“We like filming what is common to as many people as possible”, say David, Monaldo and Nadia, the three people behind film collective Zapruder. The three Italians have a thing for everything paranormal, surreal and absurd, but at the same time, they consider themselves anthropologists and record collective situations. Through their videos – many of which are made with 3D stereoscopic techniques –, they capture these perfectly: a hypnotist dog, the labours of present-day Hercules, and families going on unusual picnics or saying unorthodox prayers before dinner.
You’re a trio from Italy who created Zapruder back in 2000. A project exploring films in the intersection between visual arts, performance and cinema. What more can you tell us about yourselves, individually and as a collective?
All three of us are Italian and come from small towns in rural territory. Here, the moods are incandescent and manners improper; language can be crude and fashion is always the latest fashion, thus already out of fashion. That’s not a condition of isolation, on the contrary; we live exactly in the navel of the nation, where all the political and social conflicts that mark this historical moment come to life. Our work deeply reflects this land, its people, its folklore.
It needs to be said that the whole world is in itself a village. Communities, bigger or smaller, more or less isolated, can be found all over and, no matter where they are located, living conditions and traditions make them alike and somehow close. See the case of ‘snake handlers’ – still found among Pentecostals, in the Appalachian Mountains (United States) – and the ‘serpari’ (snake handlers/hunters) of a small mountain community in the Abruzzo region, in Italy, which we had the opportunity to film for one episode of our latest project, Zeus Machine. This is only one of several instances we could mention.
Basically, we like filming what is common to as many people as possible. Sometimes, we do it by picturing events or collective situations, some others, by taking one as an example for all. We go among men as anthropologists; we ask permission to participate in their feasts, make a story, a portrait, and take them as an example to other men.
What are your backgrounds? How did you all meet?
We come from different experiences: psychology, theatre, cinema and rock clubs. David and Monaldo met as teenagers during boarding school, where they had been sent to complete their high-school studies. Then they met again later in university while studying Films. Nadia was studying psychology, attending psychodrama groups and researching antipsychiatry textbooks. The three of us got together for the first time after a theatre piece (Catrame, Motus, 1997) in which David was doing a very harsh, disturbing performance inspired by J.G. Ballard’s Crash. 
Why did you decide to start the group?
During the shooting of our first film (Spring Roll, 2000), Monaldo came to visit us on the set; he had just completed a photography course for video makers. He started helping us out and, from that moment, the set could count on a three-person crew. We continued working together on the post-production of the movie. We enjoyed it and naturally decided to give our group a band name. Since then, the three of us get together mainly to prepare the set, shoot the film, and then work on the editing and the sound of the movie.
We wanted to make an unprecedented cinema without frontiers, extremely personal and universal at the same time. Theatre trained us in the literal construction of the set, in the importance of a prepared room, of sound, of a prismatic experience. But the most important thing it transmitted to us is the sense of collective vision, where the audience is seen as a schizoid body always at the centre of the discourse.
I must ask: is there a relation between the name of your collective and the world-known video by Abraham Zapruder, capturing the assassination of John F. Kennedy?
The day JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Zapruder stopped being a person’s name to become a mythical image that would forever bind the ear to the eye. The ear of the President of the United States that, in turn, recalls the sacrificial ear of the work written by Antonin Artaud, Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society. And the eye, that takes part in the economy of the scene both as spectator and sharpshooter at once.
Going through your past work, it’s difficult to describe exactly what we are watching or how each film is relatable to another. The scenes are often quite banal and somewhat familiar, but always interrupted by something absurd taking place. How would you put your visual pieces into words?
Reality is always more surprising than any invention, and our films take that into account. Our approach to image envisions a stratification, such that the viewers are left with the right/duty to contribute to the ultimate meaning of what they see, live and suspect to understand from the scene, which already contains in itself all the elements that lead to the question: whatever might have happened for us to get to this point?
One of my favourite clips is your film The Hypnotic Dog (N.d.a. The Hypnotist Dog), from Venice Film Festival 2011, about a dog hypnotizing people to fall asleep. What leads you to these narratives? How do you come up with the ideas?
Paranormal is one of our obsessions, so much so that we often find ourselves around psychics, exorcists, mediums and healers. This interest probably comes from our peasant origins, but our approach to the topic is basically the study of phenomena and people who believe they can feel and see things invisible to most; it has a lot to do with our cinema.
In the case of The Hypnotist Dog, we had seen an English TV documentary about a dog touring around theatres; the dog would look into people's eyes and make them fall magically asleep. We involved in the project French-German performer Antonia Baehr, who usually goes by the pseudonym of Werner Hirsch. In our fake documentary, Antonia/Werner becomes the medium able to give voice to what the dog Oscar (a female Rottweiler named Chimera) can see pass through the mind of the crew’s sound technician (Monaldo), who agrees to take part in the experiment. 
