“In the Image of God:” Alumna Bianca Rondolino Presents Documentary at Torino Film Festival
JCU alumna Bianca Rondolino presented her first film, “In the Image of God,” at the prestigious Torino Film Festival, which took place this year online from November 28-30. A 15-minute long documentary, it tells the story of Rabbi Levi, born on Long Island, New York, in 1957. Like his grandmother and great-grandmother, he was born intersex, and, like them, the female gender was imposed on him. Intersex people are born with sex characteristics that do not fit the typical binary notions of male or female bodies.
To Levi, exploring his own gender identity coincided in part with a journey into his own faith. For him, self-acceptance arrived when he found examples of LGTBQI+ people in the scriptures and learned that they, like everyone else, were created in the image of God.
Born and raised in Rome, Bianca Rondolino graduated from JCU in 2016 with a double major in Classical Studies and Art History. After graduation, she studied Documentary Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy of Los Angeles.
JCU’s Director of Web Communications Berenice Cocciolillo recently had the opportunity to interview Bianca.
Give us a brief update on what you have done (and where) since graduating in 2016.
Since graduating from John Cabot University, I have worked mostly as a writer for political campaigns, feminist online publishers, and TV, creating both editorial and branded content. I’ve been lucky to have worked in Rome, Milan, and Los Angeles.
How did you become interested in documentary filmmaking?
I have always been passionate about real stories. My interest in documentary filmmaking developed from my experience as a writer and interviewer for online publishers, and as a viewer when I saw how much of an impact documentaries can make. Longer form, slower content, as opposed to bite-sized digital content, allows for deeper research and deeper understanding, and that’s what drove me towards this genre.
Congratulations on your first film “In the Image of God” and your participation in the Torino Film Festival! How did you get the idea to make a film about Rabbi Levi?
Thank you! I wanted to make a documentary about gender identity because I was genuinely interested in researching the topic, especially the view of gender as a spectrum rather than as binary. I was looking for a character in Los Angeles, and Rabbi Levi saw one of my social media posts and contacted me to offer help in finding the right person. When I heard his story I immediately asked him to be the subject, and I’m very grateful that he agreed.
What is the most important thing that you learned while making this documentary?
Well, I have definitely learned a lot about intersexuality. Prior to meeting Levi, I had a vague idea of what that was, but I didn’t know that 1,7% of the world’s population is born intersex. Most importantly, I had no idea of the human rights violations that intersex people experience all over the world: people who are born with “ambiguous” genitalia are almost always operated on at birth – without their consent – and assigned a random gender to which they are forced to conform. Today, only four countries in the world legally protect their bodily autonomy and physical integrity. The LGBTQI+ community is among the most underrepresented, with intersex people still remaining virtually invisible.
What challenges did you encounter while making the film?
I think the biggest challenge in making this film has been letting Levi’s story, and Levi’s truth emerge through his own words. Transgender stories are most often told through a cisgender perspective, i.e. that of people whose gender identity and expression match the gender that they were assigned at birth. All too often, these stories seem to be aimed only at satisfying a cisgender audience’s curiosity. I have tried to stay away from what is known as the “pornography of pain” towards LGBTQI+ stories and from narratives that reduce transgender characters to their body parts and their transition. I highly recommend that everyone interested in this topic watch Disclosure (2020) on Netflix.
How has your background in Art History and Classical Studies helped you in your current career?
My undergraduate studies have had a great impact on my filmmaking! The most important thing I learned at John Cabot is definitely the importance – and the correct methodology – of doing research. Studying Classical Studies in particular taught me a lot about critical thinking and about how to approach a story. My Art History degree provided priceless training, for me because professors constantly pushed us to refine our ability to appreciate the aesthetics of an image and to understand its meaning.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue to work in documentary filmmaking. I would like my next film to be shot in Italy. I feel the representation of Italy that we see on TV or in the movies is stuck to 30 years ago, and largely still promotes sexism and racism. There are so many different and new stories to be told.
Watch a clip from the film “In the image of God” by Bianca Rondolino