"Il Presepe di Calcata" is a 21-minute ethnographic documentary film produced by Jenn Lindsay.
Subtitles by Emma Becciu, Knotty Translations.
This link is in Italian language with English subtitles--please press the "CC" button on the video player to get English subtitles (the untitled Italian version is here: vimeo.com/151012340).
Calcata is a medieval village located 47 kilometers (29 mi) north of Rome, called “the land that time forgot” by Wanted in Rome (wantedinrome.com/news/calcata-the-land-that-time-forgot/). In the 1930s, the hill town’s fortified historic center was condemned by the Fascist-era government for fear that the volcanic cliffs the ancient community was built upon would collapse. Local residents moved to nearby Calcata Nuova. In the 1960s, the emptied historical center began to be repopulated by artists and hippies who squatted in its medieval stone and masonry structures. Many of the squatters eventually purchased their homes, the government reversed its condemnation order, and the residents of what had become an artistic community began restoring the ancient town. Today the town has a thriving artistic community described in The New York Times as what “may be the grooviest village in Italy, home to a wacky community of about 100 artists, bohemians, aging hippies and New Age types.” (nytimes.com/2007/01/28/travel/28dayout.html)
The documentary film is about the town of Calcata and its eccentric residents, and chiefly follows the handmade Nativity scene (presepe in Italian) of the Dutch sculptor Marijcke van der Maden, a resident of Calcata since 1984. For 30 years, van der Maden has presented the village with this personalized nativity scene, populated by figurines of the local villagers and displayed each Christmas at Il Granarone, a local cultural association. “All the statues are handmade and represent the real people of Calcata. Every year I make a new person and I never tell who it will be,” she says.
Both Marijcke’s presepe—and this documentary film about its conceptualization, assembly, and significance—features local sculptor Costantino Morosin, artist and bagpiper Mimmo Malarbì, local artisan Marina Petroni, and Gemma Uuttendaele, owner of Calcata’s teahouse. In the interviews the subjects discuss the significance of the presepe in Italian culture and in their own lives, they reflect on the spiritual and religious nature of the presepe, and contemplate the profound experience of being replicated in this artwork that will endure as a testament to their picturesque and peculiar village.
The film is an ethnography of lived religion, simultaneously examining religious practice and religious object, and it explores the symbiosis between an artwork and its living inspiration.
The documentary provides a case study for how religion inspires creative responses, creates solidarity within a community, and acts as a platform for expressive nostalgia and meaning-making.