Tilda Del Toro (‘Capone’ (BRON Studios), ‘Night School’ (Universal Pictures)), Rowena Koenig (Berlinale Talent Campus Alumna, ‘Hirokin: The Last Samurai’ (starring Wes Bentley), and Lucia Senesi (‘A Short Story’, Alliance of Women Directors) have been awarded The Franz Wieser ARRI Grant for ‘Black Madonna‘. The short film features Black actress Tye Myers (‘Angels in Paradise’, ‘Loop’) in the title role and showcases under-represented voices both in front of and behind the camera. Producers Del Toro and Koenig also act in the film. Senesi co-produces and is the writer and director. Every key department of the production was led by women above and below the line. The project, now wrapped and into post-production, was made possible through $145,000 (approximately £105,000) in loaned equipment from ARRI, with additional equipment sponsorships from Wooden Nickel Lighting and Stray Angel Films.
Del Toro and Koenig met in 2019 through their work with internationally renowned author, teacher, director, and creative consultant Stephen Book (Juilliard, Stanford, Spolin Theater Game Center). The two women connected over a shared interest in working on projects that help amplify under-represented voices. Undeterred from pursuing their creative collaboration during quarantine, Koenig and Del Toro scheduled weekly video calls to define their creative goals and vision. Acting collaboration as well as partnering on a producing effort was the logical next step. Then, ‘Black Madonna’ director Lucia Senesi came into the mix.
“Lucia presented us with a full package unlike anything we had seen before. Her passion for this project was persuasive, and the theme was an extension of Senesi’s recent essay on the Madonna del Parto published in Image”.Tilda Del Toro
Koenig, a vice president at a non-profit, contributed fundraising expertise that was instrumental in securing the prestigious Franz Wieser Grant from ARRI. Del Toro and Koenig plan to continue working together and are strategically developing and writing short-form and feature-length content for future collaboration. Projects they are considering for production include their original features, as well as content by other film-makers and creators.
‘Black Madonna’ is a deeply personal film inspired by the director’s experience growing up Catholic in Italy, but told from a Black female lead’s perspective. This film is the uncompromising vision of multi-award-winning director Lucia Senesi, with cinematography by Lucia Rinaldi (American Film Institute, The BAFTA Newcomers Program). The film explores the line between madness and spiritual ecstasy with reverence for the feminine embodiment of the divine. Notable additional participants in this project, include Kristine N. Haag, Emmy-nominated Costume Designer and Executive Producer on the project, Jody Vaclav, Author, Trans Activist, Emmy nominated Art Director, also an Executive Producer, and Lori Dovi, Sound Mixer (‘Suicide Squad’, ‘Noctural Animals’, Founder of International Women Working in Film). “The on-set experience was unique”, says producer and actor Rowena Koenig.
“Working with our team of fifteen talented and creative women on our almost exclusively female set was an empowering and unforgettable experience”.Rowena Koenig
ARRI, a leading camera company that most notably supplied Chloe Zhao’s Oscar winning film Nomadland, is committed to ensuring that under-represented and qualified emerging filmmakers have access to ARRI products to support their narrative vision. ‘Black Madonna’ benefitted from the donated use of over $145,000 (£105,000) in ARRI equipment. Ksenia Lappo, who oversees the Franz Wieser Grant Program at ARRI in Burbank, California, says: “ARRI’s Franz Wieser Grant Program seeks to amplify the voices of film-makers who have something to say through the complimentary use of ARRI equipment. ARRI recognises that diverse perspectives are essential to advancing the cinematic arts, and is committed to helping under-represented emerging filmmakers tell their stories in the most eloquent way”.
‘Black Madonna’ is represented by Italian distribution company Premiere Film for international film festival entries in 2021.
Featured photo: ‘Black Madonna’ cast: Tye Myers, Tilda Del Toro and Rowena Koenig. Photo credit: Zachary Smith