90 Seconds: An Interview with Giuseppe Rossi

The official poster for “90 Secondi” (90 Seconds), a documentary film by Giuseppe Rossi about the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake

Ninety seconds on November 23, 1980 split Irpinia into a “before” and an “after.” Now, 40 years later, documentary film maker Giuseppe Rossi is commemorating that life-changing event in a newly-released documentary.

Rossi, who is originally from Guardia Lombardi (AV), has been passionate about films and cartoons since his youth. While in high school, he won the MyGiffoni award at the 2010 Giffoni Film Festival with a short, “Antiora,” which was shot entirely in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi. He holds a Master’s Degree from Università di Roma “La Sapienza” and a Master’s Degree in Film Direction from the Libera Università di Cinema, also in Rome. His body of work includes the shorts “Limerence,” “Chromotherapy,” “Voodoo Love Story,” and “Blue Crystel,” which we featured in a 2019 post. He is also the founder of the 2D & 3D Animation Film Festival, which took place this past June at the Abbazia del Goleto in Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi.

“I had never seen footage and pictures of the earthquake before, or at least not with such dramatic content. It was very sad and heartbreaking for me — I often cried while editing the film. I couldn’t sleep at night. Those images are forever etched in my memory, it was almost traumatic for me.”

– Giuseppe Rossi

This past week, we had the chance to sit down with Giuseppe as he discussed “90 Secondi,” which seeks to tell the story of the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake through those who actually lived it. Featuring interviews with notable locals such as Rosanna Repole, Gerardo Bianco, Ortensio Zecchino, Mario Sena, Gianni Festa, Marco Marandino, and others, Giuseppe explained that this documentary seeks to tell the story of a tragedy that transforms into a story of hope. This film was released under the patronage of the town and Forum dei Giovani of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi, with Charles A. Gargano as executive producer.

Why did you decide to make a documentary about the 1980 Irpinia Earthquake?

The idea goes back to 10 years ago, but it didn’t start with me. In 2010, my high school math teacher asked me to make a documentary short film about the earthquake to show to the whole school. It was about a week before November 23, and together with my other high school friends, I immediately went to work. In a few days, I shot many interviews, obtained original film, and edited everything. I had never seen footage and pictures of the earthquake before, or at least not with such dramatic content. It was very sad and heartbreaking for me — I often cried while editing the film. I couldn’t sleep at night. Those images are forever etched in my memory, it was almost traumatic for me.

The final product turned out well, but due to the tight schedule, I was not fully satisfied with it. This film was also called “90 Secondi.” This year, thanks to the town and the Forum dei Giovani of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi and Charles A. Gargano, I finally had the opportunity to do a sort of remake of that work and was able to update, improve and do everything that was not mine.

Can you tell us about how the film tells the story of the quake?

The film begins with a fictional scene of a young couple earlier on that fateful November day. I wanted to remember how beautiful and warm it was that day, how life was easy and quiet in the villages. Then, of course, a tremendous roar in a minute and a half brought everyone and everything into what was the exact opposite of life — death. I tried to reconstruct the 90 seconds of the earthquake in real time through special effects. The couple takes cover under an arch as debris and rubble falls — arched structures are the safest places to take refuge in the event of an earthquake. This particular scene was shot in Guardia Lombardi. The film then continues with unpublished archival images and footage, with touching testimonies of those who were buried alive, those who extracted the corpses from under the rubble, those who lost their families and a family who lost their son born that same day due to the collapse of the Sant’Angelo hospital. Among the main interviewees are Gerardo Bianco (former Minister of Education), Rosanna Repole (Mayor of Sant’Angelo dei Lombardi in 1980), Ortensio Zecchino (former Minister of Scientific Research), Mario Sena (former Health Councilor), Gianni Festa (former editor-in-chief of Il Mattino), Marco Marandino (current mayor of Sant’Angelo), and Mons. Luigi Tarcisio Gambalonga (parish priest of Lioni). The film, however, is not only limited to remembering, but through the voices of Irpinian children and entrepreneurs, it offers a perspective on the future and how, through smart working and new technologies, Irpinia can become a place increasingly connected to the rest of the world, where ideas expand beyond geographic boundaries.

What does the 1980 Earthquake represent for Irpinians?

I think earthquake represents a watershed moment for our area. I’ve always heard of an era “before” the earthquake and an era “after.” The earthquake has really separated these two eras: the classical era anchored to the ancient values ​​of our grandparents, and the modern era in which the area made its way thanks to new technologies.

How can people outside of Italy watch this documentary?

An English subtitled version is expected as the film will be sent to various festivals around the world and, therefore, also to the United States and Canada.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

I think a film like this was made at the right moment due to the global pandemic. The memory of the 1980 earthquake reminds us of how many people in Irpinia did not give up in the face of difficulties; they took this tragic opportunity to revive the territory that was known nationally and internationally for the first time.

The trailer for “90 Secondi” can be seen below:

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hi Stephanie,
    Thank you so much for this interview. My family is from Irpinia and even though I don’t have a direct account about the event, I know if must have been so devastating.
    Are you aware of a way to watch the film here in the U.S.?


    1. Hello! I am working with Giuseppe now to find out– he’s in discussion with a few places and will let me know when US audiences can view so we can do a premiere via the Irpinia Stories Facebook page. 🙂


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