"Mila" is the story of a little girl who loses her family during the war in Trento, Italy. Thanks to a young woman who comes to her rescue, Mila survives a devastating bombardment and takes cover in the woman's house. Mila clutches the last remnants of her past, a worn-out hat and a tattered carousel ticket, in her hands. In the house she finds comfort in a hidden rocking horse and music box. Both elicit memories of her mother at the carousel and spark Mila's imagination. As the woman mends what she can of Mila's hat, the bond between them is cast. The woman and girl survive the war-torn night and emerge the next day to witness the beginning of the end of the War. Confronted with their losses and drawn together through their ordeal, they find salvation in each other and the new life they then build together. (Source: Angelini & Emmes)
Both director Cinzia Angelini and producer Andrea Emmes, of the animated short film Mila about children and the horrors of war, participated in the following interview.
Mila represents the kids that are in the middle of war but the film also shows the effects of war on adults, and in particular on women that are usually the ones left behind, victims themselves along with their kids. -- Cinzia Angelini
Currently, the topic of conflict and war and the most vulnerable victims, children, is frequently in the news and of growing concern around the world. I understand that the film is inspired by your (Cinzia's) mother's experience during World War II in Italy. How and why did you both decide to approach this disturbing topic?
Cinzia: Like many people of my generation from Europe, I grew up hearing stories from WWII. In particular, one story touched me. My mom often told me how she felt as a five-year-old in the middle of bombardments in 1943. She was so terrified that she could not move or speak or scream until someone would take her to shelter. This story is not so interesting from an action stand point but the intensity of the emotions that forced my mom to be paralyzed in the middle of the conflict always made me think about the emotional intensity of what kids go through. When it was time to pick a story for my personal film, that was the story that I wanted to talk about and I am so overwhelmed to see so many people wanting to be part of Mila and help me bring that story to the big screen. I think that the personal aspect of the projects is what helps me find the energy to go forward and what attracts people to be part of it. Making a difference for the five-year-old in the middle of chaos is what keeps us going.
Andrea: We never intended for the film to be as topical and socially relevant as it is, which actually saddens us that so much suffering is happening every day. It’s scary to even just watch the news because all of the chaos, destruction and tragic loss of life. I think for me, it is not only important to reach out to everyone we can to start the conversation about children who are affected by war and what happens to them afterwards and how we can help them; but also to reach out to anyone who is battling their own personal “war stories”. We all go through challenges, struggles, etc. in our lives; that makes life difficult to wade through and it is important for everyone to choose hope, to find their inner strength and/or a community of people that can empower and encourage them to keep fighting and to persevere. For me, my biggest “war story” is living with RSD, a debilitating lifelong neurological pain disorder that I was diagnosed with in 2006. This changed my life. I was so depressed and in horrific pain, that it was so hard to focus on anything that was good. Thankfully, because of family, friends, faith, doctors, etc. I was able to work hard to find the will to “survive” and start anew. Even though I had this daily struggle, I wasn’t going to allow it to define me or change me or my aspirations. It only meant that I had to find a new perspective and avenue of making things happen. In 2010, I started working on Mila. The story of a 5-year-old little girl who loses everything - her mother, her family, her home, etc. but manages to find hope amidst her adversity, really spoke to me and validated my own life’s mission and gave me an opportunity to share this truth, this hope with others. Everyday, when we’re faced with obstacles on “Mila” that need to be fixed, or if I’m tired or overwhelmed, I’m reminded of the many Milas around the world, what they are going through and that reinvigorates me. If one person can make a difference in the world, imagine what many people can do! We can move mountains, together!
Your film is supported by UNICEF Italy. Can you explain how you connected with UNICEF and the nature of your relationship?
Andrea: We learned a while ago, especially when we realized that we would actually be able to make this film remotely with a virtual “studio” of volunteers, over 250 artists from over 25 countries, that we needed to be creative in how we approached people to come on board. Since we don’t have a big studio behind us, we do not have their kind of contacts readily available to us, so we knew that we needed to be bold, be honest and just share our story/process with as many people as we could. Because technology is so advanced, not only are we able to create our film the way we are, but we have more reach on our own through websites and social media.
