Over the last week, I had the privilege of chatting with the incredibly talented director, Matteo Bernardini. He created a new series called The Little Broomstick Rider, which recently premiered at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. We talked about how he got involved in the industry, his inspirations, how the idea for The Little Broomstick Rider came about, the artwork behind it, and much more!
PopHorror – Thanks for talking with me Matteo, how is 2021 treating you so far?
Matteo Bernardini – Thank you very much for having me, Tori! The truly good thing about early 2021 is Slamdance: I can’t wait for this adventure to start! I’m also working on developing new projects I am very excited about. Fingers crossed!
PopHorror – That is exciting! What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
Matteo Bernardini – I wanted to be a director since I was eight years old. At the time I had no idea what a filmmaker was, but I was utterly convinced I wanted to be one and then shaped my life in that sense. Now that I think back to it, it was rather irresponsible on my behalf: I never developed – or even thought of – a plan B.
Since I was so young when I got bitten by the bug, I can’t remember exactly what inspired me. However, I come from a family where culture and the arts have always been taken in high regard: even though I had no connection whatsoever with the film world, I have always been surrounded by creative stimuli and encouraged to try an experiment.
PopHorror – That’s awesome that you had a support system. Do you have any directors/writers who inspire you?
Matteo Bernardini – Sure! I must say that the main sources of inspiration for my work besides Films are usually Literature, Music, Painting, and Illustration.
I was very lucky: my father’s favourite directors have always been Bergman, Truffaut, and Chaplin, which means I have been exposed to these great masters from an early age. I love the three of them very much, but also Bertolucci (his Novecento and The Conformist are extraordinary masterpieces that I revisit often), Buster Keaton, and other masters of the Silent Era, namely Fritz Lang and Murnau. Silent Cinema remains a fundamental reference in order to understand the essence of the Seventh Art, that is to say, a narrative primarily told through moving images.
There are also specific films that had a huge impact on me at a rather tender age, very different between them: The Fearless Vampire Killers (thanks to which I fell in love with Sharon Tate at the tender age of eight and no one had the heart to tell me what had happened to her; I only found out years later…); Picnic at Hanging Rock (the hardest thing to make is a film with a strong and vibrant atmosphere, and the atmosphere in this movie is the lead character); The Magic Flute (the best rendition of an Opera adapted into Film, or when Cinema reveals the poetic magic of Theatre) and Fanny and Alexander, both by Bergman; Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Coppola (possibly one of the last examples of total work of art on the big screen).
Another seminal film for me was The Company of Wolves by Neil Jordan: I was probably too young when I first watched it, but it fascinated me immensely for its flawless blend of Fairy Tale and Horror; it was also functional in letting me discover one of my very favourite authors ever (it was based on one of her short stories): Angela Carter.
She is a magnificent writer, still far too neglected if we consider her extraordinary talent and artistry. Check her out!
Other writers that inspire me and that could also be of interest to the readers of Pop Horror?
(the list would otherwise be too long)
Ray Bradbury (extraordinary, the greatest at mixing poetry with horror), J.M. Barrie (the creator of Peter Pan, whose body of work reveals gems that deserve to be rediscovered), E.T.A. Hofmann (the father of Fantastic Literature: everybody else that came later, including Poe, is in debt to him).
PopHorror – I’m familiar with many of those films, filmmakers, and creative work. I love that your inspiration comes from many different creative outlets. Looking at your career, you’re pretty much a jack of all trades: directing, writing, producing, etc. Do you enjoy any of them more than the other?
Matteo Bernardini – Directing is my true love and passion; however, I must say I also enjoy very much covering the other roles you mentioned, especially in relation to my own films. It is a way to thoroughly dedicate yourself to your creations, and contemporarily seeing them from different angles and perspectives.
It is very important for me to write my personal projects, to be there from their very inception. I also love being a creative producer: having a grasp on the practical needs and structures of your films forces you to embrace them in a different way, far more practical and down to earth; nevertheless, when the time to direct comes I delegate such tasks to some trusted collaborators and do concentrate solely on my main occupation. Still, they stay with me and inform my director self, which I see as a very good thing: being aware of what your ideas and demands do actually imply in practical and organizational terms is pure gold for a filmmaker.
PopHorror – Your new TV SERIES, The Little Broomstick Rider is based on Ludwig Bechstein’s The Little Pitchfork Rider. Can you tell the readers what it’s about?
