the only way to not lose your mind was to put one foot in front of the other, one frame after the other. Knowing that even if you can't see the end, you just have to make sure you don't look back. If you look back, you start getting paranoid. You start having the fear of falling down.
I became more patient. I was working 15 to 16 hours a day, and then got up feeling messed up, just to do it again the next day. I learned how to smile even when things were going to hell. I learned how to appreciate the little things, all the small details about the film that nobody usually notices.
There were moments when I said to myself, "This is too hard," but I kept repeating to myself, this movie was meant to be. It has to go this way. Sometimes you have to challenge yourself. I never thought the film would not happen.