In the far northwest corner of Italy, in a quiet valley dominated by steep hills, river gorges, and snow-capped mountain peaks, is the tiny hamlet of Viganella. To reach it, you drive up a winding road barely big enough for one car.
From the street, the town looks modern: a handful of houses and apartments stand at the road’s edge and old people slowly amble along the lanes. But up behind these modern dwellings are the remains of the ruined village of Viganella. It’s centuries old and mostly uninhabited, a testament to a once thriving community of farmers and vintners that has been taken over by time and earth. It is one of the few places in Europe where nature has reclaimed the land.
Viganella is a town of the elderly. There are only a few people under 40; most are in their sixties and seventies. In the next fifteen years, the population of Viganella will dwindle from 100 to fewer than 30. For the inhabitants of this village, the empty stone houses behind them point to a very real fear – their town is dying and it may soon be a village of ruins.
The mayor of the town, Pierfranco Midali, knows this. In his late 40s, he’s one of the younger people in the village. Pierfranco doesn’t want to see his village die. So he’s going to try and realize an incredible, if crazy, dream – to revive Viganella by building a giant mirror on the mountain behind the village to reflect sunlight into the town square.
The story has all the elements of a fairy tale. From November through to February, the town of Viganella is in permanent gloom. The mountains to the south of the town block the low winter sun and for almost three months, there is no place in Viganella that gets any sunlight. This has always been a feature of the village – when it was built here a millennium ago for the water wells, the inhabitants knew that their winters would be spent in shadow.
About the only time during the winter when people socialize outside in Viganella is immediately after the Sunday church service. It’s perfunctory at best. The cold weather and lack of sunlight drive people home very quickly. According to Pierfranco, a mirror, reflecting the sun’s rays, would change that. It would allow people to stop and chat, like they do during the summer, and bring people out during the week to sit in sunlight during the middle of the day. It could prompt someone to build a bar. It would bring tourists to see something unique and environmentally friendly.
“It’s our dream,” says Pierfranco, “for the sun to be here all year long.”
The Mirror is a documentary about bringing sunlight to a forgotten village and how this extraordinary idea affects the lives of the people in the village and the surrounding valley. Over the course of a year, we follow Pierfranco as he tries to realize his dream. Will the mirror draw the community closer together, revive it, and help it to survive? Or, will it simply be a soon-to-be forgotten tourist curiosity, its ineffectual and weak light illuminating the last days of the village?
Surrounding this story will be a portrait of the people in Viganella and the valley. It’s a remote location defined by people who are not afraid to think big, whether constructing a giant mirror, resurrecting a ruined town, or building a life away from the frenetic pace of the 21st century. This happens in the German and Swiss communities, in the hamlets of Bordo and Cheggio, above Viganella, where no car can get, but the sun does every time of the year.
Each person we follow is a unique and compelling character trying to do something out of the ordinary.
When they look at the giant mirror though, all of the characters see different things. Some see a way to bring a small community together on a dark winter’s day. Like Pierfranco, some perceive a way to attract more tourists and rebuild the crumbling town. Others see a refusal to look at what really needs doing in the valley. And still others observe with benign amusement the construction of something that may not make any difference at all. In each case, the hopes, desires, fears and frustrations about life in this small valley are bound up in the extraordinarily crazy story of the construction of the mirror.
Touching and whimsical, The Mirror is about the light and the dark and the things in between – a documentary film about some extraordinary people and their extraordinary dreams of light.
Vivo film and Agitprop Films
supported by PIEMONTE DOC FILM FUND
Produced by: Gregorio Paonessa, Marta Donzelli, David Christensen
Written by: David Christensen, Annalisa Schillaci
Cinematography: Patrick McLaughlin
Editing: Annalisa Schillaci, Luca Gasparini
Sound: Gianluca Costamagna
Running time: 83 min
Format: color, Beta digital 16/9 anamorphic
Festivals and awards
Locarno Film Festival 2009 – Ici et ailleurs
IDFA – International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam
Doxa – Documentary Film Festival
True/False Film Fest
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