Matteo Bernardini – It is about a German little boy of nine – named Linhard – who goes on trial for witchcraft in 17th century Bavaria. It is also about the court that has to try him, and who finds out that the defendant is someone very different from what they had expected.
Film Snob Reviews just defined my series as “delightfully diabolical”: I love that definition and could not find a better catchphrase to describe it!
PopHorror – I love it! What was the inspiration to create this? I’m assuming you’re a fan of Ludwig Bechstein?
Matteo Bernardini – My original inspiration came from the need to be creative during the pandemic. I was developing some live-action projects but everything came to a halt in early 2020, for obvious reasons. I found myself locked inside my house, not knowing when I would be able to resume my profession. The pandemic also triggered a thought I had been toying with for quite a while: would it be possible to develop a cinematic project entirely on one’s own? The answer was: Yes. I ultimately came to the realization that if I couldn’t hire a cast, I had to draw one. And my hands had to be my crew.
As for Bechstein, I knew he was a famous German collector of fairy tales and folklorist, similar to the Brothers Grimm to whom he was a contemporary – he even outshone them at the time. He is still well-known in Germany, but pretty much forgotten elsewhere. I came across his “Witch Tales” collection by chance in a second-hand bookshop and I took it back home with me. It stayed on the shelves for a couple of years, then I suddenly remembered it while looking for ideas for my quarantine project. The short story “The Little Pitchfork Rider” was part of that collection.
When I first read it, I could not believe this wonderful tale was not a widely-known classic: its joyful, anarchic spirit literally put a spell on me, and I felt the urge to adapt it.
PopHorror – I love the artwork in this series, it’s unique and fun. Who was the artist behind it and do you think the illustration plays an important part in the story?
Matteo Bernardini – Thank you very much! I’ll take the compliment because the artist behind all the illustrations is …well … myself!
As the audience will discover, illustrations don’t play an important role in the story: they ARE the story.
I produced and (literally) made this project entirely on my own, with the exception of the precious help of my father, whose extraordinary craftsmanship helped me fix the production design I had drawn.
I am a filmmaker and an illustrator but not an animator, which is an important detail since I knew from the very beginning that I had to create a style of my own: what I eventually developed was something closer to book illustrations coming to life than strictly classic animation. A style that has its roots in puppetry and paper toy theatres, as well as shadow theatres and magic lanterns.
I also decided not to have any spoken dialogue. This means my series referred back to silent cinema in style, and therefore, had to rely entirely on the visuals as well as on-screen text/dialogue that defines the exchange between the characters.
This became my love letter to the essence of the cinema of the origins.
PopHorror – Wow. You’re amazing! There are 6 episodes do you plan on continuing the story or leaving it at that?
Matteo Bernardini – The 6 episodes tell a complete narrative arc, so the story can be considered complete as is.
However, I must admit I grew very fond of these characters while working on the project: they seem to have developed a life of their own, with their distinct personalities. This became clear while I was writing the episodes (which I did in parallel to the shooting): I had the feeling the characters themselves were suggesting to me what to do; I knew exactly what to assign to each of them in terms of dialogues and reactions.
What I want to say is that I wouldn’t mind creating new episodes at all. I’m already thinking about using some of the characters in other stories, with new spin-off adventures of their own.
PopHorror – As previously mentioned, The Little Broomstick Rider is having its world premiere at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival. Are you pretty excited about it and what do you hope audiences take away from the experience?
Matteo Bernardini – I’m super excited to have my world premiere at Slamdance.
It is such an extraordinary festival, admired worldwide.
Now that I know more about the people behind it, I can confirm that their motto (“by filmmakers for filmmakers”) is perfectly true.
I have been to many amazing festivals, but with Slamdance, you have a clear perception that you are dealing with something unique!
I hope audiences will take away from “The Little Broomstick Rider” the very reasons I made it for being entertained and finding food for thought at the same time.
The original story by Bechstein uses the language of comedy and fairy tale to explore very serious subjects such as the abuse of power and oppression. With my adaptation, I decided to maintain this ambiguous balance by showcasing an illustrative style that recalls the sphere of childhood and humour while at the same time challenging the audience with a narrative that explores the dark side of humanity through the depiction of one of the gloomiest pages in European History.
PopHorror – I love how passionate you’re about your work and I look forward to all your future projects. Stay tuned for our upcoming review of The Little Broomstick Rider.