DER Documentary

Polyphony of Ceriana: The Compagnia Sacco

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by Hugo Zemp
color, 74 min, 2010

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In Ceriana, a village in West Liguria on the southern slopes of the Italian Alps descending to the Mediterranean coast, people love to sing. Among not less than five choirs, The Compagnia Sacco, founded in 1926, is the most committed to preserve the traditional drone polyphony. Different from Corsican and Sardinian polyphonies (but similar to East Georgian table songs), the local three-part singing is characterized by two solo voices and the drone of the choir.

The American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax made sound recordings in Ceriana in 1954. He invited The Compagnia Sacco in 1975 to the USA, as a prelude to the 1976 Bicentennial Celebration of Independence. This one-month tour in America was the starting point for its international reputation. However, unlike other choirs of the region, the members of The Compagnia Sacco do not sing under the direction of a conductor and do not limit themselves to giving concerts and producing CDs; they also enjoy very much singing together with friends at many local festivities. Thus, since its foundation The Compagnia Sacco draws its repertoire from the local tradition and still presents it to an international audience, and in return the members of the choir also continue to nurture and keep alive the village singing of today.

“The architecture of this remarkable film is built around the traditional song, its social function and its poetic and aesthetic dimension. With his appraising eye, his mastery of silences and his subtle editing of the film, Hugo Zemp succeeds in combining the singers' intimate and collective worlds. Always close to the men of the choir, he allows them to sing without ever interfering, thus making us participate in the inner life of these encounters.” — Yannick Lebtahi, filmologist, Université Lille 3, France, 2010
“Zemp brings the viewer directly into the musical and social worlds of the Compagnia Sacco, arranging for the protagonists to tell their story and explain what they are doing in apparently spontaneous and natural sequences, without narration, visual intrusion, or artifice of construction. We come away with the feeling of having been there. Yet the film is in fact finely orchestrated, mediated through the film-maker's close observation and study of his subject as well as his extensive experience of filming singing.

The triumph of this film is the way in which Zemp reveals the flow and warmth of traditional group singing, and the individuality of singers as well, as his camera follows the interaction and the cues of the singers throughout a song. In it we see how polyphonic singing at the village level is a continuous creator of harmony, both musical and social, for the participants and those who are absorbed by their performance.” — Anna Wood, American Anthropologist, 114-4, 2012
“In part because of the lack of unnecessary distraction in the film itself, the viewer is left with a series of vivid and lasting images and a sense of having been granted privileged access into the lives of the singers. The film and Study Guide combined offer a valuable teaching resource with respect both to oral traditions of folk polyphony and to techniques of filmmaking—one that I recommend without reservation. At a less academic level, it is heartening to have this window onto a place where the art of conviviality is still alive and well.” — Caroline Bithell, University of Manchester Mediterranean Music Studies

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Contro-Sguardi International Anthropological Film Festival, Italy, 2012

Related Resources
Study Guide
Read the article “Polyphonies of Ceriana: Current Research Perspectives, Future Cues”
by Febo Guizzi, Ilario Meandri, Guido Raschieri

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