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Fellini facts unfold on film

It should be no surprise that a biography of Federico Fellini can be just as interesting as one of his films Ñ if it's made by the right director.

'Fellini: I'm a Born Liar' is that film, begun by Damian Pettigrew before Fellini died in 1993 at age 73. Years later, Pettigrew found the money to complete the project, some of it coming from the Scottish Screen Lottery Fund, which sounds odd enough to appeal to the maestro himself.

Pettigrew spent weeks talking with Fellini in 1991 and 1992, and his profound, intimate conversations cast much light on the enigmatic filmmaker.

Pettigrew followed by interviewing actors who worked with Fellini: Donald Sutherland, Roberto Benigni and Terrence Stamp. He juxtaposes their hilarious recollections with Fellini's view of their movies.

Long-lost footage shot during the making of such films as 'La Strada,' 'La Dolce Vita' and '8 1/2' also provides remarkable insights, including Fellini interacting with a youthful Marcello Mastroianni.

Fellini's musings on his own reality make wonderful listening. He observes that he's mystified if he views his films later, gradually coming to terms with the idea that another part of him Ñ separate from his daily self Ñ must have made them.

Traveling with Pettigrew to his old locations, Fellini apologizes for replacing the real seaside town from his childhood Ñ Rimini on the Adriatic coast Ñ with his own imaginary one in 'Amarcord.'

This manipulation of reality is studied in detail. Convinced that the ocean won't look correct for a scene with an elegant swimmer in 'Amarcord,' Fellini creates a sea out of sheets of plastic at Rome's Cinecitta Studio with art director Dante Ferretti and blends it with the real sea. The result is stunningly surreal.

Sutherland remembers Fellini's microdirection of a menage a trois from 'Satyricon.' It was like being treated like a puppet, he says, though Fellini doesn't recall it that way. Pettigrew then comes up with footage of the maestro directing a similar setting in another film, and it is exactly as Sutherland says. Sutherland also remembers being given five minutes to learn a three-page monologue.

Language may have played an instrumental role in Fellini's relationships. Fellini explains that he enjoys working with Mastroianni because he never has to tell him anything; he doesn't ask questions like the English actors. Italian actor Benigni remembers being treated like an actor, being given room to breathe.

Perhaps the most telling comment comes from the painter Rinaldo Geleng Ñ Fellini's oldest friend Ñ who marvels at how Mastroianni became Fellini himself in all of his films, without ever looking like him.

Pettigrew's next 'don't miss' project is on Swedish director Ingmar Bergman.

Contact Paul Duchene at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..