Premiering at the 66th Cannes Film Festival last May, director Roberto Minervini’s Stop the Pounding Heart received quite a hefty amount of praise. “A modest film made with an authenticity that commands respect,” raved The Hollywood Reporter, “Stop the Pounding Heart adopts fundaments of neorealism and cinema vérité to consider issues of faith, family, and personal conviction as experienced by a contemporary adolescent girl beginning to question her path.” The film will screen this weekend as a selection in New Directors/New Films.

[Enjoying our Meet the (New) Director profile series? You can find more here.]

Stop the Pounding Heart
Roberto Minervini, Belgium/Italy/USA, 2013, 100m

Description: Sara (Sara Carlson, playing herself) is part of a devout Christian goat-farming family with 12 children, all home-schooled and raised with strict moral guidance from the Scriptures. Set in a rural community that has remained isolated from technological advances and lifestyle influence—no phones, TVs, computers, or drunken-teen brawls—the subtly narrative film follows Sara and Colby, two 14-year-olds with vastly different backgrounds who are quietly drawn to each other. In Minervini’s intimate documentary-style portrait—the third in the Italian-born filmmaker’s Texas trilogy—Sara’s commitment to her faith is never questioned. It’s the power of the director’s nonintrusive handheld-camera style that reveals his protagonist’s spiritual and emotional inner turmoil about her place in a faith that requires women to be subservient to their fathers before becoming their husbands’ helpers. By also presenting an authentic, impartial portrayal of the Texas Bible Belt, Minervini allows humanity and complexity behind the stereotypes to show through.

Responses from Roberto Minervini:

On being introduced to and joining the world of filmmaking:
My parents did theater and my uncle is a film producer, so I was exposed to film very early in life.  However, I was never interested in making films, because I saw it as an excessively structured process. Hence, after pursuing studies in media theory, I moved to the Philippines to begin an academic career.  But when I moved to Texas four years ago for personal reasons, I became heavily involved with the local communities and decided to start making films on my own unstructured terms.

Finding the story…
At first I wasn’t sure what kind of film I wanted to make. I began working with two families that I had developed strong ties with, whose lifestyles and values were fascinating, and surely worth exploring further. The story of Sara and Colby surfaced during the shoot and unfolded before my eyes, day after day. It is an autogenetic story that needed to be told, because many people don't have contact with these populations, even though they are true American archetypes.

On the collaborative aspects of filmmaking:
I have known [my cast] for years. I met Sara’s family at a local farmer’s market, and Colby’s family through mutual friends. Among us there is mutual trust and respect. We care about each other genuinely and are close friends. They aren’t merely subjects of my film, they were involved in every phase of the filmmaking process.

On how taking great risks can pay off:
Sara's parents knew that by accepting to make this film, she would be exposed to a new, unknown emotional realm, which could potentially hamper her path to becoming a Godly woman. In the end, they decided to take the risk, trusting that God had a plan for Sara. For me, knowing how delicate Sara’s spiritual balance was, making a movie about her was a huge responsibility to take on.

Finding inspiration can come from the most tragic places:
I am about to begin shooting in West Monroe, Louisiana. This is the native town of Todd Trichell, the patriarch of the family of bull riders featured in Stop the Pounding Heart. So, once again, I have been granted preferential access to a reality that is inaccessible to most. This is the land of the “new poor,” where 60 percent of the population is unemployed and is forced to do whatever it takes to earn a few dollars. It is a film about resilience, and love—of the saddest kind.