Changing Humanity: one film at a time

Before Valentina Castellani was a flicker in her parent’s eyes, she was destined to make her part in  changing the world.   She was born in Florence, Italy, and her family owned an Opera House Theatre. Her Grandfather Riccardo was an important producers of the Fellini films and distributors of the Golden Era of Italian cinema. With this estimated background, where is she going to make her mark?

After the death of her husband, Francesco Quinn, son of Oscar winning actor, Anthony Quinn, she created Quinn Studios and embarked on a journey to make him proud. Quinn Studios decided to put it mark on the global stage in the areas of entertainment, the arts and world peace. Ms. Quinn in 2012 produced her first television documentary series called “Life on a Bike” based on the Italian pro cycling tour “Giro D’Italia.” Quinn Studios then co-produced the movie “The Butterfly’s Dream” and caught the attention of the Golden Globes and Academy Awards in 2014 with a nomination “Best Foreign Movie.” A “Butterfly’s Dream” would go on to take 13 International Awards. As Ms. Quinn started entered the global stage, her studio helped on the post-production of “The Square” , a documentary on the Egyptian conflict, which won major International Awards, including the “Directors Guild, “Sundance Film Festival,” “Berlin Film Festival,” and “Dubai Film Festival in 2014. Quinn studios completed an award winning documentary about Peace in the Middle East: “ ONE ROCK THREE RELIGIONS” and won the “Human Rights Award,” along with “The U.S. Congress Award”. After making her mark on the global stage in such a short period of time, the awards started coming in: the “City of Los Angeles Award” in 2017 and the prestigious British “WIFTS” award in 2018. In 2019, Valentina expanded her Producer studios and created Quinn studios Entertainment. Her first production is the film titled “The White Snake” that will see her working with Native Americans and exploring alternative energies to oil, and its impact on the world.  It might be easy to underestimate this soft-spoken, mild manner lady, but she packs a punch.  She is diving in head first with her team of renegades on the ground and using her moral compass as her guide. Her films have taken her to the Pope’s Garden, Palestine, Standing Rock and next up, the Amazon. I sat down with Ms. Quinn to talk about life and was inspired by what the human mind and spirit can accomplish.

S.B. : How do you decide what films to direct and produce?  What is the meaning behind your decision making process?

V.C. : My projects challenge me deeply and force me to step out of my comfort zone.  I study different parts of the world and cultures that I don’t know. I always believed that projects choose us somehow… However, there are projects that resonate with me very deeply. Although I have produced very different films and documentaries, at the core each of the films I produced, they have in common the love for humanity, a quest for understanding our spirit, our strength, and a call to awaken and elevate the human condition.  I always achieved my highest goals in life, when I’m forced in a state of deep comfortability and need to find my center through uncertainty …the missing ring, which unites the chain and closes the circle.

S.B. : Your films focus on worldwide issues.  Do you believe a film can help or make the decision better in two hours or less?

V.C. : Yes. I am firmly convinced that films are still the most powerful and influential platform to convey an idea and message. With a simple phrase, a scene, a good script, we can inspire an entire world. I like to make people reflect and take a stand on world issues. Our last Documentary about peace in the Middle East, “One Rock Three Religions” received the ‘US Congress Award Recognition’ for its effort to promote an open dialogue between countries, religions and ethnicities. As a result, Congress created two bills to promote peace and establish protection of the minorities in the Middle East.

S.B. : The story of you meeting the Pope for ‘One Rock Three Religions’ is an incredible story.  Can you share details for one how and why you got there, and what happened when you were in the Garden?

V.C. : Meeting Pope Francis and filming in the Vatican Gardens was certainly one of the highlights of the film. I read on the paper that Pope Francis, just returned from Jerusalem where he invited the two Presidents, Shimon Perez and Mahmud Abbas, to pray together in the Vatican Gardens. I thought, ‘this is it. We have to find a way to get the permits to shoot the meeting’ . I had great determination: I knew we could find a way… I called the Vatican offices at 3am LA time. This is how my 10 night’s confession (as I call it) started: I would call and speak with the Press office, night after night, explaining what we were in the process of doing with the film. I realized that no “big name” would matter: what they really cared was to understand what kind of person I was, my values, my intent.  …On the 10th night I received the permit to film the historical meeting between the Pope and the two presidents, and their prayer in the Vatican Gardens. This moment shifted completely our perception of the film: If the Pope was believing in our project, we understood that we weren’t just a couple of filmmakers believing in a cause, but actually a full “tribe” around the world connecting and uniting in the same vision.

S.B. :  How did you end up in Standing Rock filming while the standoff was going on?  How was that experience for you?

V.C. : Our film “THE WHITE SNAKE” is about the Native Americans and alternative energies to oil. I felt that the saga of Standing Rock was very symbolic of what is happening globally:  humanity against technology. The protests spoke loudly to the world about the importance of respecting the planet and the environment. But, more importantly, to remember who we are as human beings, resonating together as one with the planet. New technologies are out there that have proved successful in other countries that will ignite a new ‘system’ which beats in harmony with the heartbeat of the planet. The honor of filming with Chief Arvol Looking Horse, Chief of All Stars Nations, and the Natives, in the middle of vast fields of nature and snow, surrounded by traditional Indian tepees, was like going back in time. I felt one with these people and nature, like part of a much bigger vision. It fully changed my relationship with humanity and our environment. It made it real and full of hope.

S.B. :  Do world affairs effect you down to your soul or are you an optimistic person and believe humanity and love will always win?

V.C. : I am firmly rooted in the human condition. After having made a film about peace in the Middle East, and meeting with the leaders of the three Abrahamic religions as well as the leaders of many countries,  it reinforced me on the amazing power of the human spirit. I have filmed Native Americans,  I saw them fighting injustice, I saw them defeated. And yet I saw a tremendous spirit of unity and resilience arising.  It feels like it takes so much courage these days to stay strong and positive. In my personal story and the journey I walked through after the death of my husband, and the amazing developments of my life and my work as a producer, taught me tremendous resilience and flooded me with hope and radiant positivity.

S.B. :  What are two core principles that you live by?

V.C. : My life has brought me difficult challenges. Some I chose and some I didn’t.  I had to face them with great humility and endure. I have great love for humanity, my Italian origins have always helped me stay grounded to love and the genuine spirit of courage, honesty and hope.

S.B. :  Films do not get made on their own.   There is a business practice you must know.  Movie packages, financing, meetings and how to handle getting it all done.   What advice do you have for film makers on how to secure financing?

V.C. : There is never a rule and only one way to find financing for a project. Each film as its own story and personality. What is important first of all, is to be prepared. Have a good script. A treatment. A press kit on the project. A list and bio of each member attached from the Director to producer, to talents. Have a budget and business plan developed that includes location shooting, daily costs and a time calendar. It is so much more affirmative and reassuring for an investor to see a well-developed plan.

S.B. :  What do you want your legacy to be?

V.C. : My legacy is already unfolding. It is one captained by enthusiasm for life and people. It is one of love and courage. I’m a believer and a story-teller and believe our destiny is within.  We just have to be brave enough to see it!

On July 12th Valentina inaugurated the “Terra di Siena international Film Festival” with a concert at the Teatro Reale “Dei Rinnovati”, on the legendary Piazza del Campo in Siena. Guests were carried away by the original music of the American jazz band “Sasha’s Bloc” by the Grammy Award candidate Alexander Gershman.