Having won major awards in Venice, Leipzig, and Turin, Roberto Minervini is a perfect example of what it means to be an art-house filmmaker, uniquely combining techniques of both fictional and non-fictional cinema as he observes life on the periphery of today's rural America.
Although Minervini was born in Fermo, Italy, his entire film career has played out in the United States, where he emigrated as an adult. With a degree from the Faculty of Economics, he found a job as a business consultant in New York. However, the events of September 11th, 2001 robbed him of this job. He therefore began studying media studies and took part, among other things, in a course taught by the pioneer of the direct cinema method, D. A. Pennebaker.
After graduating from New York University in Manhattan in 2004, he made several short films. However, he wanted to continue in his academic career. So in 2006 and 2007, he taught budding filmmakers at the University of Manila in the Philippines. After returning to the United States, he began working in real estate. His main motivation for this was to earn a stable income, which he could then use to finance his own films.
He applied the hybrid method of directing in its germinal form while working on his feature-length debut, The Passage (2011), which would form the first instalment in his so-called “Texas Trilogy.” The film premiered in Venice. In a series of staged and randomly captured scenes, non-actors portray film versions of themselves, re-enacting scenes inspired by their own lives and reciting lines that they, themselves, had improvised. This approach is based on the “collective improvisations” concept pioneered by French documentary filmmaker and anthropologist Jean Rouch.
The trilogy continued with the ethnographic studies Low Tide (2012) and Stop the Pounding Heart (2013), which were also presented and awarded at a number of prestigious film festivals. In Cannes, Minervini presented, for the first time, his new work set in rural America: The Other Side (2015). The first half of this completely original film follows the lives of Louisiana couple Mark and Lisa, who are addicted to drugs. The second half is devoted to American right-wing extremists preparing to defend their homeland.
Minervini achieves a great sense of intimacy in his films by limiting the number of crew members, forgoing artificial lighting, and filming nonstop on a digital camera without interruption. He doesn’t judge the protagonists, but he also doesn’t keep his distance from them either. In uncovering the relationships and the world of these social actors, he is guided by his own empathy and curiosity.
In his latest film, What You Gonna Do When the World's on Fire? (2018), which took home five awards at the Venice Film Festival, Minervini follows the African-American community living in the American South in the summer of 2017 when a series of racially motivated murders shook the country. This intimate, black-and-white, eyewitness account of anger and frustration organically complements the director's previous works, which explore life on the fringes of society, a place where more and more Americans are finding themselves due to racial and class divides.