Novelist Elena Ferrante Spawns Documentary ‘Ferrante Fever’, Match Factory Takes Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

Nick Vivarelli
Variety

ROME — The “Neapolitan Quartet” novels by pseudonymous Italian author Elena Ferrante, which have attracted legions of fervent fans around the globe, will be the subject of a high-profile documentary titled “Ferrante Fever.” Prominent arthouse sales company The Match Factory has boarded the pic to handle international sales.

The documentary is being directed by Italian multi-hyphenate Giacomo Durzi, who has been shooting in Naples, Turin, Florence and New York. Durzi interviewed American authors Jonathan Franzen and Elizabeth Strout, among others, about their enthusiasm for Ferrante and her books about an intense female friendship set against social changes in Italy from the 1950s to the present.

He also interviewed Ann Goldstein, the New Yorker editor who is Ferrante’s translator in English.

“Ferrante Fever”  is being described as “an attempt to stimulate reflections on the particular reasons for Ferrante’s success, without being seduced by the provocation of making a ‘gossipy’ documentary about her unknown identity,” Durzi said in a statement.

Durzi has several documentaries under his belt, including “SB, I knew him well,” a portrait of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi through the words of those who really knew him.

A screenwriter and a creative consultant for several Italian TV networks, Durzi is working on the “Ferrante Fever” screenplay with Laura Buffoni, an Italian film critic and festival programmer.

The screenplay uses re-enactments of scenes from Ferrante’s novels in the real locations where they are set, archival materials and photographs, and animation inserts to “reconstruct Ferrante’s narrative universe,” according to the production notes.

What “Ferrante Fever” will not be is an investigation into the real identity of Elena Ferrante, a subject which made headlines recently when investigative journalist Claudio Gatti deduced that the writer was Italian translator Anita Raja. His potential unmasking of Raja prompted outrage among many of Ferrante’s fans, who lamented that he had violated her right to privacy and anonymity. Raja has not commented.

“We decided with Ferrante’s publisher not to delve into the issue of who Elena Ferrante is,” said “Ferrante Fever” producer Alessandra Acciai.

“It was very important for me to be in harmony with them,” said Acciai. “It means being on the same page with Elena Ferrante.”

The docu will, however, look into Ferrante’s choice to remain anonymous “which has sparked an unprecedented cultural debate,” Durzi said. Ferrante’s Italian publisher, Edizioni E/O, which also owns the Europa Editions imprint that publishes her books in the U.S., has read various drafts of the docu’s screenplay.

Acciai is co-producing the pic via her Rome-based Malia Film shingle in collaboration with Rai Cinema and Milan-based film marketing company Qmi. Qmi will be releasing the docu theatrically in Italy.

Italian writers and cultural figures who will be interviewed include “Gomorrah” author Roberto Saviano and Neapolitan film director Mario Martone, whose film “L’amore molesto” (Nasty Love) was based on Ferrante’s book “Troubling Love.”

Italian film and TV company Wildside earlier this year announced plans for an eight-episode TV series based on the “Neapolitan Quartet” novels. Still at script stage, it is being co-produced with Domenico Procacci’s Fandango.

“There is a real passion for Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels; it’s a type of affection for literary works that we’ve not seen for a long time,” said Giovanni Cova, chief of Qmi, which will release the 75-minute doc theatrically in Italy next year via a three-day event release starting April 17.

“It’s an adult audience, but it’s a type of phenomenon that’s similar to what you see with teen literature,” Cova said.

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