Legend has it that the Italian island of Giglio was created when the goddess Venus emerged from the ocean and seven gemstones fell from her necklace. The stones are thought to have formed the Tuscan archipelago, of which Giglio is its pearl. It’s perhaps unsurprising that a place of such natural beauty should be enshrouded in myth. Nestled in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany, Isola del Giglio is known for its azure seas, granite cliffs and rustic architecture. Weathered by time and climate, the island’s natural beauty resides in its vibrant colours and jagged imperfections. But, as the short film Isola del Giglio (2014) shows, it’s the people, and the culture they form, that give the island its soul.
The project had its beginnings in sketches and audio recordings compiled by the US filmmaker Tom Schroeder while on a trip to Campese, a town on Giglio with a population of roughly 200. The resulting animations maintain his original sketchbook style. Unfolding in a patchwork of fluid vignettes, the images evoke the experience of a traveller meandering from scene to scene, or perhaps memories of a trip springing to life. Next to the illustrations, written notes offer postcard-like observations and commentary.
There’s a gentle informality to the production that mirrors the reposeful nature of the town and its inhabitants. Rounded edges and scribbled outlines form the bones of the scenes, from buildings to pavement. Timeless terracotta roofs point to the island’s long, warm days. Shutters swing open, the windowsills dripping with laundry. Workers idly go about their day with cigarettes dangling from their lips. Sumptuous visuals of mopeds, fish for dinner, stray dogs, a notebook on a breakfast table all tell a story of a quiet holiday in an off-the-path locale – and one that’s not yet overrun by tourists. The source audio lends the film a rich and authentic sense of place. The sounds of laughter, birdsong, music and indistinct chatter transport viewers to Giglio and, as Schroeder explains, add ‘credibility, weight, reality and even poetry’ to the work.
Carefully constructed, these fragments of overlapping sounds and images illustrate how the locals’ lives intersect in this small, self-contained world. In crafting a film without a narrative arc (or even dialogue, for non-Italian speakers), Schroeder builds a uniquely meditative viewing experience, inviting viewers to ease into a rhythm of life where nothing is hurried. It’s an ode to simple beauty, a love letter to a place, and, perhaps, a call to those in need of a holiday, reminding them of what it’s like to relish every lingering detail in a setting that’s far from home.
Written by Olivia Hains
Director: Tom Schroeder