Winner: Best Jewish Film - July 2021 Edition Nominee: Best Indie Short Film, Best Spiritual/Mystical Film, Best Director Indie Short, Best Soundtrack
DIRECTOR, WRITER & PRODUCER
Daniel VITAL is an Italian filmmaker who emigrated to the U.S. He is best known for his short film "Thank You Rebbe". His first short film "Il Giudice di Linea" (“The Line Judge”) was produced in Italy, and was broadcasted on RAI 3 national TV during the transmission “Blob”. In 2020, he received a Chicago/Midwest "Chapter EMMY" nomination. Daniel has a growing reputation as a narrative director and socially focused storyteller.
Hello Daniel, thank you for your beautiful film. What pushed you to make your first film?
I decided to write and direct this short film as a tribute to my friends who lived the events narrated in the film. My wife and I lived next to them the joy of the birth of their twins and tragically also the loss of their boy just a few months after his birth. I wanted to honor them.
I felt the best possible way was trying to share their story. I have to say that what started as a tribute for them quickly became a life-saver for me. It kept me busy and creative during a challenging time of my life.
I was living in the U.S. with a visa that allowed me to stay but not to work. I was taking care of my 2-year old daughter together with my wife Rossella who instead was working full-time. And I was diagnosed with cancer in the bone marrow. It was a very long chemotherapy during which I wrote and rewrote the script over and over. Each time I thought I nailed it but I also wanted to slightly change some concepts, every time. I think I was quickly evolving as a person; therefore, the script changed as a consequence. I ended up with a very different script compared to my initial one.
"Thank You Rebbe" was shot in 2016. Have you made more films since, as a Director, Writer and/or Producer?
Unfortunately, once I completed "Thank You Rebbe", I had a late side effect from the chemo and suffered heart failure just after finishing the film's edit. That took me another 6-months to get back on my feet. Literally. Then I started to freelance in the non-profit world.
From 2018 to 2021, I worked full-time as a Video Director for one of the major Midwest Non-Profit organizations. I had the honor and privilege to tell real-life stories of a community, the challenges, and successes. We received a "Silver Telly Award" and an EMMY nomination for a P.S.A. (Public Service Announcement), I wrote and produced – a testimony to the great work our team was able to produce.
Today I'm working as a freelance again. I'm writing my first feature script, "Recycle Me", and I'm at the beginning of my indie documentary production entitled "Colors of Judaism".
You were born in Europe, Milan Italy to be precise, and are now living in Chicago. Why the choice to migrate to the U.S.A.?
My family moved to the U.S. when I was a child. I lived in Houston and New York from 5 to 9 years old. It was the mid-seventies. I still remember sitting in the backseat of my dad's old Cadillac listening to ABBA, my first movie "Grease", my New York Yankees jacket, my 3rd-grade school visit to the top of the Twin Towers, and many other moments of that experience.
When we moved back to Italy, the U.S. were already inside me. Almost three decades later, when my wife and I decided to get married, we also decided to experience life outside Europe. The U.S. was a giant leap of faith, but it also felt closer due to that childhood experience. We took it one step at a time, with no real long-term plan.
12 years later, we are still here. I love this country and its people, even with the eyes of an adult. Despite its harsh reality, contradictions and challenges, to me it still embodies the ideal of working for a collective better tomorrow.
You manage to give the viewer an impression of your character's entire lifetime wrapped up in a pretty short narrative —film-lengthwise. This appears to be your initial idea. What choices did you have to make, as a Writer, to deliver such a thorough yet "condensed"
(for lack of a better word) story?
I had to split the narrative into three levels. There is a “real-time” level where we see the character waking up, walking to the Chabad House, and writing his letter. The “flashbacks” level brings us to specific anecdotes, alternating emotions in a believable fashion. And then there is the voice-over level, that ties everything together, helping the audience follow the story. Juggling these three elements allowed me to share a story that is not typical for a short film structure. Then I used additional visual narrative levels in the background, probably noticeable only to the audience familiar with Jewish customs.
One of my favorite scenes is the “coffee shop” scene – when Dan and Esther meet for the first time. The more they talk and the closer they get to each other. At the end of their conversation, the waiter in the background starts to erase a vertical white line on the blackboard featuring the menu.
In the cinematic composition, that line was in between the two characters, a metaphor of a mechitza (a separation), and its elimination represents the two characters are about to become husband and wife. I tried to do my best– sometimes, I feel the film is still a bit cryptic here and there.
Still, I believe it was definitely an experience that made me grow as a storyteller and director.