Werner declares that more and more people come to see his dog: they sit down, fall asleep, wake up and happily leave, to return later even more numerous. The film was shot in 3D to restate once and again that we stand in front of matters that can’t be grasped with the naked eye, and to invite the viewer to look beyond the appearance of things.
“We wanted to make an unprecedented cinema without frontiers, extremely personal and universal at the same time.”
How is performance art incorporated in the films?
Writing is always the basis of our work; we tend to construct mechanisms that, once triggered, proceed towards their natural consumption or destruction. In our films, the entire set is often a performing cinematic ‘machine’. What we love the most is to account for an event that, let go without control, can be a manifestation of the unrepeatable sense of existence, the time of life that has been, that has happened. When we film something live, the camera tends to disappear, merging with the audience that becomes part of the film as a witness and that once on the screen will, in turn, be confused with the audience in the room, also a witness of that event.
The Gucci Garden in Florence premiered your most recent exhibition on November 12 with three new episodes of a multichannel installation piece called Zeus Machine. The first two were screened in January and June 2018. They all revolve around the myths of Hercules in a twelve-episode series. What more can you tell us about this project?
We wanted to make a documentary about the lively remains of ancient myth in our present time, but also a film that’d be in itself the interpreter of all extraordinary actions men carry out on a daily basis. There can be no myth without heroic deeds; in our case, those deeds are not performed by the Olympian gods but by ordinary people who, with an amused yet serious attitude, become interpreters of their own adventures.
The entire making of Zeus Machine has been a path of recognition, a quest for the labours and Hercules of today, those that would best render the many-sided nature of the myth. Getting through this labour took us almost three years, and that was the hardest part of the work. The rest followed through.
What makes the legends of Hercules relevant to our present times? 
Hercules is a modern hero and what he has to accomplish is very much similar to the task of every man on earth: to overcome the fatigue of dealing with new daily challenges and to fight against monsters always lurking. Let’s not forget Hercules was half-god and half-human and that he must complete a number of labours to expiate his guilt and regain the immortality that is his due.
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Still 2 from Zeus Machine, film, 2019
In many of your films, you create a visual experience through the integration of stereoscopic cinema techniques (3D illusion). Why is this important for your work?
We made stereoscopic films from 2005 to 2011 – our last 3D movie is Spell, which contains the above-mentioned hypnotist dog. The studying and experimenting of 3D led us to carry out a research on duration, time and on the depth of images, allowing us to work on the idea of ​​a tactile eye and on the scene seen as a pyramid of perspective planes, where it is possible to film not only things but also the space hidden between things. Today we no longer work directly with stereoscopy, but those acquisitions are a stable part of our way of working with the scene and the editing, and they allow us to create film projects that are real sculptures of time.
Besides creating films of your own, you also participate frequently in the Italian experimental scene. What happens in these collaborations?
Luckily, we are not alone in this world. We continuously collaborate with other artists. Friendship is an elective question, a great exchange; through others we find ourselves. You can’t make films out of films, and that’s why we like working with musicians, theatre directors, philosophers, artists, etc. Therefore, we contribute to a centripetal force that continuously shifts our horizons.
You are quite innovative and experimental. Who else do you know is working in a similar line? Could you recommend us some other audio-visual creatives to follow?
It feels uncomfortable to imagine that someone would work in a way similar to ours. Our method involves going down unpaved roads, avoiding obvious and connotated linguistic mechanisms, personalizing each phase of the work, taking care first-hand of everything that has to be done, from manual labour on. However, among all things seen recently, we loved Bergman in Uganda by Markus Ohrn; La nuit des taupes by Philippe Quesne; and Matthaus Passion by Romeo Castellucci, which besides being an extraordinary opera, is also a perfect movie, filmed by and available on Artè.
What are your future projects? Will we ever be seeing a feature film from you, for example?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been completing the making of Zeus Machine, which is both a multi-channel installation (with episodes running simultaneously) and a feature-length film that we might consider like a theorem on the construction of a present-time mythology. We are confident that it will soon be possible to see this movie screened at film festivals.
According to its genesis, this project is aimed at forcing through the reassuring limits of conventional film grammar, trying to mix as many different spectators as possible, and sure enough, it will come across as a courageous work for people who love linguistic hazards. We then plan to invest a good amount of time in its presentation and distribution. After these past three years of filmic labours, we would like to take some time to start writing our next feature film, and maybe think about at least one live performance to present in the fall at a performing arts festival.
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Still  from Zeus Machine, film, 2019
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Still from Spell, stereoscopi film, 2011
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Still 1 from Spell, stereoscopic film 2011
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Stills from Cock-Crow, stereoscopic film, 2009