Mo Scarpelli on ‘A Song That Slays’ From Rake Films and Dispàrte

After having won the Silver Biznaga for best documentary director at this June’s Malaga Festival with “El Father Plays Himself,” which screens now at the Spanish Screenings, director-cinematographer Mo Scarpelli is leaping into fiction with her new project, “A Song That Slays.” Following a number of eye-catching doc titles that have always generated festival buzz  whether “El Father Plays Himself” at last year’s Visions du Réel, “Anbessa” at the 2019 Berlinale and Frame by Frame at 2015’s SXSW –  Scarpelli’s production company Rake Films has now been joined on her new project by Rome-based Dispàrte, which has boarded as lead producer.

Soon finishing the development workshop Less is More (LIM), organized  by Le Groupe Ouest, which will stage a showcase event on Nov. 9-10 of in Brittany, “A Song That Slays” is a drama set among the Pokot nomadic community of western Kenya, based on the legend of a young girl who uses the mystery of nature to escape the violence of man. The setting seems a perfect fit for a documentary filmmaker who had previously show a knack for blurring the lines between documentary and fiction and actively engaging with the audience by doing so.

Luigi Chimienti and Alessandro Amato, who head up the project at Dispàrte, agree: “In questioning and investigating the limits between fiction and  documentary, Mo Scarpelli’s debut fiction feature perfectly fits dispàrte’s line-up and its research of real, intimate stories told through a cinematographic language, as we already experienced with Maternal by Maura Delpero.

They added: “‘A Song That Slays’ doesn’t aim at giving answers, rather asking a question: To what extent should we compromise ourselves to the limits of the society we are born into, so as to secure its unity?”

“This film is based on a powerful myth circulating among young girls in the Pokot communities of the dry plains in western Kenya; the story, in all of its haunting particularities, is rooted there. Fiction allows me to touch the bone of this myth’s powerful meaning, and also to protect the girls on whom it is based,” said Scarpelli.

At the same time, ‘A Song That Slays’ is not a local story at all, Scarpeli went on, noting that it is essentially the story of all girls who choose to face their destiny in a world which doubts or fears their power. “It is set in this particular society so as to hold a mirror to all societies which inflict similar pains upon themselves.

She added: “Fiction allows me also to do tragedy — a genre that I respect very much, and have hinted at in my documentaries, but here in fiction can take much further. Tragedy is an unapologetic genre. My aim with this one is to confront taboos and ready-made narratives about women as perpetual victims, while exploring the violence and bravery inside of us too.”

Mo Scarpelli
Credit: Gabriel La Cruz