A Filmmaker Domenico Palma on the Influence of Digitalization
Updated: Jul 10
Creativity is something more than just Zoom photoshoots
Domenico Palma is a filmmaker specialized in releasing documentaries on contemporary art and deals with the production of video works for artists.
How did you get into filmmaking? Please tell us a bit more about your career?
Domenico: I started around 2001 when, when I was in my early twenties, with my classmates from the Academy of Fine Arts in Lecce (Puglia) we organized self-produced exhibitions in which I exhibited my videos. My first works were video artworks that were inspired by films and cinema icons like Chaplin, Shining, Blade Runner.
Over the years and after moving to Milan, I changed direction, shifting my interest towards the art documentary. I started working with some associations, foundations, galleries, and museums to produce videos on contemporary art, documenting the exhibitions, interviewing artists and curators. These were the first years in which a new job was making its way in Italy, that of the "videomaker". So from 2009, I started this new path that led me to work for Italian and foreign institutions such as Mart, Maxxi, the Venice Biennale, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Magazzino Italian Art, having the good fortune to meet and interview different artists.
I currently work on projects that document the realization of artwork, I produce documentaries and continue to collaborate with museums, galleries and art foundations.
Where do you look for inspiration when making films?
Domenico: When I turn my documentaries I study the artist's work and the concept of the exhibition. But what makes the difference for me is definitely the experiential approach I have with the exhibition and with the works, if it is an exhibition, or direct dialogue with the artist, if it is a matter of following the creation of an artwork. I try to capture the essence by looking at the exhibition as a whole and the works in every detail or I let myself be carried away by some suggestions received during the dialogue with artists, curators or professionals. For me, it is important to also talk to those who install the works for example.
What is it like to collaborate with museums, galleries, and foundations?
Domenico: Working with these institutions is always interesting and stimulating for me. Over the years you realize how the world of communication is changing and how the needs of these institutions are constantly changing. It is essential to establish a right relationship with those who work for these spaces, this helps you understand the approach to have towards works, artists, performances, etc. and how to return everything through a film.
Each experience is unique and unpredictable and most of the time the production cannot be planned like that of a traditional film, therefore much of the work to be done is subject to an unknown factor and constant coordination with the institution is essential for the success of the product. In the next few days, for example, I will be in Rome to shoot the installation of Francesco Arena's work, a huge bronze ring, in the Park of the Colosseum. For this reason, I am in constant contact with the artist, with the operators of the Archaeological Park of the Colosseum in Rome and with the foundry that created the piece and will take care of the transport.
It is important to keep the situation under control over what must be done to try to arrive prepared even in the face of the unexpected.
What does it take to make a living as a filmmaker?
Domenico: There are many types of filmmakers. I work as a freelance and personally manage many aspects of production. Having started as a videomaker helped me to develop a broad vision on all aspects of this work, from the relationship with the client to shooting and post-production. I am an independent filmmaker and I make a living thanks to the experience I have gained over time and also to the fact that I specialized in a sector of contemporary art, which needs professionals who are experts in this field.
To make a living in this world, it is very important to have clear ideas and keep them up to date.
How is digitalization influencing the film industry?
Domenico: Digitization has greatly influenced cinematography and beyond that. The whole world of video has undergone a revolution and the world of work connected to this sector has evolved and continues to do so. When I've started I worked with VHS and Betacam, the editing was completely different. Owning a camera was impossible because it cost so much. With the advent of digital, prices have dropped, I bought my first digital video camera and so I was able to try my hand with a light, versatile device that gave me the opportunity to experiment. I learned to edit videos with the first commercially available software and so I had the chance to create what is my job today.
The digitization has also generated new distribution channels, many videos are now conveyed on online platforms, the big screen has become a small screen with the invention of television, today we have an even smaller screen, that of a smartphone or tablet where we watch movies, video clips, documentaries, etc. etc.
Domenico: During the coronavirus emergency, this sector offered a lot of content, perhaps too much, but it certainly kept us a company during the lockdown. I personally worked with an American museum and I produced five short documentaries from my apartment in Milan, using material produced remotely, archive footage and homemade footage. So I helped the museum, during its temporary closure, to produce new content that has been distributed on social networks and on other platforms. All these without digital could not have materialized.
Are there any tips you would give those who want to break into filmmaking?
Domenico: For some years I have been teaching the history of cinema and I often find myself talking to very young kids who want to do this job. What I say to my students is not to be afraid to get involved, to try to have many experiences, and to try to tell something, even if you don't have the professional tools; trying to have fun.
It seems trivial to say it but it is a passion that plays the most important role. Passion pushes you to do this job, many times you forget to eat or you don't go to sleep if you have not finished what you started.
Understanding the current worldwide emergency, what is your point of view on what to expect in the future?
Domenico: During the Spanish Flu pandemic, the Hollywood production slowed down considerably, with heavy losses, but fortunately, it came out. This happened because there was an audience eager to see new films. Today, due to the COVID-19 emergency, there will inevitably be some sectors that will struggle, not only Hollywood but all productions, large and small, will suffer losses. Even some of my productions were canceled because of the lockdown, as I imagine for many people like me.
We must try to be confident and resist because as long as there is an audience, this world will continue to exist.