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I take my inspiration for CIVITA partly from the soil, the fragile volcanic earth that underpins this ancient, improbable enchanted city in the sky—the Italian hill town where today I can walk under the noon sun and sit in the piazza next to an Etruscan column carved in 600 B.C.
25 years after first falling in love with Civita, I decided to tell its story and the stories of the hill town’s few remaining longtime inhabitants—99-year-old Vittoria and Antonio the winemaker—Civitonici. I would direct, produce, shoot, take sound and edit. Using a lightweight, inconspicuous digital camera, tripod, sound recorder and my laptop, I would record daily life through the seasons.
I’m the first Artist in Residence of the Civita Institute, a preservation project of the Northwest Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies. I have extensive access to the hill town itself, its inhabitants, archives, a network of scholars and a lovely studio with an east-facing window.
Civita’s truth cannot escape contradiction. An astonishingly beautiful architectural icon has survived empires and millennia, yet stands to crumble under Earth’s natural patterns of overturn and change. My hope is that, for the next two centuries at least, Civita will be safe. After that? Niente può fermare la natura (Nothing can stop nature). The town’s 10 year-round inhabitants tread lightly enough, but the tens of thousands of weekend tourists do not. As I film in Civita, I feel my urgent role is to record its memories. I believe, like the filmmaker Chris Marker, that memory is not passive, but an act of resistance—the edge that cuts a path into the future.
Born and raised on glacial loam in the American heartland, Natalie Reuss is an award-winning filmmaker whose oeuvre spans the range of documentary forms. She was executive producer of the Oscar-nominated film ASYLUM, a groundbreaking work illuminating the issues facing women who seek political asylum. ANDREYEVS OF BRIGTON BEACH tells the story of a pair of young Russians who left the former Soviet Union to settle in New York. CAROLINA UNDERGROUND is the moving portrait of an old bluesman who plays his Piedmont Blues in New York’s subway stations. JAZZMAN chronicles the bassist Charlie Haden, who began life in the Ozarks and landed in Los Angeles, revolutionizing jazz along with Ornette Coleman. Reuss’s PBS producer credits include the AMERICAN MASTERS film ATLANTIC RECORDS: THE HOUSE THAT AHMET BUILT about Ahmet Ertegun, who for 60 years produced greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones. PROUD TO BE A GIRL won an Emmy, as did OUT OF THE DARKNESS: WOMEN AND DEPRESSION. Numerous other of her PBS documentaries received Gracie Allen Awards, including PURE MAGIC: THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOND. THE POWER OF INTEGRITY included Angela Ahrendts.