Cinzia: Right, for UNICEF Italy, I decided to reach out to them via Twitter and shared with them our website, a little bit about the film and the conversation started from there. Over six months, we spoke over Twitter and email and then earlier this year when we were recording the musical score for our trailer, another amazing story of how things came together by putting out a “Call to Action” online to musicians who might be interested in volunteering. We had 150 people audition! Because of that turnout, I decided that I would fly out to Italy that weekend when we planned to record and set up a meeting/presentation with UNICEF Italy while I was there and that solidified things. They wrote an amazing statement that we’ve been allowed to use along with their logo/name and once the film is complete, they’ll become more involved in sharing our film and promoting it. We’re also looking into how we can do more with UNICEF now. Volunteering in the local chapters in the areas where our Mila Family lives around the world. We’ve also partnered with Sony Music Recording Artist/Actor Torion Sellers. He will be doing a song for our Credits/Soundtrack and will be working with us as we volunteer for UNICEF!
Will children have the chance to view Mila? What do you hope or expect the impact of your film to be (educational, policy-changing, etcetera)?
Cinzia: Absolutely! What’s great about “Mila” is that we are not depicting war as most films do. There is no blood, depiction of military or politics. There is some destruction and we show the bomber planes, but otherwise it is very kid-friendly. Also, the POV of the film is through Mila’s eyes, so we’re experiencing everything as Mila is experiencing it, which I feel kids can relate and grasp on to. Mila represents the kids that are in the middle of war but the film also shows the effects of war on adults, and in particular on women that are usually the ones left behind, victims themselves along with their kids. The woman that saves Mila physically represents all the women that suffer in the middle of war. She does save Mila from the bombings but she will be saved by Mila. Mila gives her hope, hope to go forward, fight and live, something that women are so great at! There is also another woman in the film and that is Mila’s mom that was killed in the bombings and comes back only in Mila’s dreams. She represents all the women that did die in war and are left only in our memories. The film has many characters that support Mila’s story and the hope is that this film will impact the audience at different levels.
Andrea: I definitely hope that we can start conversations to educate more children (and adults) about the destruction of war and the lasting effects it leaves with its victims. If we’re able to reach just one future leader, that could make all the difference for tomorrow. Actually, I was speaking to a friend of mine who home-schools her children and after seeing our trailer and speaking with me about the film, she shared it with her daughters and then created a lesson on the Civil War. She said it was really impactful and opened an interesting dialog between them. They wanted to know more. What happened to Mila, why did this happen, etc.? Not to give too much away, but the film isn’t completely sad and we do show how Mila has found her hope and happiness. Kids are resilient and if we give them a chance, they can inspire us and make us better people.
What do you feel is important for people to know about young victims of war as so many places around the world are confronted with an ever-increasing number of people needing help who are fleeing war-torn areas?
Andrea: These beautiful human beings are precious, as all life is precious, but they do not have the same capabilities of taking care of themselves as adults do and need to be protected. They need those who can speak for them, who can get the help and attention that they need. Also, and Cinzia can speak more on this, but children who survive war do not completely heal from their injuries. They keep the memories with them always, as what happened to them will haunt them later in life. It will most likely affect how they behave around others, noises can trigger painful flashbacks, affect how they feel about themselves, etc. There is much more damage that is done mentally and emotionally to children who suffer in this way besides what they may face physically and they might not be able to express this and receive the help they need.
Cinzia: I personally did not go through war myself but I witnessed the effects of it through my mom’s experience as a child in the middle of WWII. My mom was lucky and was exposed to bombardments for a limited time until the family escaped up the mountains seeking shelter in small villages until the war was over. She was affected by it in a smaller way than most, thankfully, but imagine children that are exposed for much longer, in a more brutal way or even exposed to multiple wars during their life. How does that affect them, how damaged are they? It really saddens me to see strong negative reactions to the refugee crisis in Europe. Yes, it’s not easy. I am Italian and lived in Italy until I moved to the U.S. in 1997. Many of my relatives and friends tell me how hard it is for them to keep seeing desperate people coming into the country. I think most people do all they can to help but, unfortunately, I don’t think the refugees are getting all the help they should from many European nations. I hope that Mila will spark in people their compassion, remind them of their grandparents that got help, that found shelter, that were saved by strangers. When I see the images of thousands of people lined up at the borders with all they own in few plastic bags and with their eyes full of hope for their children, my mind goes back to a night in September 1943 when my grandparents, a friend, two bicycles and three kids were escaping as the city was bombed. Mila will hopefully help people remember and not forget.
Crowdfunding campaign: Indiegogo (ends July 9, 2016)
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